The Désert de Retz is an unusual French estate. Constructed by the French aristocrat François Racine de Monville, the estate covers more than ninety acres and includes a variety of buildings, each built in a different and exotic style. The estate is also home to acres of sculpted gardens that were carefully designed by Monville.
Monville was a French aristocrat born into the court of Louis XV. He was a musician, architect and landscape designer. At one point he was named Grandmaster of the Waters and Forests of Normandy, although he sold this title several years later. His most enduring contributions to the fields of both architecture and landscape design are his home, the Désert de Retz estate.
Of all the structures that dot the Désert de Retz, the most interesting might be the summerhouse. The colonne brisée, or shattered column, is constructed to resemble the base of a giant stone column that has been broken. Inside, a central staircase carries visitors up through the house. It looks like the base from one of the columns on the front of the Parthenon, except much larger.
Throughout the estate there are a variety of buildings made to resemble different structures from both antiquity and more exotic locales. (Several structures are inspired by Chinese art and architecture.) In total there were at least seventeen separate buildings constructed, although only ten are still standing. Near the summerhouse there is an icehouse constructed in the shape of an Egyptian pyramid.
At the beginning of the French Revolution Monville sold his estate in an attempt to raise enough capital so that he might escape the country and the guillotine. Captured by the revolutionaries in 1794, Monville died several years later of gangrene in 1797. His house changed hands multiple times over the proceeding centuries, falling into disrepair along the way. In 1966 the French Minister for Culture announced plans to save the estate and to restore many of the buildings. Today, the estate stands partially restored and also boasts a golf course on a piece of the property.