Tue 24 Feb 2009
Deep in the Languedoc mountains… shrouded in darkness… lies Rennes-le-Chateau – the city of ancient secrets, hotels and museums in the must-play adventure game Gabriel Knight 3: Blood of The Sacred, Blood of The Damned. And it’s all based on reality… Is it?
Here’s how Gabriel Knight in person (and in Tim Curry‘s voice) described this town sometime in 1998 or 1999:
Above you can see a picture of the city from the game itself. A dark, brooding, “weird” place just like Gabriel says.
Fast forward 10 years later into the future…
My vacation in Southern France, summer 2008. A trip to a small, sunny village on top of a mountain called Rennes-le-Chateau. The sky is blue, the rooftops are orange/red, the birds are chirping. So completely unlike adventure game fans remember it from the game.
What you are about to read is a short, but daring quest to reveal the truth about this location from beneath the body of lies created through overly creative fiction.
Note: click on photos to see their high res versions
This is a good point to start our little visiting. We’re greeted by one of those impressive World War II bikes.
Now is also the last moment to stop reading unless you want the whole place become permanently demystified to you. Hop on the bike and run away. Or prepare for the crushing blow of the reality.
The iconic book store with Jane Jensen‘s photo on the glass window is represented completely different in the real – it is located in one of the narrow streets and has much more polygons and textures. To be fair, it carries the same name Atelier Empreinte though.
As in the game there are plenty of Holy Grail themed books in there. Arc of The Convent and Temple of Salomon show up there quite a bit too. Sadly, no ads about Jane Jensen‘s works to be found. Outside the shop, in the distance notice the original version of the famous wandering chicken from the virtual Rennes.
OK then, better prepare because now we will be closing in on the core of deceit.
When Gabriel arrives at the Couiza station for the first time by train, he is sent to a hotel in Rennes-le-Chateau like there weren’t any hotels in Couiza. It seems improbable, as Couiza in real life is a relatively big city. Yet it is even more improbable because there is NO HOTEL in Rennes!
Note: Well, there may be some rooms for rent if you really look around, I’m not really sure…
However, on one side of Rennes, there is this desolate building – the largest building in the village – that reminds a bit of the GK3 hotel. Above is the best (but still lousy) shot of it that I could take. A fence covered with thick growth prevents both entrance as well as finding better viewing spots.
Speaking of mental associations, this nearby corner reminds me a lot of the mo-pad rental/repairing place from you know where. Source of inspiration?
At the outskirts of the city there looms a shape that is unmistakably familiar (finally!) – Tour Magdala.
Pretty much like in the game, only you actually can’t enter it from here at all.
This is how the distance between the Tower and Villa Bethania (that building on the right) looks like. Anyone who played the game knows that the positioning is all confused here, complete with an useless parking lot.
Villa Bethania (building on the left) and Sauniere‘s church (decorated portal on the right) are practically connected together. Between them is a gate leading to the only museum in the village which encompasses all the Sauniere related places. Together with Tour Magdala all those sites make up The Sauniere Centre – sort of one, big museal-sight-seeing complex of Rennes. Once again the game never mentioned about anything like this – those were completely separate attractions!
Let’s go and see Villa Bethania up close from the street.
In the game it was an imposing solitary building in the outskirts and private property – surrounded by a fence and closed to the public.
In reality it is packed between other houses in a narrow street. The doors from this side are barred for good.
Let’s jump across the wall and fence on to the museum grounds and see what’s up there.
First the Oratory – Sauniere‘s private chapel.
Further inside… and we are already in one of Villa Bethania‘s rooms.
…And back outside. Here’s the tomb of Berenger Sauniere in his own pretty garden (which belongs to the museum now).
On the opposite side you can see this – the grounds’ walls.
And around the tomb stairs lead up to a terrace.
Up there, in one direction is this atmospheric orangery. A touch of Myst in a Gabriel Knight world?
In the opposite direction there’s Tour Magdela again, only from here it is accessible. The man you see is actually me, Believe It or Not!
The tower functioned as Sauniere‘s library. The interior resembles pretty much what Gabriel saw, down to the floor texture. But what happened to the books from the bookshelves? There are only some leftovers.
The top of the tower. Same as in the game. Unfortunately, no binoculars in the inventory.
View at Villa Bethenia from the Tower. We should go back there and visit the church now since there is nothing more to see here.
On the way back wild life rudely interferes. We already came across the chicken near the book store, so now, unsurprisingly, it is the infamous cat (from the puzzle). Like the whole city which he inhabits the cat isn’t any near as dark as presented in Gabriel Knight and is much more approachable in reality. He may even let you pet him. Everything you thought you knew about this place are just lies, I tell you.
Stay tuned for part two of this feature where we take a visit to the famous Rennes-le-Chateau church. You can be certain, that the best things were left for the last.
UPDATE: And Part II is now available!