The Château de Pierrefonds is an imposing castle situated in the commune of Pierrefonds in the Oise département of France. It is on the southeast edge of the Forest of Compiègne, north of Paris, between Villers-Cotterêts and Compiègne.
The Château de Pierrefonds includes most of the characteristics of defensive military architecture from the Middle Ages, though it underwent a major restoration in the 19th century .
In the 12th century, a castle was built on this site. Three centuries later, in 1392, the king Charles VI, turned the county of Valois (of which Pierrefonds was part) into a Duchy, and gave it to his brother Louis d'Orléans. From 1393 to his death in 1407, the latter had the castle rebuilt by the court architect, Jean le Noir.
In March 1617, during the early troubled days of Louis XIII's reign, the castle, then the property of François-Annibal d'Estrées (brother of the beauty Gabrielle d'Estrée), who joined the "parti des mécontents" (party of malcontents) lead by Henri II, Prince of Condé, was besieged and taken by troops sent by Richelieu, the secretary of state for war. Its demolition was started, but not carried through to the end because of the enormity of the task. The exterior works were razed, the roofs destroyed and holes made in the towers and curtain walls.
The castle remained a ruin for more than two centuries. Napoleon I bought it in 1810 for less than 3,000 francs. During the 19th century, with the rediscovery of the architectural heritage of the Middle Ages, it became a "romantic ruin": in August 1832, Louis-Philippe gave a banquet there on the occasion of the marriage of his daughter Louise to Léopold de Saxe-Cobourg Gotha, first king of Belgium. Among other artists, Corot depicted the ruins in several works between 1834 and 1866. The castle has been classified as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture since 1848.
Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte, (later Napoleon III of France), visited the castle in 1850. As emperor, he asked Viollet-le-Duc in 1857 to undertake its restoration. There was no question of a simple repair to the habitable parts (the keep and annexes): the "picturesque" ruins in front were to be kept for decor. In 1861, the project grew in scale: the sovereign wanted to create an imperial residence, so the castle was to be entirely rebuilt. The works, which would cost 5 million francs, of which 4 million were to come from the civil list, were stopped in 1885, six years after the death of Viollet-le-Duc. The departure of Napoléon III had halted the reconstruction and, through lack of money, the decoration of rooms was unfinished. Inside, Viollet-le-Duc produced more a work of invention than restoration (polychrome paintings). He imagined how the castle ought to have been, rather than basing his work on the strict history of the building. On the other hand, with the exterior, he showed an excellent knowledge of the military architecture of the 14th century.
The Château de Pierrefonds is classified as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture.
The castle has often been used as a location for films, including les Visiteurs and The Messenger: The Story of Joan of Arc.