- Rural postman Ferdinand Cheval collected stones in a wheelbarrow during his 18-mile post route
- Le Palais idéal still stands in Hauterives in France, 100 years after it was finished in 1912
- The whimsical 24 metre palace is adorned in fanciful statues resembling ostriches, elephants and bears
Rome wasn’t built in day, and it certainly wasn’t for rural postman Ferdinand Cheval, who dedicated 33 years of his life constructing an incredible limestone palace, complete with pillars, buttresses and grottoes.
The widower would often find unusually shaped rocks as he delivered mail in France, and ended up pushing a wheelbarrow each day on his 18-mile route to collect stones of beauty.
What started as a small hobby, soon became a life project in 1879, resulting in one of the most magnificent amateur architectural structures to date; Le Palais idéal.
A postman in France spent 33 years constructing a lavish grotto, complete with pillars, towers and buttresses
Le Palais idéal features mythical creatures, inspired from the postcards and magazines he had to deliver on his postal route in France
From a glance you would be mistaken for thinking this was an Angkor palace, as the grotto has influences from Hinduism
Ferdinand Cheval left school at age 13 to become a baker’s apprentice, but ended up delivering mail in the Hauterives area.
The idea for the elaborate cathedral came when he tripped over an unusually shaped rock in his 30s.
He later wrote in his journal: ‘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.’
Cheval would haul his findings to a site in Hauterives every day after work, and thus began the ambitious 33 year project, completed with no outside help.
The dedicated builder would often have to work well into the night, by the light of an oil lamp, but that didn’t deter him from his mission.
Cheval would construct the palace at night, after work, by the light of oil lamps. In 1969, André Malraux, the Minister of Culture, declared the Palais a cultural landmark and had it officially protected
The website for the palace states it was built with no architectural rules and is regarded as a great example of outsider artwork
Due to the long hours of the project, the widower left his son in the care of godparents, in order to be able to focus his energies on his work.
The outer walls, measuring 24 metres in length, and 10 metres high, took 22 years to complete, with Cheval binding the stones together with lime, mortar and cement.
Le Palais idéal is as intricate as it is vast, and includes sculptures of exotic animals and mythical creatures, which were inspired by the postcards he delivered, and with influences from Christianity and Hinduism.
The structure is beloved by visitors today, 100 years after it was constructed, and was even featured on the french stamp in 1986
When Cheval died, he requested that he could be buried at the palace.
Sadly it was not permitted and the talented constructor ended up building his own mausoleum for himself in the cemetery where he was buried after his death in 1924, a year after finishing the palace.
The structure is beloved by visitors today, 100 years after it was constructed, and was even featured on the french stamp in 1986.
Perhaps most poignant explanation for the architectural wonder is the inscription carved into the palace by Cheval: ‘The dream of one man.
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