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Medieval Castle Under Construction in Ozarks

Categories: History
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A castle in progress (projected).
In the Ozarks, land of mountains and rivers and Branson, only one thing is missing, and that's about to be remedied: A medieval castle.

For the next 20 years, a group of men wearing authentic-type medieval peasant garb (apparently sewn from low thread-count sheets) will labor with authentic thirteenth-century tools to create a full-sized castle, with 45-foot-high towers and 6-foot-wide walls made of stone hewn from local mountains and hauled to the construction site by especially strong horses. And there will be catapult demonstrations!

Why a medieval castle? And why in Lead Hill, Arkansas, a place with absolutely no historical ties to the ancient European art of castle-building?

In 2008, Solange and Jean-Marc Mirat, a French couple who had moved to Lead Hill, visited Guédelon, a new medieval fortress under construction in Burgundy, France. Enchanted by the concept of building a medieval structure, they contacted Guédelon's mastermind, Michel Guyot, a French artist and horseman.

As a teenager, Guyot had become fascinated with medieval construction. "Anyone who goes to a medieval castle or cathedral cannot help but wonder how on earth our ancestors built such things," he says in a press releaase. In 1979, he bought and restored his first castle, Saint-Fargeau in Berry, and turned it into a major tourist attraction. In 1997, he purchased the land for Guédelon and began building the fortress from scratch.

The Mirats offered Guyot part of their land in Lead Hill. According to the press release, the site, located in the middle of a forest, "provides all the necessary building materials: water, stone, earth, sand and wood."

The castle, modestly named Ozark Medieval Fortress, is modeled after the castle near Paris where, in 1228,  King Louis IX (the future St. Louis, for whom our fair city was named) withstood a siege from potential usurpers. A team of architectural historians, both American and French, will be on hand to make sure the castle is both authentic and structurally sound.

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Ground was broken last June, and the building site will be opened to the public May 1. Visitors can watch the stonemasons and builders work and play with medieval building tools like the thirteen-knot rope which people used before rulers were invented. (There's a whole section on it on the castle's website. It's really quite ingenius.)

Volunteers will reenact aspects of medieval life. (Apparently it is possible to live in an unfinished castle.) There will be blacksmiths and coopers and basket-weavers and illuminated manuscript artists plying their trades. And yes, there will be catapult demonstrations.

Construction will continue year-round until 2030, when the castle is slated for completion. Maybe then there will be a siege and the real excitement will begin.

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