More than 120,000 people travel to the commune of Hauterives in southeastern France every year to see the Palais Idéal du Facteur Cheval, a stunning palace constructed entirely from hand-picked pebbles.
Originally called “The Temple of Nature,” the man-made wonder was built one stone at a time from hundreds of pebbles that postman Joseph Ferdinand Cheval collected for 33 years.
He combined the stones with mortar and limestone to create the impeccably-detailed castle.
At 26 meters long and 12 meters high on one end, and 14 meters long on the other, the palace is complete with pillars, buttresses, a terrace, and animals constructed from the postman’s memories of the postcards he delivered everyday.
The palace has a fascinating history.
When Cheval was 43 years old, he stumbled across an oddly-shaped rock while delivering mail on the same 18-mile route he took through Hauterives every day.
He was so fascinated by the rock’s shape that he put it in his pocket and took it home.
“It was a stumbling block shape so bizarre that I put it in my pocket to admire at my ease…I thought: since nature wants to do sculpture, I will do the masonry and architecture,” Cheval wrote in his journal.
That day began the next 33 years he spent collecting uniquely-shaped pebbles to construct his palace, carrying them home first in his pants pockets and eventually in a wheelbarrow before beginning work alone overnight with an oil lamp for light.
He would mark the stones he found interesting while delivering mail, pick them up at the end of his work day, and take them to his collection garden, soon to be the home of his palace.
After years of construction, the palace was officially opened to visitors in 1907.
Since then, it has since been a treasured destination for visitors and a popular location for concerts by renowned pianists like Arthur H, quartets, and a variety of musicians during the end of June and July.
But Cheval’s work with the pebbles did not end at his palace. You can also see the tomb he built for himself at the age of 78, known today as “The tomb of silence and endless rest.” The tomb is located 1 kilometer from the palace and free for visitors to see.
Cheval was able to build his magnificent creation without any formal artistic training, which is why his work has been a major source of inspiration for artists including Picasso, Jean Tinguely, and French writer André Breton, who dubbed the palace the precursor of Surrealistic architecture.
Today, the palace is open to the public year-round. Tours cost 6.50 euros for adults and 5 euros for children six through 16.
If you have the chance to visit the palace, take a close look at the walls where you can see Cheval’s poetry, which he etched himself. Perhaps one of the most touching inscriptions is the one that reads, “The dream of one man.”
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