The castle of the great writer Voltaire has been admired for a long time. Last year I finally had the opportunity to visit the former residence of a famous person, and my long-cherished wish came true.
This historic building was called the “European Inn” by philosophers at that time. It is located in the small town of Ferney. It was a small village in the 17th and 18th centuries. It was originally a desolate area with sparsely populated areas. It could be described as “wild water lingering, stone paths sloping, pigeon gates and sloping houses”. “Three families” to describe. During this period, the arrival of the French Enlightenment thinker Voltaire completely changed the ecology and landscape of this place.
Rows of upright poplar trees bring fresh green and vigorous vitality to this originally barren land.
Nowadays, when you enter the small town of Ferney-Voltaire, you will see exquisite small houses, green grassy parks, open-air country markets, and smiling people. All this, at first glance, looks no different from the peaceful and happy towns in other parts of France.
But upon closer inspection, when we heard local residents greeting visitors in several languages, we suddenly realized that this was actually an international town.
How many people have tried to visit the great philosopher but never met him! Thinking of this level, when I stepped into this castle, I couldn’t help but feel light in my steps.
When he visited this castle from afar, Scottish biographer Boswell tried every means to ask for an audience with Voltaire. The Scottish writer, who was not yet famous at the time, specially brought a letter of recommendation from Voltaire’s friend, but because there was no advance notice, he could not get the opportunity to meet alone after arriving at the castle. Because the gates of Geneva closed at five in the afternoon, he had to leave early. Fortunately, the next day, he wrote a humorous and intelligent letter, and the questions raised in it aroused the interest of philosophers, so he was able to have a conversation with Voltaire as he wished, without being frustrated and returning.
When we visited the castle, there was an exhibition “Writing History: Voltaire and the King” on display in the basement, which laid out the relationship between philosophers and European courts.
Voltaire spent his whole life fighting against feudalism and theology.
He admired Chinese Confucianism, regarded China’s political system as the most perfect political system, and used China’s enlightened monarchy as a basis to oppose France’s absolute monarchy. His thoughts influenced European thinkers at that time, thus promoting the spread of Chinese culture in Europe.
The Inn of Europe, located in the southeast of the Alps, was a base where Voltaire held high the banner of religious tolerance and personally devoted himself to opposing religious persecution.
During the last twenty years of his life, Voltaire lived on the shores of Lake Raymond and near Juhar. These places where he was accustomed to stay, meditate and wander have left a profound mark on the philosopher. Today, this small town with about 8,500 residents has become a gathering place for tourists from all over the world because of Voltaire. The town’s symbol is the head of the philosopher.
Voltaire was very business-savvy. After becoming rich through financial investments, he settled in Switzerland in March 1755. He stayed away from Paris because the Paris authorities did not welcome him. At the age of twenty, Voltaire was exiled to Surrey for writing a poem that satirized the then regent, the Duke of Orleans. Later, he was imprisoned twice for writing satirical poems and being falsely accused. He was deported and went into exile in the UK. After inspecting the British political system on the spot, he experienced first-hand the local freedom of belief and tolerance of thought. After returning to China, his “Philosophical Correspondence” was banned and an arrest warrant was issued because he criticized the French autocratic regime. He fled to his girlfriend, the Marchioness de Châtelet’s estate in the village of Siret, and lived in seclusion for fifteen years.
He was invited to Berlin, but left because he was disillusioned with the feudal autocracy of Prussian King Frederick II. He bought a house near Geneva and named it “Joy”. But because Voltaire participated in the compilation of an encyclopedia, some of the texts describing Geneva received attention. In order to escape the pressing marking of the King of Geneva, he must leave Geneva. Eventually he bought the fiefdom of Lord Ferney as a safe haven from political concerns.
Voltaire’s big house in Ferney is now the Chateau Voltaire – the “Inn de Europe”, which is now famous for the writer. Here the writer received the elite from all Europe. It was here that his philosophical thoughts were fully developed and he set up a banner against intolerance in the world. This battle continued, and he wrote several masterpieces on the defense of human rights, such as “Charter of Tolerance” and “Philosophical Dictionary” as well as more than 6,000 famous letters fighting for human rights, etc. This castle can be called the center of the development of European Enlightenment thought.
When you walk into the castle, you can see classical-style buildings next to a large garden. The front entrance is constructed of double columns, and the pilasters above are also columns made in pairs. There is also a pediment carved on it with the weapons carried by the tetrarch and Voltaire’s niece, about two stories high.
