The Maison des Têtes: very peculiar architecture in the historic centre of Valence
As you wander the narrow streets of the historic centre of Valence, you cannot help but stop in front of the incredible architecture of the Maison des Têtes. This is one of the most original places to see in Valence! This heritage site is highly popular with tourists and locals alike with more than 25,000 visitors per year.
This magnificent private mansion was built at the beginning of the 16th century by Antoine De Dorne, university professor and consul in Valence.
The remarkable architecture and detailed decorations make it one of the most beautiful buildings in the town and it is a perfect example of the transition between the flamboyant gothic style and that of the Renaissance.
The building owes its name to the many sculpted heads that decorate the façade and courtyard. They represent Fortune, Time, Divinity, Law and Medicine. The façade is much more exuberant than the courtyard, with winding curves back and forth forming a flamboyant array of gables divided by windows, overhanging eaves, windows with moulded ledges and fantastic figures and vegetation that are characteristic of the flamboyant gothic style.
The corridor leads to the courtyard and is adorned with the busts of Roman emperors that create an impressive visual effect.
This magnificent building was passed through the hands of several different owners in the 19th and 20th centuries. Due to the social standing of these owners, the Maison des Têtes opened its doors to some well-known people, the most famous of which was probably a young Bonaparte, who was Lieutenant at the artillery school of Valence at the time, and a good friend of Marquet's son (1785 - 1786).
Some challenging renovation work with stunning results in Valence
The main material used in the construction of the Maison des Têtes was molasse. This is fine grained sandstone that is very delicate and can easily crumble. Cracks and breakages can appear due to erosion and pollution. Before the renovation work, the building was in a poor condition and required some very specific technical repairs. In some areas the stone had to be replaced and some of the mouldings and sculptures had to be rebuilt. There were several stages to the whole renovation process.
The Maison des Têtes today
The Maison des Têtes changed hands several times during the 19th and 20th centuries, and was a private residence for a very long time. This did not prevent it from being listed a Historical Monument in 1944. In 1980, the town council of Valence acquired the building. From then on, it housed the Pays d’Art et d’Histoire department and you can go there for any extra information and to book a guided tour.
Don't hesitate to venture inside and take the time to admire this unusual building. Even if you haven't booked a guided tour, it is worth stopping by because you can visit the courtyard for free.