Archaeological excavations on a restoration site, but what for? 

Excavations are carried out in several stages, following the progress of the work, and often lead to major discoveries that provide information about the history and foundations of the site! So what have we learned about the previous lives of the Château de Villers-Cotterêts before it became the residence of Francis I?

A castle under the château...

In the Cour des Dames and the King's Garden

Cour des Dames, excavation site © Pierre-Olivier Deschamps - Agence Vu' / Centre des monuments nationaux


Carried out between May and August 2020, the first excavations aimed to provide researchers with information about the medieval castle built by the Counts of Valois in the 12th century, for which no archives were available until then. 

Cour des Dames, archaeological excavations © Pierre-Olivier Deschamps - Agence Vu' / Centre des monuments nationaux


Mission accomplished! 

The structures of this first building, also known as Malmaison and sacked by the English at the beginning of the 16th century, were used to build the Logis Royal, or royal residence under King Francis I. 

The excavations uncovered the foundations of a square tower that was previously unknown, revealed the extent of the 14-metre long and approximately 6-metre-deep ditch that protected the building in the Middle Ages, and indicated the existence of a network of drains. 

In addition, the exploration of a pit that served as a latrine (the ancestor of our toilets) but also as a rubbish bin led to the discovery of culinary, artisanal and domestic waste that provides a highly valuable source for learning about the habits and customs of the time.

Based on all these elements, archaeologists from the French National Institute for Preventive Archaeological Research (INRAP) were able to reconstruct some of the plans of the medieval castle.

In the Cour du Jeu de Paume

Jeu royal de la paume, 1632 © Gallica BnF


In the heart of the Logis Royal, the excavated remains of an early jeu de paume (real tennis) court bear witness to the importance of this entertainment at the king's court. 

The Villers-Cotterêts Jeu de Paume, uncovered thanks to the first excavation campaign, was in fact a "prototype" of the new jeu of paume courts in vogue at the time. Very popular with the elites, jeu de paume courts were installed within the residences of the wealthy. The courts are surrounded by walls, lined with galleries from where to watch the players competing with each other to avoid being "left on the sidelines" ("rester sur le carreau" in French). This new arrangement also allowed the king to watch the games from his apartments, whose windows looked directly onto the playing area! 



In the Cour des Offices, the former farmyard

A second campaign was completed in February 2021 in the Cour des Offices, covering an area of 3,700 m². These excavations uncovered a large rectangular building, 18 metres long and 5 metres wide, with at least three rooms. It is dated to the late Middle Ages, but its function remains unknown for the moment. 

Château de Villers-Cotterêts, Cour des Offices during excavations © Pierre-Olivier Deschamps - Agence Vu' / Centre des monuments nationaux


The archaeological excavations at the Château de Villers-Cotterêts are being carried out by the INRAP and the Aisne Departmental Archaeological Service.


Discover the restoration and architectural project.

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