Chateau de Pagax

Christian Dessalles' life project is saving his 13th century castle in France's region of Occitanie. The project is in full swing and hopefully the chateau will be restored to its 17th century looks very soon!

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Christian Dessalles, the owner of Chateau de Pagax
Artiom Ganin has a great time talking to Christian Dessalles, the owner of Chateau de Pagax in France's Occitanie region. Christian has told me that living in a chateau has always been his childhood dream. All of a sudden his dream came true. However, getting a green light from his wife took Christian a very good dinner at a restaurant. Is it a big price? Why did he fall in love with this particular ruined castle? This is a big question but the man says he is absolutely happy he owns the 13th century castle which demands his attention all the time. Numerous crowdfunding campaigns made it possible to collect the money to keep the restoration project going. Still, a lot needs to be done in the future to make the castle fully open to tourists. Christian hopes one day he will be able to host a medieval festival. Not buying this chateau earlier is the only thing Christian regrets now.

HOW CAN YOU CONVINCE YOUR WIFE TO BUY A RUIN?

Castles and Palaces (CnP): Please introduce yourself and your family!
Christian Dessalles (CD): My name is Christian Dessalles, I am 60 years old, I am married to Patricia and have two grown up children, son Mathis aged 23 and daughter Camille aged 21. I live in Lyon most of the time.

CnP: How did you come across this ruin?
CD: Quite by chance! My childhood dream was to live in a castle. I regularly looked at castles on sale in France and one day I came across this ad. I didn't know the Aveyron department at all, which is a 4.5 hour drive from Lyon, but I made the trip that day to visit the Pagax site.
CnP: Why did you buy it?
CD: This was my childhood dream coming true! And of course I wanted to satisfy my passion for old stones and heritage.

CnP: What did your family members tell you when you announced the purchase?
CD: The children were small at the time but were enthusiastic! My wife was not so enthusiastic and it took a lot of conversations to get her to agree. I had to be very persuasive but I managed to do it after a good meal in a restaurant. She explained to me that she didn't want to break my dream, but she didn't want to eat pasta for the rest of her life!
CnP: A good old meal is a powerful weapon indeed! Please tell me why is the castle in such a bad state?
CD: It is in this state because no maintenance had been done for almost 80 years! It was sold at an auction in 1925 because all the owners died. It was a local farmer who got the castle through the auction, but for him, what was important were the farmlands and the outbuildings. The castle was of no interest to him. No maintenance had been done ever since and the castle entered the 21st century in such a state.
CnP: Who was the previous owner?
CD: The previous owner was the granddaughter of the people who bought the castle in 1925. She and her husband were also farmers and used the castle and its outbuildings as a farm.

CnP: I spoke to the owner of Killua Castle in Ireland - Allen Sangines-Krause - he literally bought the walls, reinforced them and turned the structure into a modern house - it looks old from the outside but is very modern and eclectic on the inside. What is the plan with Pagax?
CD: We can't do whatever we want because the castle is a Monument Historique and the work is subject to authorization from the Ministry of Culture. The project is to restore it as it was in the 17th century. The Ministry of Culture does not want a restoration that is an interpretation. They want a restoration according to the last known documents or photos of the castle.
CnP: So you do have certain historical documents, don't you?
CD: Yes and no. We don't have any old building plans but we've found in the departmental archives a document dated October 16, 1731. It is an inventory of the furniture of the castle carried out following the death of the lord of Pagax. It is a real virtual visit of the castle because the notary gives a detailed description of each room and its equipment. This will be very useful for us to restore all the rooms. So, the restoration will be based on the 17th century castle. The inventory that we've found last February is a major element in understanding the architecture of the castle. On the other hand, all the elements of the previous centuries will be highlighted. We are waiting for the study and the plans of a heritage architect who will define the contours of the castle.
CnP: Will it be your family nest or will it be a luxury hotel?
CD: Neither one nor the other. We are currently occupying the outbuildings in which we have set up a very pleasant accommodation. The castle will be restored with the aim of opening it to visitors and creating activities throughout the year.

CnP: What is the biggest challenge?
CD: Finding funding and subsidies because I don't have the 4 million Euros necessary for the complete restoration.
CnP: This is quite an amount! You bought the castle in 2005 - how far have you progressed in your restoration work?
CD: This year [2021] has been a remarkable year because we finally launched the safeguarding and restoration work. We have completed a €338,000-worth phase of work and saved the Renaissance façade and its two towers.

CnP: Do you have the support of the state?
CD: Yes, the state through the Ministry of Culture helps us and supports us financially. They pay for up to 20% of the amount of work because the castle of Pagax is a historical monument
CnP: Tell me about your volunteers - where do they come from and who are they?
CD: The volunteers of the association Les Amis du Château de Pagax [The Friends of Pagax Castle] come from the region and even from much further away. Often they are young retirees who want to be useful and share good times in a group. It is true that we organize a "volunteer weekend" every month and it is an opportunity to spend pleasant moments. It should be noted that the volunteers do not work on the castle itself but on the park and the medieval garden in creation. They also take care of organizing different events at the castle (visits during the openings to the public, night hikes with torches, goodies store...etc.) .

