Ferdinand Cheval – the mailman who built the palace – has become recognized for surrealist architecture after shaping the stones in his “Palais Ideal.” He was a 19th-century mailman assigned a daily route in Châteauneuf-de-Galaure, a small village in the south of France.
One night, Cheval dreamed of building a palace. He didn’t think about that dream for years until one day, in the spring of 1879, his foot got caught on an unusual-looking rock during his postal route.
The rock so fascinated Cheval that he took it home to admire it. But it also gave him an idea. For the next 33 years, Cheval continued to collect rocks during his postal route, first carrying them in his pockets, later using a basket, and finally a wheelbarrow.
The mailman traveled 20 miles a day to deliver the mail, and at one point, his obsession with collecting stones became almost his profession.
He could not find rest. During the nights, he was picking up stones with new shapes and sizes. At first, he began to make sculptures of animals, waterfalls, and plants. But one day, he decided to build a palace, stone by stone, and it would be called Palais Ideal.
The Palais Ideal
Its construction began in 1879; it finished in 1912. The palace is located in Hauterives and is open to the public almost all year round, and often serves as a hall for extraordinary concerts and art exhibitions.
Although the mailman had no architectural studies, Ferdinand Cheval is considered one of the greatest exponents of surrealist architecture. Even artists and intellectuals such as André Breton, Pablo Picasso, and Max Ernst considered him an inspiration for their work.
In 1969 André Malraux declared the Palais Ideal a historical monument of France. Today, visitors from all over the world pay to visit this temple. The palace has a mosque, a Hindu temple, a medieval castle, and a tomb in which Cheval himself wanted to be buried.
Although Cheval wished to be buried in his palace when he died, this was illegal in France at the time, so he spent an additional eight years building a mausoleum for himself in the city cemetery. He finished just in time; Cheval died on August 19, 1924, about a year after completing the mausoleum, which remains his final resting place.