Displeased developer Kurt Neuschitzer exhibits Leonardo da Vinci’s inventions at his Cantacuzino castle in Transylvania Romania

Since 2004, 20 million people have seen a selection of the 96 reproductions in more than 80 cities, including Melbourne in 2006. But they have never been displayed within the walls of a castle – a setting that would have earned approval by da Vinci himself.

Two hundred thousand visitors a year come to see the exhibitions of the castle.

The largest machine on display is a six-meter-wide glider with movable ends. Based on the physiology of birds, it was designed early in Leonardo da Vinci’s career – before he realized that humans could never exert enough force to lift themselves off the ground and needed currents of energy. to fly. It hangs from the 10-meter-high ceiling of the castle’s grand ballroom.

The most resplendent part of the castle, the ballroom is crowned by a 1.5 ton chandelier which is a replica of the one three times larger inside the Hagia Sophia in Istanbul. The room has stained glass Murano windows, a fireplace carved from a single block of limestone printed with gold leaf and two galleries of frescoes: 12 life-size paintings of the prince’s ancestors elegantly dressed in the Byzantine style; a heraldic gallery presents the 27 coats of arms of the members of the prince’s family.

The glider with moving ends, Leonardo da Vinci’s pterodactyl-like flying machine, hangs from a castle ceiling.

“When he built this castle, Prince Cantacuzino was the richest Romanian who ever lived,” says Gabrielle Enache, a former radio producer turned tourist guide. “His nickname was ‘Le Nababul’, which comes from the French word mogul – a very wealthy person. It’s the only room that properly reminds us of the extent of its wealth, because when the communists took possession of the castle after World War II, all the furniture and art, even the light fixtures – all but this chandelier – have been stolen. Rumors say that everything was sent to Russia.

Although it could only have gone straight, the bike designed by Leonardo da Vinci is instantly recognizable as such.

Next, the tour climbs a domino-style wooden staircase into a room housing da Vinci machines dedicated to civil engineering, starting with a wooden bicycle that’s not too different from modern two-wheelers. “This machine is amazing because its propulsion system is the same as that used for bicycles today – two independent wheels connected by a chain and pedals,” says Enache. “But you’ll notice that the two wheels are connected by a single plank of wood, which means they can’t be steered. It can only go straight.

Leonardo da Vinci’s circular “tank”: he designed the outer covering to be sloped to deflect enemy fire.

One of the da Vinci machines in the exhibit that can be steered is an open-top, spring-powered, three-wheeled vehicle considered in some circles to be the model for the modern car. “Karl Benz is said to have made the first front-drive car in Germany, but it was da Vinci who came up with the idea almost three centuries ago,” Enache says with a note of pride.

Other marvels of civil engineering are around the corner: a hydraulic saw powered by running water, safety vernier calipers like those still used in metalworking today, and a machine Enache describes as ” the great-grandfather of cranes” that can lift, lower and move forward. or backwards.

The machines in the adjoining room, dedicated to war, are even more fascinating. They include a two-wheeled mechanism that lifts a moving staircase to attack castles, pointed projectiles that fly much farther and faster than 16th-century cannonballs, a ship with a giant steel claw shaped scorpion tail to lock onto other boats and a tank with 20 guns inside, all mounted on a circular platform with wheels to allow 360 degree firing.

A cam hammer constructed from Leonardo da Vinci’s design drawings. Again, he was centuries ahead of his time; a similar device was used during the industrial revolution and powered by a steam engine.

There’s even a robot placed inside armor that Leonardo da Vinci developed using his extensive studies of the human body. It can wave its hands – or a flag – open and close its jaws and move its head via a system of ropes and pulleys.

“What’s interesting is that none of these military machines were ever used in combat during Vinci’s lifetime,” says Enache. “He never shared these drawings because he was a great pacifist.”

The final room contains da Vinci’s other inventions which, like his bicycle, remain unchanged today: a set of ball bearings, a gear lever, a flywheel that creates physical momentum and maintains it with little effort. human effort, a camshaft that controls the valves in a cylinder, and a precursor to the car jack. These machines demonstrate time and time again that da Vinci was not only a great inventor, but probably the greatest inventor ever known.

“It’s unfathomable that someone who lived 500 years ago could have designed all of this, and we haven’t even talked about his anatomy paintings and drawings,” says Enache. “Leonardo da Vinci was a genius. An absolute genius.

At the end of the visit, we exit through the souvenir shop and climb a staircase leading to a hunting tower with a breathtaking view of the inner courtyard. It was here, says Enache, that Prince Cantacuzino spent his last days before succumbing to pneumonia just two summers after devoting 10 years of his life to building the castle.

The story worries me for the current owner, Kurt Neuschitzer, now in his seventies, who is still patiently awaiting permission to build his own castle. But the winds are changing. “We are now talking with the people pulling the strings in this town, so I still have hope,” he says. “There is light at the end of the tunnel.”

must know

Les Machines, a journey into the world of Leonardo da Vinci’s technical inventions, is on view at the château until 30 October.

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