A variety of plants are planted in the park. To the south is a tree-shaded green shed, and to the west is a French-style garden with a pond and a broad platform. Voltaire also designed an opening that cut through the garden’s grove, allowing an unobstructed view of the Alps.
How wise, this tireless man of action! He also converted a historic storage room near the garden into a theater performance hall. Whenever Voltaire was in a mood, he would also perform his own plays and indulge in the addiction of being an actor.
He built two wings of the castle to shade the small courtyard surrounding him. He also invited the famous Geneva architect Bi Yong and the ceramics expert Leonard Hacker to build the castle until 1866.
Coming here, in addition to the Chateau Voltaire, literary pilgrims will also be attracted by a monastery church in the area. This is a Gothic building built in the twelfth century. Its interior still contains the tombs of the princes and princesses of Savoy before their return to France, as well as a rich collection of religious artifacts.
After long consideration, Voltaire decided to buy Ferney in 1759. This is located on the border between Switzerland and the French department of Jacks. However, before he moved in in 1760, he carried out major projects. A path planted with poplar trees on the property continues to the end of the flat land. In this case, this place needs to be directed to neighboring Switzerland. It is only one kilometer away from Switzerland.
Today, this former poplar path has become a boulevard about 300 meters long, and is included in the list of French historical monuments.
On November 18, 1758, Voltaire wrote in a letter: “Half the inhabitants suffer from poverty, while the other half rot in confinement. I bought this land in Ferney just to do a little good. ”
In 1750, the writer had the idea of developing this place. He has practical life experience, and the content of his article “Dialogue on Beautifying Cashmeron” is related to improving this community. He brought the small village of Ferney to civilization: he introduced sanitation, fountains, and lighting of its side streets. He designed the streets to be arranged in a star shape, leading in all directions. He also built a hundred buildings as studios for local craftsmen, artists, and people interested in silk manufacturing; set up a tanning factory to manufacture the long silk stockings that were introduced to the court; he also exempted many The popular salt tax, the construction of a theater and a church, the planting of trees, the drainage of swamp water, the use of improved seeders, the establishment of artificial pastures and the development of animal husbandry.
This poor little village with only forty-nine residents, described by Voltaire as “covered with scabies and scrofula”, has been given a new look after the philosopher’s painstaking construction. Twenty years later, when the philosopher died, there were already twelve hundred residents.
In 1780, this place was named after Voltaire to commemorate the philosopher’s contribution to the place.
Voltaire renovated the place, somewhat inspired by the urban planning of London’s new quarters, and the appearance remained unchanged until 1950, despite additions and extensions made in the nineteenth century. Part of these territories was even later used for the construction of Geneva International Airport.
The philosopher chose this town mainly because of its proximity to the border, which would prove useful in times of problems between the royal government and his rival Jean-Jacques Rousseau’s city of Geneva.
He expressed his condolences to the descendants of the Calvinists who were persecuted by French Catholics and encouraged them to make clocks, so there was a watch that the French ambassador was proud of.
During the era of the “Sun King”, ideological tyranny and religious persecution were pushed to the extreme. The King of France resumed persecution of Protestants throughout the country, and Calvinists fled Paris, some to the Swiss border.
Voltaire estimated that the number of Calvinists who fled to various countries numbered 800,000. He also built wealthy and scenic suburbs for his relatives and new “colonists”, mainly from Geneva’s watchmakers. He also asked his friends in Paris to spread the word about these related articles. In the context of competition with watchmakers in Geneva, Paris guaranteed them and protected their rights. However, political and economic relations with Geneva later became complicated, leading to the end of this activity.
In 1772, he said in the book “The Patriarch of Ferney”: “I am bankrupt, but I have no despair. I will always have the glorious title of founder in my village.” This is Voltaire’s
classic One of the famous sentences.
At that time, many princes and nobles admired Voltaire’s approach. Catherine II also wanted to build a summer palace like Ferny Castle. She really wanted to move the old castle intact to the outskirts of St. Petersburg. She invited the architect who designed the castle for Voltaire to obtain a model of the same building. These architectural documents are still intact in Russian libraries. Catherine II was eager to learn. She often immersed herself in books and read a lot of books. There was a special room for her study in the summer palace, where she studied hard. She and Voltaire maintained a long-term correspondence, with constant back and forth. She left twelve volumes of manuscripts and numerous letters to Russia.
