With the recent release of “Beauty and the Beast,” American audiences are again thrown into the world of kings and queens, most notably shown by their luxurious castles. Disney has made a large part of their franchise off of their iconic castle in Disneyland and the symbol to their opening credits for every princess movie in existence, but it is an odd quirk for Americans, who in reality do not have true castles of their own.
The United States does not have the same historic feats as Europe in terms of architecture. While many civilizations controlled the Americas before the arrival of the Europeans, none of them left in the United States such an iconic structure such as a castle that has become part of the dreams of an entire country’s youth. The age of castles had well passed when the Europeans started colonizing the Americas. We have not had the kings and dukes who needed to fill their ardent desire of power to have large estates.
France, however, is an entirely different story. There are thousands of buildings which are considered castles dotting the landscape from the North in Calais to the South in Marseille. While some of these do not fit the traditional idea of what a castle should be, either being too small or not “castle-y” enough, there are vast numbers who do fit the bill, with large towers where one can imagine a damsel in distress or drawbridges which were used to fend off invaders (or rioting people). France, as well as many of its fellow European countries, is endeavoring to preserve these historic buildings as monuments of civilization and culture through efforts such as restoration. When I visited the Châteaux de la Loire a few weekends ago, some of the castles had parts that were under construction or sealed off during the restoration process in order to ensure that in future years it would still be available to the public. Even with foreigners, France tries to share its culture. Ticket prices are cheap compared to the unfathomable ticket prices in the United States.
When you step into a castle in France, you feel something entirely different than when you step into a museum in Boston or see videos of amazing castles on YouTube. You can feel the history seeping through the walls ranging from the kings who built the castles to maintain their power from invaders to kings who decided their mistresses needed their own hamlet to be happy. The intensity of the architecture and the sometimes insane new practices they had put in place to construct the buildings to the standards of the kings is astounding. The mere size of some of these castles is even more surprising, with hundreds of rooms that seemingly have no purpose. And while we do have large McMansions in the United States, they do not rise even close to the grandeur of these castles in France.
While there is no way for the United States to ever rise to the level of Europe in terms of castles, its investment in historical buildings should definitely take a lesson from France’s government. France’s investment in culture is extremely high and it helps educate the population on its long and complex cultural history. Many museums are accessible for very cheap or even free while in the United States, even students can barely afford to get in. We should be able to walk around Abraham Lincoln’s house without having to pay for entry. But cultural differences play a role and in the United States, the culture is to pay.