A postman and a palace made of pebbles

By on 8th August 2016


For 33 years French postman Ferdinand Cheval collected pebbles while walking his post route. He used the stones to make his ‘ideal palace’, like the one he saw in a dream once. The result is a stunning 24 metre palace featuring towers and fanciful statues of ostriches, elephants and bears.

He started his life-project in 1879. One day as he was walking his route in Hauterives, a small town between Lyon and Grenoble, in France where he tripped over a rock. A stone with such an odd shape that he had to put it in his pocket to examine it in ease later. The accident reminded him of a dream he had 15 years earlier, where he had built a palace or a castle of some sort. The next day he found more stones, even more beautiful, at the same place. He thought they were part of the palace he had dreamed about and since nature already had done the sculpting of the rocks, he should do the masonry and the architecture and make a palace out of the pebbles.

He worked at night with the help of oil lamps to provide some light and used lime, mortar and cement to bind all the stones together. The design and mystical figures where inspired by the postcards and magazines he delivered every day, resulting in an architectural mixture of Christian and Hindu sculptures. Some parts of the palace resemble Angkhor Wat in a way.

It took him 22 years to finish the 24 meter long, ten meter high outer walls and another 11 years to build the interior. The whole palace was finished in 1912 and can still be seen in France to this date. Thanks to André Malraux, the Minister of Culture, the Palais is a cultural landmark and it is officially protected for years to come. In 1986 Cheval was put on a French postage stamp.

When Cheval died he requested to be buried in the palace, but that wasn’t permitted. So instead he built his own mausoleum at the Hauterives cemetery, which took him another eight years.  He died on 19 August 1924, about a year after he had finished the mausoleum, and was buried there.