The Villars Quarters, a historical site
History and construction of the building
The Villars Quarters, located on a four hectare site, draws our attention from far across the River Allier and keeps all its promises once we have entered: a truly elegant and martial monument with its three sandstone staircases that seem to come right out of a swashbuckler movie.
Begun in 1767, construction continued for over a century. Its first architect, Jacques Denis Antoine, a well-known artist, was responsible for designing the Hôtel des Monnaies in Paris. Sublime, necessarily sublime, Villars Quarters reflects the magnificence of the monarchy and its army! In fact it was the first army barracks built under the reign of Louis XV, as part of the army reform initiated by the Duke of Choiseul, putting an end to the practice of lodging soldiers in local dwellings, a source of numerous disturbances.
Named Villars, in homage to Moulins-born Marshall Claude Louis Hector, Duke of Villars (1653 -1734), great military chief of Louis XIV, the barracks was home to a cavalry regiment. It is designed in line with classical esthetics of the 18th century: it is made up of a central building surrounded by two low pavilions, with three internal staircases connecting the stables on the ground floor and the dragoon’s quarters above. The buildings, which are made of Coulandon sandstone (a local quarry), show the technical prowess of its stone masons and the ingenuity of its structure designed to enable the rapid mobilization of troops while providing comfortable lodging for the men and their animals
Over the centuries, Villars Quarters was home to a variety of different army corps resulting in perceptible changes to the architecture. The magnificent barracks, bordering on a work of art, knew its hour of glory: reviews, maneuvers, balls and concerts. It is on the arm of a handsome cavalry officer stationed at Villars Quarters that a beautiful young seamstress, Gabrielle Chanel, nicknamed Coco, left Moulins to « ascend » to Paris and become a fashion icon.
The First World War marked the beginning of the barracks’ decline with the cavalry being progressively replaced by armored troops. Damaged in 1940, the main building was occupied by a police unit until the beginning of the 1980’s, and then abandoned. It was reborn in 2006 to house the CNCS and its regiment of costumes.