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HISTORY

  

The Haute-Barde Castle, in French Touraine, is built in 1906 by the largest mutual company in France, l'Avenir du Prolétariat (Future of the Working Class), in order to guarantee its members a small retirement pension: each worker would pay a contribution for a minimum of 15 years, allowing the company to make property investments and flourish before they could collect their pension when they stopped working.

The 3-floor 3800-sq.-meter castle which is built in the 1900 spa town style is slated to become an orphanage. But two world wars later, the orphans of La Haute-Barde are long gone. The property is requisitioned by the German army for a brief period of time in 1941 to commit opponents of the Vichy Regime.

Then the building becomes a training center for PE teachers before being taken over by the Tours university hospital and converted into a nursing home in 1952.

By then, some 200 female residents live at La Haute-Barde, suffering from miscellaneous psychiatric disorders or Alzeimer's Disease, but the building turns out to be inadequate for this old bedridden population, with its 3-bed rooms and its restrooms located at the far end of endless corridors. It is also isolated, too far from Tours, and the roads are often impracticable in wintertime when everything is frozen. Winter causes yet another big problem : heating. The property is so poorly insulated that it turns into a real money pit when it comes to fighting the cold.

Then La Haute-Barde starts losing its population, ever so slowly, as its residents pass away or are tranferred to better places. It is taken over by at least two owners, but the castle will remain empty. Empty of souls and a proper mission.

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Kronoscopic Report

 

 After a morning spent exploring our Castle Frog from a distance and under a penetrating drizzle, we discover this orphanage, previous property of l'Avenir du Prolétariat. The weather is still gloomy but the drizzle has receded. The countryside is silent, there is no one around, everything is perfect. Two massive columns stand on the roadside, marking the entrance to the park... read more

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Kronoscopic report, cont'd

 

No chain, no fence, it looks like we are free to go.
The park is huge and after a few minutes' walk in the tall grass, we get a glimpse of the building that I saw yesterday on the net. Meeting these old silent ladies is always a peculiar moment. Sometimes, I even feel like they are expecting us, tight-lipped, immersed in their own fathomless solitude. Maybe we are a small distraction that they indulge in. They unveil their inner treasures to us, open up as long as we respect them... this one has lived through some happy times and and some other darker ones. All those memories, those remembrances of past events seem to be floating around us in the air, calling us in the swish of grass, in the chatter of a magpie high over us. This feeling is so exciting, so overwhelming every time I come close to a dead place, a bit like a sixth sense.
We are close to the building now, after having crossed a wide area of tall grass with no way to hide, bent over and running, a small photo-commando. We access it by the side. We take a look around, checking for an inhabited house, a caretaker or even dogs. We can hear some bark, but they sound far, too far away to worry about anyway. Now infiltration is going to be tricky here : we take a quick walk around the building and realize that all openings have been sealed off with large slabs of plywood. The outbuildings at the back are impenetrable too. The trees have recently been trimmed : all the branches are lying on the ground. People come and go here, this place is tended, we are going to have to make ourselves scarce. 
After some thinking, we start shooting at the back of the building, facing the countryside. The overhanging roof covers a wooden walk strewn with dead leaves. Scabs of ancient paint are peeling off, the woodwork is twisted, swollen, cracked, covered in moss. The atmosphere has definitely been set to "Fitting".
Then, we notice the basement openings. One of them is not sealed with a grid like the others. And it looks big enough to let us slip in. Anyway, it seems the only way we have left to get inside. After some pondering (where, what are we getting in?), we crawl into this damp dark hole. We have no map, just flashlights. This is not a real basement : no room for anything in this cramped space, we can rarely stand. Yet, we progress easily enough. Silence weighs heavy here in the darkness. It feels like we are in a movie. We can only hear our breathing, together with the regular clink of a drop of water somewhere. The rest is swallowed, absorbed in this permanent night crushing and consuming everything down here. A transition-world of sorts, a test to go through before we are granted admission into a past we have come to explore. We often have to bend over to pass from one area to the next, we step over pipes, beams and girders, walk down some kinds of tapering walkways, some narrower than others. The cement walls lead us, it seems we cannot but go where they wish us to go, led like scientists' mice in a maze... could we even get lost ? Unless we already are...
At long last, we get to a flight of straight steps. We exchange a look, our light beams slowly glide up the stairs and spread on a door at the top. A deep breath and up we go, toward this passageway into a new world of memories. The door is unlocked, though it creaks when I push it ajar to take a peek at what is behind, checking for a motion sensor, that armed caretaker and his pack of rabid dogs, a ghost... something in any case, but no, there is nothing. The room is empty and the silence is a leaden cap here. The visit can start.
The castle is massive. Of course, but this is no longer a surprise because we have rarely explored furnished places, the halls are empty but for the sawdust and woodwork pieces left by the workers who came to seal off the doors and the windows. We split to take our photos, as usual, in low voices.
In the entrance hall, the floor tiling has been nicely decorated with tribal tags but besides these, there is no "arty" degradation, even though this place is widely known in the urbex world. Proof that respect prevails in this community. The adjoining room is partially partitioned with large panels of wood and glass, and then a staircase, with its distinctive series of three offset windows, repeated at every floor. I go up. Upstairs, first initial shock, soon tempered by reason: the central antique-pink-painted corridor stretches indefinitely, Hitchock-like, and up to 3 feet high from the floor, on each wall, Christian crosses have been drawn at intervals. Probably to make the premises look more sinister and disquieting than they already are by some clown, because I can't find any proper reason why anyone, at any time would have needed to paint these crosses for any purpose, when the building was an orphanage or even a nursing home. Yet I can't stop my mind from wandering and considering some less ordinary explanations...
Some of the bedroom walls are stained with long dripping greenish marks from the ceiling, probable signs of some sudden water damage covered with moss and mold with time passing. I feel secretely relieved they are green. Had they been red, the atmosphere would have been changed altogether. Pentax and I meet again from time to time, as we come and go, and wind up visiting the attic together, in the main tower, after climbing a 15- or 16-foot wooden ladder and its unreliable rungs. Up here, the view of the countryside is stunning. The big clock is right under us. We won!
 
We hear the voices as we go down. We freeze instantly. There are people outside. Talking men. We try and locate where they are, where their voices come from. A truck engine. Then a chainsaw. They are the gardeners, they have come for the trees, to finish the trimming! We remain locked in for another dozen minutes in our time bubble, silently waiting for the men to leave. Then we decide to go back to the basement underworld and our blind journey back to reality. We eventually pull ourselves out of the womb of this old lady who has gladly welcomed us and stealthily cross the backyard to get back to the road.
We spent 4 hours of our lives in there, which barely felt like 5 minutes.

 
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kronoscopia