Dating to the 12th century, Vincennes is one of the few castles that, from the Middle Ages, has consistently found a place at the centre of French History. It is one of the biggest and best preserved castles in Europe. Like other châteaux it had its origins in a meagre hunting lodge, constructed for Louis VII about 1150 in the forest of Vincennes. In the 13th century, Philip Augustus and Louis IX erected a more substantial manor: Louis IX is reputed to have departed from Vincennes on the crusade from which he did not return.
The Château of Vincennes was used as royal residence from the 12th to 18th century and its 14th-century keep, at 42m, is the highest of its kind in Europe. In 1365, Charles V, transformed the family manor house at Vincennes into a more suitable royal dwelling and built the present keep to house his art collection and manuscripts. From the early 15th century to the 1800s, the keep was used as a prison, which saw the imprisonment of famous figures such as Fouquet, the Marquis de Sade, and Mirabeau.
After extensive restoration work, the Sainte-Chapelle at the Château de Vincennes is once more open to the public and visitors can admire its decorative ensemble. Started in 1379, and based on the model of the royal chapel in the Palais de la Cité in Paris, the Sainte-Chapelle at Vincennes realised the dreams of King Charles V to add a truly exceptional religious edifice to this impressive fortress.
The chateau is composed of a surrounding wall, protected by three gates and six high towers, which stretches around over more than half a mile, protecting a central space of several acres. This interior square holds the keep, the civilian, administrative and military buildings and a chapel. In the Middle Ages, all of these elements together made it possible for several thousands of people to live here.