Chateau Voltaire was nationalized in 1999 and became a French historical monument. The castle has now been renovated at great cost, staying true to the original architectural template. The design prototype that was preserved in St. Petersburg was also borrowed from Russia to France for renovation projects.
In this castle, Voltaire continued to create dramatic works, completed historical monographs such as “History of Parliament” and “Russia under Peter the Great”, as well as philosophical novels such as “Candide” and “The Innocent Man”. He also continued to read about China Philosophical books. He used China’s religious tolerance to oppose the religious persecution of French Catholics and participated in the turbulent Enlightenment Movement.
Among the Enlightenment thinkers of the eighteenth century, Voltaire has always been a praiser of Chinese culture. He admired Confucius’s words such as “Don’t do to others what you don’t want others to do to you”, “Repay evil with kindness, repay kindness with kindness” and other words, which he considered to be the basis of human happiness. He believes that if there is the happiest and most respectable era in the world, it is the era when the philosophy and laws of Confucius are followed.
At this time, France was in the heyday of the monarchy. The central power was unprecedentedly powerful. Louis XIV had sole power and declared that “I am the country.” He sought to unify the beliefs of his subjects and persecuted the Protestants. In the era of Louis XV, the aristocracy was even more arrogant, the Holy See was monopolistic, and the people were in dire straits. Under such a social background, Voltaire was naturally envious of a country like China where Confucianism, Buddhism, and Taoism could coexist and where ideas were tolerant.
Voltaire never visited China in person. He only learned about China at that time from reading the letters and writings of missionaries who came to China, especially the Jesuits. From these books, he discovered that China was the world’s best religiously tolerant country, and he strongly advocated Chinese philosophy. He set China’s enlightened monarchy as a benchmark and opposed France’s autocratic monarchy.
Even in his eyes, purifying Confucianism also beautified China at that time, but it was precisely because of this beautification that it added the ideal color in his mind, which greatly promoted the spread of Chinese culture in Europe, and even more Promoted the development of the Enlightenment Movement.
From Voltaire’s “On Customs”, we can read his yearning for freedom of belief in China. He wrote that China at that time could also accept Taoism, Buddhism and other religions that were different from the state religion in addition to Confucius’ Confucianism.
The writer lay dormant in Ferney until 1778, when he returned home and visited Paris. The authorities allowed him to go back and watch the performance of his last play. He was warmly welcomed by the people everywhere.
After Voltaire died of prostate cancer, the Marquis de Villette, who acquired the castle, placed Voltaire’s heart in a clay-clothed tomb without a body for people to pay respect to.
After being sold by Voltaire’s niece Madame Denis, the Château de Ferney changed owners several times. It was acquired by the French government in 1999 and underwent extensive renovations in the next three years at a cost of nine million euros in 2015. When President Macron presided over the opening ceremony on May 31, 2018, he said: At a time when religion was rampant and politicians were tyrannical, Voltaire represented the spirit of freedom. This confrontation, which excluded dissenters, irrigated the ideas of the Enlightenment and the French Republic.
Walking on Avenue Voltaire, next to a fountain, you will see a bust of Voltaire. It was established in 1878, the centenary year of the philosopher’s birth.
In addition to his outstanding achievements in literature and drama, the thinker Voltaire was even more radiant in philosophy. Especially in that era when weak kings were in power, he had to defend the dignity of the common people and the fairness of judicial trials. Don’t be afraid of difficulties and accomplish your mission passionately. He is widely recognized as an outstanding leader and spiritual teacher of the Enlightenment. Today, he is revered as the “Father of French Thought.” The French are often proud to be Voltaire’s subjects.
How lucky is the small town of Ferney to be named after Voltaire! Because of the political environment of that era, Voltaire was often in exile and never stayed in Paris for more than two years. It was Ferney who accepted the philosopher for twenty years and left an immortal reputation to future generations.
We reluctantly said goodbye to the small town of Ferney-Voltaire. Along the way, we saw several landmarks depicting Voltaire’s head with red lines on a white background. The activities held in the town are all inlaid with the name of the philosopher, such as the Voltaire Music Festival, Voltaire Art Season, etc. I feel that the atmosphere of the philosopher is connected with the atmosphere of this town. The philosopher’s mind has been integrated into the town’s mind. The philosopher’s wisdom drives the daily life of the town and also connects the town’s eternity.