A group of 40 people, paid workers and volunteers, is building a 13th century-style fortress in northwest Arkansas using only medieval tools, technology and resources.
For the next 2 decades, workers in medieval peasant clothes (excepting only the OSHA-required steel-toed boots) using the traditional 13th century tools of the stonemason’s trade will build a fortress with 7 towers, 1 of which will be 70 feet tall, and 6-foot-wide, 25-foot-tall walls made of stone taken from a nearby quarry and transported to the construction site by Belgian draft horses.
The fortress is both a serious historical reenactment and an offbeat tourist attraction, allowing the public to watch and chat with workers as they chisel stone, lift blocks with a human-powered hamster-wheel crane, forge tools and chains, and make rope or tiles. Following construction plans drafted by a French architectural historian, it will take the crew 20 years to erect a fortress with five-foot-thick walls and seven towers, including one more than 70 feet high. The walls, begun before the public opening and currently standing around six feet high, will eventually reach 25 feet.
Tool-building is not the only draw. As visitors occasionally step aside for a passing donkey or for Honey, the castle’s Belgian draft horse, they follow a self-guided route past a pen of bleating sheep, a rustic textile workshop and the quarry before reaching the construction site and stations devoted to stone facing, carpentry, pottery and blacksmithing. All of the attractions (aside from the sheep) are vital to the creation of the castle. Docent-led tours ($1) offer a more in-depth look at the history of castles and life in the Middle Ages, and a stone-cutting lesson ($5) allows visitors to create their own take-home souvenir.
The Ozark Medieval Fortress project was inspired by a similar project in Burgundy, France. In 2008, Solange and Jean-Marc Mirat, a French couple living in Lead Hill, Arkansas, visited Guédelon, a medieval fortress being built in Burgundy, France, using only period materials and technology.
They decided Lead Hill would be a great place to do the same thing, so they contacted the founder of the Guédelon project, French artist and horseman Michel Guyot, and offered him part of their land in Lead Hill to build a medieval fortress there. Since the forested land was fortuitously situated near all the necessary prime building materials — water, stone, earth, sand and wood — Guyot went for it. They broke ground in June of last year, and opened the construction site to the public in May of this year.
The Ozark fortress is modeled after the castle near Paris where King Louis IX successfully held out against a siege in 1228. American and French architectural historians are on staff to ensure the castle is built to the highest possible standard of authenticity and structural strength.