The Patient Postman's Self-Built Palace

Atlas Obscura
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Oct. 8 2013 9:00 AM

The Patient Postman's Self-Built Palace, Inspired by a Single Stone

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Walking along his mail route in Hauterives, southern France in 1879, a postman picked up a stone. As he held it in his hand, the shape of this single stone inspired that postman, Ferdinand Cheval, to build a grand palace.

For the next 33 years, he collected stones along his postal route -- sometimes just one or two, and other times, wheelbarrows full of them. Having left school at age 13, and with no training in architecture or art, 43-year-old Postman Cheval began to build his palace with cement, wire and stones, working at night by an oil lamp.

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The palace shows a mix of inspirations, including the Bible, the German Romanesque Revival castle Neuschwanstein, Hindu sanctuaries, Le voyage dans la Lune filmmaker Georges Méliès, a cave, and a sandcastle. It also includes a shrine for his wheelbarrow. Cheval wanted to be buried in his palace, and when French authorities forbade it, he built his own magnificent vault in the local cemetery at the age of 80. Inscribed in the palace walls is Cheval's message to the world:

"I was not a builder, I had never handled a mason's trowel, I was not a sculptor. The chisel was unknown to me; not to mention architecture, a field of which I remained totally ignorant... Everything you can see, passer-by, is the work of one peasant, who, out of a dream, created the queen of the world..."

Palaces with panache:


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