French Postman Spent 30 Years Building a Palace Made of Pebbles
By Lily Rowan | June 30, 2017
The story of the Ideal Palace began in 1879. One day, while walking his mail route, French mail carrier Ferdinand Cheval was distracted by a strange-shaped stone that he tripped over.
“I was walking very fast when my foot hit something that sent me stumbling for a few meters. I wanted to know what caused me to trip. In a dream I had, I built a palace, a castle or caves; I don’t remember specifically, and I cannot express it well… I didn’t tell anyone about my dream for fear of being scoffed at, and besides, I felt a little ridiculous myself.
Then, all of a sudden, fifteen years later, when I had almost forgotten my dream, and I wasn’t thinking about it at all, my tripping incident reminded me of it. My foot struck a stone that almost made me fall. I wanted to know what it was… It was a rock of such a strange shape that I put it in my pocket to admire it later when my work was done.”
The day after, I went back to the same location. I found more stones, even more beautiful, I gathered as many together as I could and was overwhelmed by delight… The rocks were sandstone shaped by water and hardened by time. They have become as hard as pebbles. They are sculptured by nature, so strange and almost impossible for man to imitate; they represent any animal, any caricature. I was thinking to myself: ‘Since Nature was willing to do the sculpture, the least I can do is the masonry and the architecture.'
For the next 30 years, Cheval had been picking up and collecting stones during his daily rounds and carried them home to build his Ideal Palace. The outer walls took twenty years to build. In the beginning, he carried the stones home inside his pockets, then he started using a basket. Later, he switched to using a wheelbarrow. He worked at night most of the time using only an oil lamp as his source of light. He used a mixture of lime, mortar, and cement he hand-mixed himself to bind the stones together.
Just before his death, Cheval started getting recognition from famous artist like Pablo Picasso and André Breton. Anaïs Nin wrote an essay that commemorated the work of his Palace.
In 1969, France’s Minister of Culture, André Malraux, declared the Palais a national landmark and today it’s officially protected. In 1986 Cheval adorned a French postage stamp.
The Ideal Palace is open to visitors every day except Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, and it is also closed from 15th to 31st January.