Palais Idéal: The palace that was built by a postman

Where I live, the only things left behind by the local postmen are letters for the person who used to live in my flat and the odd discarded rubber band. But in Hauterives, France, the local postman left a little more than that… Ferdinand Cheval left an entire palace, made from stones he’d picked up on his daily mail round!

Palais Idéal

Ferdinand Cheval was born in 1836 and left school at 13 to become a baker’s apprentice. But I’m assuming this didn’t work out for him, as he eventually became a postman in 1869.

Ferdinand Cheval

As the story goes, Ferdinand tripped over a stone one day and was inspired by the stone’s shape. The next day, he returned to the same spot and started collecting more stones.

The starting point - the stone Ferdinand tripped over

Over the next 33 years, he carried on picking up stones each day on his delivery round and carried them home – first in his pockets, then in a basket and finally in a wheelbarrow. I can’t help feeling that, by the time he started lugging a wheelbarrow full of stones around, delivering the post had become something of a secondary concern for Ferdinand…

Palais Idéal

Each day, Ferdinand carried his stones home and used them to start building his masterpiece. For the first 20 years, he used them to build the outer walls, binding the stones together with lime, mortar and good old cement. I’m assuming these weren’t also picked up on his delivery route…

Detail on the north front

The palace is a mixture of different styles, with inspiration taken from Christianity and Hinduism. It’s been described as an example of naïve art, which is basically art that has a childlike simplicity to it.

Hindu temple

I don’t know about you, but I don’t know many kids capable of building anything like the Palais Idéal. Then again, none of the kids I know are also postmen…

Swiss chalet

After finishing the palace, Ferdinand had hoped that, when he died, he would be buried in it. However, as this was illegal in France, he spent eight years building himself a mausoleum in Hauterives cemetery. He died about a year after finishing it.

Cheval's mausoleum

Photo credits: M.Maselli, Ursus, Otourly, Pabix and Wikilug

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About Dom Stapleton

Dom Stapleton

As well as being the world’s northernmost capital city, Reykjavik in Iceland is also an incredible place to visit.

We stayed in a hotel right in the middle of the city and spent most days walking around from there. The main thing we noticed (apart from the cold, of course) was that the people are so friendly. At home, trying to cross the road is a nightmare, but in Reykjavik, the cars are literally queuing up to let you across.

When my partner and I went, in January 2013, the sun only started rising at about 10 am, which was a strange experience. And it got dark at about 4 pm each day!

Dom works in our marketing team

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