by Jenny Morrill
The Palais Idéal in Hauterives, France is a unique structure. It is made entirely out of stones that postman Ferdinand Cheval collected on his mail route.
One night, Cheval dreamed about building a palace. He thought nothing of this dream for years, until one day in the spring of 1879, when his foot caught on an unusual-looking rock during his postal route. The rock was so fascinating to Cheval that he took it home to admire it. It also gave him an idea.
For the next 33 years, Cheval continued picking up more stones during his postal route, first putting them in his pockets, then graduating to a basket, and finally using a wheelbarrow. Each one of the stones was hand-selected by Cheval to play a part in the construction of his dream palace.
For more than three decades, Cheval spent his nights building his home by the light of an oil lamp, and his days delivering the mail. He completed work on the palace in 1912.
Today, the palace is a protected landmark and is open to visitors. Though Cheval wished to be buried in his palace when he died, this was illegal in France at the time. So he spent an additional eight years building a mausoleum for himself in the town cemetery. He finished just in time, too; Cheval passed away on August 19, 1924, approximately one year after completing the mausoleum, which remains his final resting place.