Saturday, September 16, 2006

Is the White House Actually a French Chateau?

When you look at the picture of the Château de Rastignac (photography by Jacques Mossot), outside of Périgueux, France, it may strangely remind you of something very familiar...
...the White House!

Experts think the two are too similar to have developed coincidentally. According to Michael Johnson in yesterday's IHT article, A chateau fit for a president, while some historians believe Rastignac is simply a replica of the White House, [the dates of completion - 1817 for the former and 1802 for the latter - would seem to support that idea], others claim the opposite. Jefferson may have been inspired by Rastignac to build the White House, and Michael Johnson believes this is the case:
Construction work had been undertaken before the French Revolution of 1789. The project was interrupted for nearly 20 years during the turbulence of the Revolution and the Napoleonic era.
Thomas Jefferson was in France as U.S. Minister Plenipotentiary when work on the chateau began. Among his sidelines was a passion for architecture, and he travelled around France viewing the great edifices of the 17th and 18th centuries. An amateur architect himself, he intended to create an American school for his expanding young country, based on European examples.
Jefferson toured the Bordeaux region in the spring of 1789, the eve of the revolution. This would have been the occasion for a look at the drawings for the Château de Rastignac. With a small leap of faith, it is easy to imagine that these drawings inspired the future American president's additions.
He returned home in the fall of 1789 and went on to be elected third American president in 1801. "President's House" became his residence.
I wonder if the idea that the symbol of American democracy was actually inspired by a French château would play well with this administration. The irony is that whether it is true or not, the idea fits too well this imperial president now, doesn't it? A château for King George!

NOTE: Incidently, I didn't even know Rastignac was even a real name - the only French Rastignac I knew was the fictional name from Balzac's La Comedie Humaine.


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