Last week marked the 19th anniversary of the first time we saw our house (no, it’s not the one above). Looking back at estate agents’ details of other properties reminded me that a small château close by was also for sale then. The place was in a sorry state, although it was still beyond our price range, but has since been restored to its former glory. And there’s an intriguing story associated with it.
Le château de l’Astorguié perches on the south-facing flank of a hill on the edge of Parisot. It has a spectacular view over the surrounding countryside and far into the distance. The château was built in around 1500 for Jean de La Valette-Labro, chevalier of Rhodes.
This illustrious family produced Jean de La Valette-Parisot, who was born at the nearby château de Labro. He became Grand Master of the Order of Saint-Jean and defended Malta against the Turks in 1565.
The château’s construction coincides roughly with that of the nearby church at Teysseroles, which we are helping to restore. The church once had a side-chapel, which formerly served as a vault for members of a junior branch of the de La Valette family. They abandoned the chapel in the late 17th century and it collapsed completely in the 1750s.
The building is an example of the fortified manor houses that once peppered the area. It is flanked by two towers but has lost the rest of its fortifications. A key feature is a painted ceiling dating back to the time it was built.
Mists of time
The château is too young to have seen any action during the Hundred Years War. I can’t find any specific references to it during the Wars of Religion, but Protestant bands roamed the area during the late 16th century and pillaged nearby Caylus in 1562. Maybe some of the local people took refuge in the château. By the 1780s, it had become a farm.
Like so many local châteaux, le château de l’Astorguié presided over a major decline in Parisot’s population as a result of the rural exodus. The 1851 census recorded 1,698 inhabitants. This had fallen to a low of 504 by 1975, but has since risen to 574 in 2013.
The present owners completely restored the château more than a decade ago but it is private property and not open to the public.
Here’s the bit that really interests me. At one time, the château’s park was used to cultivate a rose hybrid, rosa centifolia (literally hundred-petalled rose), also known as the Cabbage Rose. This rose was bred by Dutch horticulturalists during the 18th century. The heavy blooms are prized for their fragrance and widely used in the perfume industry. Some four to five tonnes of petals are required to obtain about 1 kg of essence.
The petals had to be picked in the early morning with the dew still on them to make the rose oil. This, apparently, provided work for some of the women of Parisot.
We normally associate Grasse and other places in Provence with the perfume industry, because of the availability of lavender and other aromatic essences. However, it’s hard to imagine that the petals picked by the Parisot women would have travelled very far. They would rapidly have lost their scent and freshness. So were they distilled locally? I haven’t been able to find out but will continue my researches.
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