The tall grass brushed calmly my hands as we hiked towards the expressionless castle resting on a hill in front of us. We had just passed a rusty gate without any of the usual signs of abandonment - old red signs saying something such as “défense d'entrer”. This universal message for urban explorers doesn’t need to be translated. I was sure we would encounter these signs in a moment, when we would reach the castle, “Chateau Helix” as it is known in the urbex circles.
We entered the silent, colossal castle. The coolness inside was refreshing, as yet another heatwave was punishing France and Europe. We made our way together to one of the staircases, the “helixes”. We stood in the dim hall feeling good about reaching our destination safely. Looking at the stairs, I knew Tanja would be busy with the photographs for a while or two. It was time for me to continue exploring the castle.
We have explored hundreds of abandoned places during our past years and I have come to understand that it is nearly impossible to comprehend the history of these places. The amount of events, people and stories is huge and makes the question “what was this place” too narrow. This castle, “Chateau Helix”, was built over 400 years ago and after that has seen many purposes and owners. The current state is just one phase in its history. What I could find about its history, was interesting though. Originally a medieval castle, which has been reconstructed many times, has been used as a bathhouse and as a center for drug addicts.
After walking the corridors, visiting the courtyard and many places which I now recognized from photos I’d previously seen on social media, I returned to Tanja who had now moved to take photos of the second staircase. She was busy with the camera and I decided to take a break and sat next to a cool wall. First, I enjoyed the silence and then, like in many places, I started paying attention to the sounds which were almost undetectable but still there. Small crackles coming within the old walls - rats. Outside, birds circled the castle and an armada of cicadas were making an uproar. This place was abandoned, but it most certainly wasn’t uninhabited, it was full of life.
After our visit, I found a picture of an old poster welcoming people to enjoy the baths in this castle. Maladies like sciatica and nervous problems could be treated here, “by the most picturesque railway in the world”, as the place is near the French Alps. The poster radiated life, health and pleasure. The transformation of this grand castle with untold history to a silent sanctuary for nature is an example of life itself - birth, joy, sorrow, and in the end, descent into oblivion.
K.P / 29.7.2019