Friday, March 5, 2010

A Medieval America?

In the heart of the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, a feat of, well, medieval engineering is taking place. An architectural team, with the help of learned historians, is building a genuine, full-sized castle. Yes, you heard me right, a castle. Although the project terms the structure a fortress, the pictures suggest nothing less than castle. The Ozark Medieval Fortress will consist of 45-foot-high walls, a drawbridge, and six-foot-wide stone walls surrounding the inner courtyard. It is set to open in May of this year.

But if you plan on visiting it in the next few months, it won't be there, or at least not all of it. You see, it's a work in progress that the founders intend to finish in a few years time...20 to be exact. That's right, this castle is authentic in every sense of the word. It's being constructed with the materials and techniques of the 13th century. Visitors can witness the building process first hand, but don't expect any modern technology to be present, or modern clothes for that matter. 30 masons, carpenters and stone carvers, dressed in authentic medieval dress, will be using hammers, chisels and ropes to build the massive structure. And to cart the material around? Horse-drawn wagons. It's like a play...without actors.

So why do this? The inventor of this undertaking, Michel Guyot, has always had a passion for castles and medieval history. He is fascinated with how these structures were built back when materials were not so technically advanced. He promised himself that one day he would build a castle from scratch the way they did in the old days, and the dream was realized back in 1997 with the Guedelon project, built in France. So why build another in Arkansas of all places? A french couple, who retired to the Ozark region, were intrigued by Guyot's project and wanted him to do the same thing in the States. They gave him their land in the mountains, thinking it was perfect for a castle, and Guyot accepted. Arkansas, the "Natural State," offers Guyot plenty of room to work, as well as an idyllic setting, a peaceful mountain landscape.

As an admirerer of European structures--churches, castles, bridges, etc.--I can't help but be excited about this new attraction. Americans finally get a castle! The Europeans have enough, now it's our turn. As Eddie Izzard so bluntly puts it--"Cause you think we all live in castles. And we do all live in castles. We got a castle each. We’re up to here with f**kin’ castles." (Just so you all know, I love Eddie Izzard, and if ever I can reference him, I will.) But what he says is true, they have a lot of castles. And now we get to experience the full extent of what it took to build them.

So if you're looking for a different tourist attraction this year, why not head on over to Arkansas and check out these real-life masons and master builders as they carve and hammer and chisel this castle into creation. A history book right in front of your eyes.

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