Different Approaches to Heritage

On our recent trip to northern France we were struck by the different approaches taken by English Heritage and their French equivalents.

The EH approach to heritage is based on preservation. If it is in charge of a ruined abbey, for example, it remains a ruin. They ensure that the site is safe for visitors and they do their best to stop the ruin decaying further but they don’t generally try to reinstate things which have disappeared and they don’t modernise the ruins. The result is a peaceful, atmospheric experience where visitors focus on the ruins - the stones - themselves.

Falaise Castle sits impressively on top of a rock, overlooking the town

But this approach certainly isn’t the case everywhere. The ruined castle in Falaise, Normandy was the birth place of William the Conqueror - the person who changed the course of both French and English history more than anyone else. But the ruined castle is anything but peaceful.

The grey concrete vestibule looks incongruous next to the ancient stone

Quite a lot of 20th century concrete has been added to the ruins along with metal stair cases and even a lift giving wheelchair access to the upper floors. This adds a brutalist effect to the ruins which reminds us that the castle was an impenetrable fortress in its day, but is is sometimes difficult to see the original building in all the concrete and steel.

As for the visitor experience itself, we were issued with iPads which created augmented reality scenes as we moved from place to place inside the castle, creating pictures of what life might have been like back in the 11th century. As we entered the main chamber we were faced with a continuously rolling videos about the castle’s history, along with display cabinets of artifacts. In fact, this part of the castle with its modern floor and ceiling, was really a museum.

The main chamber with modern floor and ceiling and continuous videos

Which approach do I prefer? Falaise Castle was fantastic but I prefer to let my imagination run riot rather than having things presented on a plate. Maybe that's just because I am more used to the English Heritage way.
Middleham Castle in Yorkshire: no visible concrete and as much preservation as possible