At the end of the 19th Century a French postman built a palace single handedly using pebbles he collected on his post round – a great French eccentric.
Ferdinand Cheval (born 1836) trained briefly as a baker’s apprentice and then became a postman in his local area of Hauterives, Drome (Auvergne, Rhone Alpes).
One day in 1837, on his 18 mile round which he made on foot, he stumbled over a stone and picked it up. It was an epiphany for Cheval; he later said that the single stone started a dream to build a palace, a dream castle, his ideal palace.
He later wrote: ‘I wanted to know the cause. In a dream I had built a palace, a castle or caves. I told no one about it for fear of being ridiculed and I felt ridiculous myself… I said to myself: since Nature is willing to do the sculpture, I will do the masonry and the architecture.’
Palace in France built by Postman Cheval
He had no architectural or building experience but Cheval started his project in the garden where his house was. Every day he collected stones on his round, bought them home in his pockets and started to create his dream.
Eventually he began taking a wheelbarrow on his round so that he could collect more stones to create more walls and structures.
Over the course of 33 years, Ferdinand Cheval spent all of his spare time single-handedly creating his masterpiece, an imaginative 24m castle festooned with fanciful statues and sculptures, exotic animals, pillars, buttresses and grottoes.
He finally finished it in 1912 and people have been admiring the whimsical building ever since.
Cheval wanted to be buried there but he wasn’t allowed so at the age of 78, he began a new project to build his own mausoleum in the village cemetery, enabling him to stay close to his work for eternity. He died in August 1924.
In 1969, the Palais Ideal as it is known, became a listed historic building. In 1984 it was bequeathed to the town by Cheval’s granddaughter and is now open to the public.
All photos thanks to the official site of Postman Cheval’s Ideal Palace where you can find details about visiting.