Named after the Roman general Marcellus, the town of Marcillat has a strong Roman history. This is present in the chateau’s grounds, in which two Roman sarcophagi were found and which are now kept at a museum in Neris les Bains. A megalith, believed to be a Celtic altar, also remains at the edge of the wood, making it a strong spiritual site.
The earliest section of the Chateau was built in the mid-to-late 13th century and stands at the north-east corner of the building. It was the property of Guillaume de Rochedragon and existed as a fortified tower that stood to protect the surrounding area of the Canton de Combraille.
In the 14th century, the property was inherited by the Du Mont family, who built on to the tower in around 1560. They extended it into a manor house, building up and around the medieval courtyard, into what now exists as the back kitchen. The stone doorway that leads onto the kitchen from the hallway is one of many surviving features of this rebuilding.
In the 16th century the Chateau came into the possession of the Durat family, whose original crest stands over the front door and over the chimney. The Durats made the most visible adaptations to the Chateau in 1826, extending it into the final incarnation that we see today. The front of the building, and both its round and square towers known as the ‘salt and pepper pots’, were commissioned by Count Francois-Cesar de Durat, an attaché to the Ambassador of Russia. Making his fortune in Russia, the Count sent back a command for a remodelling of the gentleman’s residence into something that would amuse him! A beam in the attic still bears the date 1827, from this period of rebuilding.
Known members of the Durat family to live in the Chateau include Felix de Durat, who resided here between the 1850’s & the 1880’s, and is remembered historically for his enormous beneficial influence on local business and artisan craftsmen. The final Durat to reside in the Chateau was the grandfather of the present Count. It is rumoured that his propensity for wine and women forced him to sell off parts of his land with each new mistress! The current Durats now live in the area of Moulins.
In the 1950’s, the Chateau was rented for seven years as a boy’s boarding school. There are stories of mischievous schoolboys burning carriages and playing in the Roman ruins! One of the school’s alumni is now a famous French photographer. On visiting he showed us the attic which he fashioned into a dark room, and in which he began his photographic career!
The Chateau was bought in 1975 by the famous choreographer Pierre Lacote and his wife Ghislaine Thesmar, a prima ballerina of the Paris Opera. Her presence remains in the form of the dance studio on the second floor, and in the photographs that line its walls. It was Lacote and Thesmar who helped dancer Rudolph Nureyev upon his defection from Russia in 1961.
Stephanie and David bought the Chateau in 1998, completely empty and in much need of renovation and redecoration! Since then, Stephanie and David have been in the constant process of both conserving and renovating the chateau…
For a short history of the Chateau in French, see: Le Patrimoine des Communes de L’Allier- Auvergne, (Flohic), p.630.
Note: David and Stephanie Holland have accumulated a great selection of brocante and antique textiles – which you can buy; ask us about browsing our treasure filled attics and barns.