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If you’ve ever wanted to walk through a medieval castle in Europe but didn’t have the time or money, now you can skip the Transatlantic flight and take a road trip to Arkansas. That’s right, Arkansas, where construction is underway on a medieval fortress. Workers are using only tools, materials, and techniques that existed in the late 13th century. Missy Shelton of member station KSMU reports.
When Franck Falgairette speaks, you don’t exactly hear the southern twang that you’d expect from a guy working on a construction site in rural northern Arkansas.
Falgairette: “I’m cutting some stone to make an archway, which we’re supposed to do by hand.”
Falgairette, who is French, is working on the Ozark Medieval Fortress where, at 12 bucks a pop, visitors can stroll the grounds and see a stone castle being built the way it would’ve been done in the Middle Ages. This project is nothing like Renaissance Fairs or those medieval dinner theatres where you watch a fancy jousting tournament while picking at a plate of chicken with your fingers. Here, visitors don’t encounter actors. Wayne Henson can tell you just how real it is. On this muggy day, he’s straddling a log and is using a primitive tool to shape it into a square beam.
NATSShelton: “This looks like really slow-going.Henson: “It is. It’s not really hard. It just takes time. Some of it is weathered out pretty good so it’s softer wood like that but when you get in there a little further, it’s gonna be hard because it’s good wood in the center. I wish I could break a saw out sometimes.”
The project began here thanks to Jean Marc and Solange Mirats, a French couple who moved to Arkansas 20 years ago to be close to their grandkids. They came up with the idea of bringing a piece of their heritage to the U.S. after visiting a similar project in France. They broke ground a year ago and opened the site to the public on May 1st. So far, 14 investors, most of them French, have committed $1.5 million in start-up money, enough to hire staff and start work on the castle. Jean Revault d’Allonnes is among the investors.
Revault d’Allonnes says, “I have to admit that I knew nothing about Arkansas before. I went several times in the States but never to Arkansas.”
Now that he’s visited Arkansas, Revault d’Allonnes says he’s happy to invest and wants to see the project grow.
Revault d’Allonnes says, “If we could earn more money, we will make something else around the castle, maybe a church or ‘abbaye’ as we say in French or why not a medieval village? It will depend on the visitor numbers we get.”The Ozark Medieval Fortress hopes to welcome as many as 150 thousand visitors this year. Tim and Joy Gilzow of Branson recently brought their two year old son to watch the construction.
“I want my son to grow up with this opportunity because how often do you get to see a castle get built over a lifetime? We’re planning to come down every year to take a picture in front of it just to keep a record of what’s going on.”
And there are plenty of things to see like blacksmith Rocky Horton as he pumps bellows by hand to stoke the fire that’s heating the metal. This project has given him and his brother the chance to reclaim a trade that has a history in their family. There’s even a Belgian horse named Honey moving stones by cart from the nearby quarry to the fortress. When the project is finished in an estimated 20 years, the fortress will have towers that are 24 feet high, a drawbridge, and even a moat. For KSMU News, I’m Missy Shelton.