CnP: Have you done any excavations? Did you find anything interesting?
CD: We did not carry out any excavations because it is forbidden on a historical monument site. Perhaps one day excavations will be carried out, which would be interesting, but this will be done by an archaeologist of the Ministry of Culture. However, without having done any excavations we have found some coins, some of which date back to the 16th century. Bear in mind that the furnishing of castle was sold during the 20th century, even some architectural pieces like a stone staircase for example.
CnP: I wonder where it is now! The owner of the Château d'Armentières who bought a ruined chateau with many problems told me that it was extremely difficult to raise money for certain activities. How do you do your fundraising?
CD: We launched a first fundraising campaign in 2012 with the Demeure Historique, which is an association of owners of private historic monuments. Thanks to this one, we collected nearly €30,000 in donations. We then carried out 3 campaigns with Dartagnans and these allowed us to collect again nearly 30 000€ but especially to make us known to the greatest number. In a few days we will launch a new sponsorship campaign with the Fondation du Patrimoine, a major player in French heritage. We hope that this campaign will allow us to start a new phase of work in the middle of 2022
You can help Christian Dessalles with the restoration efforts!

BECOME A PATRON AND GET YOUR PERKS

CnP: You have a list of patrons on the chateau's website, what one has to do to become a patron?
CD: To become a patron, you just have to go to the castle's website www.chateau-de-pagax.com and click on the "make a donation" button, which will take you to the sponsorship campaign website, where you can make a donation online and pay by your credit card.
CnP: What advantages or bonuses do you offer to your customers?
CD: For the time being the patron's name, the first name and nationality will be indicated on the patron's panel which is located in front of the castle, along the road, visible to all. In the next campaign, we are going to propose to the patrons to buy a staircase for the tower which we want to rebuild next year. In return, they will of course have their names on the panel of patrons but, in addition, we will engrave their initials on this staircase the way it was done by medieval stone masons. At the foot of this staircase, a new panel will be installed which will match the initials on the steps with the first and last names of the patrons. Sponsors who are French residents can also deduct 66% of their donation from their income tax. This new campaign should be launched till year's end.
CnP: What a great plan! The names will stay there forever and ever! What do the residents think of your project?
CD: They are delighted that someone is taking care of their castle! Indeed, the inhabitants of the hamlet of Pagax are mostly elderly and they all knew the castle when it still had its roofs. Some of them, for example, attended the ball in the castle during the liberation in 1945, they were then about ten years old.
CnP: I know that restoring such an old and ruined property is a huge effort - what is your source of inspiration that keeps you motivated and energetic?
CD: It's a life project and I'm full of energy when it comes to Pagax. It is an exceptional site and not a single hour goes by without me thinking about it, even when I am 400kms away. It is a real human adventure and I try to transmit this passion to all the visitors.
CnP: Could you tell me a fact about the history of the castle that is not generally known?
CD: In the recent history of the castle, it was a special site for the French resistance during the Second World War.
CnP: Tell me a legend about your chateau which you like the most?
CD: The most remarkable legend is the one about the treasure of Pagax castle! It would be a golden altar and it would be buried in the park of the castle. Some old people have given us details – the altar would be buried somewhere between the chapel Saint-Pierre (non-existent since the 1970s) and a pear tree... which must be dead for centuries! We have not found anything yet. Another legend says that the castle is guarded by a fire dragon!
CnP: I like the first one – it is literally more down-to-earth! What is the strongest emotion you have ever felt in your castle?
CD: The worst moment was the day in March 2019 when the stair tower collapsed. It was a difficult moment to get through but it gave me power to keep going.
CnP: How many ghosts do you have and who are they?
CD: I haven't met any yet or at least seen any evidence of them, but that's something I would love to experience!

CnP: What do you like most about your castle?
CD: Everything about it! Its architecture, the site on which it is built, its history, its mysteries and its legends.
CnP: Do you organize re-enactment parties or medieval fairs at the castle?
CD: Not yet but we would love to. For the moment, it is the problem of the financing which blocks us because the medieval troops which are ready to participate are asking too much money-wise. We would like everyone to be able to come and visit us during a festival like this and for this we would like to have an entrance free.
CnP: If you look back, what would you do differently? Would you ever embark on such a long and scary journey?
CD: I would do exactly the same but I would have done it earlier. It is such a joy to take care of Pagax, I have really lost many years living without knowing anything about the chateau!

CnP: What would you say to those who think you are crazy?
CD: That they are right but I would advise them to be right too! You know life must be sad without a grain of madness!
CnP: Do you keep in touch with other castle owners in Europe or in France?
CD: Yes, especially on social networks which allow a permanent contact, but I also spend my free time visiting other castles in France and Europe. My favorite castles in France are Chateau de Chenonceau, I also like the castle of Bonaguil.

CnP: And what would you say to those dreamers - like you - who would like to buy a dilapidated castle and restore it to its former glory?
CD: I would say to them, GO FOR IT, don't waste any time! It's an exceptional experience made of sharing and beautiful encounters.
We very much hope that you liked the interview with Christian Dessalles who owns Chateau de Pagax in Aveyron department of France's Occitanie region.
You can help Christian Dessalles with the restoration efforts!
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Photo credits: @Chateau de Pagax

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