Over 7,400 complete strangers from around the world have come together to buy a historic French castle to save it from ruin or be ravaged by developers.
In what organizers say is the first such project in the world, a crowdfunding appeal raised more than € 500,000 in just 40 days to buy the 13th-century Chateau de la Mothe-Chandeniers in the west country.
The thousands of co-owners who each paid a minimum of € 50 expect to restore the building at least in part from its former glory and open it to the public.
Each donor will be offered shares in a company created early next year to administer the castle for an additional 1 euro for every € 50 donated; As co-owners, they will have a voice in their development and will have the opportunity to be among its first visitors.
La Mothe-Chandeniers, in Les Trois-Moutiers in the Poitou-Charentes region, about 320 km. Southwest of Paris, it has an air of fairytale with its turrets and moat, but has never been officially classified as a historic building.
Its oldest parts were built at the beginning of the 13th century by its owners, the Bauçay family. It was taken twice by the English in the Middle Ages and was plundered during the French Revolution. In 1809, it was bought by a wealthy Parisian businessman, François Hennecart, who restored the building and planted a vineyard on the grounds, but retained much of the original medieval building.
Over the years, the property passed to several descendants, and was inhabited by Baron Edgard Lejeune, who undertook a massive reconstruction in 1870 in a romantic style, and launched luxurious parties at the castle.
In 1932, shortly after the central heating was installed, the fire destroyed the building, destroying most of its contents, including a complete library of rare books, antique furniture, tapestries and priceless paintings. The firefighters of the region fought to extinguish the fire, but they could only save the chapel, dependencies and a tower of pigeons. The damage was estimated at several million francs at that time.
In 1963, a retired businessman, Jules Cavroy, bought the 2,000-hectare estate, including 1,200 hectares of forest, before being acquired in 1981 by a former high school math teacher, Marc Deyemer. Deyemer said he could not stop the gradual decay of the imposing building despite his best efforts. Since then, nature has taken over, with vegetation coming out of stone windows, turrets and balconies.
"I bought the castle 32 years ago, committing suicide for two years trying to save it with preservation work, but I got sick when my projects were torpedoed by certain people, I am tempted to declare it a ruin so that it can be destroyed "Deyemer said five years ago.
Instead, locals moved to save the castle with the help of a private company, Dartagnans, which specializes in raising money to save historic buildings, and the Adopt a Château association.
The founder of Dartagnans, Romain Delaume, said that the crowdfunding project had captured the imagination around the world and donations kept coming.
"The idea is not only to raise money, but to get as many people as possible to participate in the saving of this magical fairytale place," Delaume told The Guardian. "The more, the better."
Anyone interested in becoming a co-owner of the chateau has 20 days to make a donation. Another € 500,000 is needed for the essential work to make the building safe. The property will be supervised by an executive committee that will consult a general assembly of co-owners to make decisions.