Thursday, 13 August 2015

Théâtre gallo-romain des Bouchauds.

The Gallo-Roman "théâtre Les Bouchauds" is located near Saintes, in the small municipality of Saint-Cybardeaux in the Charente. We happened to see the sign while we were out driving one day and decided to explore! The construction of this amphitheatre began in the first century AD and overlooks the Via Agrippa, a very important Roman road  nearly 600 km long from west to east across France, between Saintes and Lyon. This road is one of the four major highways built by Agrippa, a Roman general charged by the Emperor Augustus to bring some order to the Gaul empire, which the Romans had conquered. Engineering on a massive scale!

The French are very good at preserving historical remains and putting up signage to explain to visitors the purpose of what they see in front of them. This sign gives an overview of the site, which consists of two sacred circles of stone, each containing two small temples, plus a huge amphitheatre, scooped out of the top of the hill, next to them. The sign also gives details of the visitor centre based in a farm just up the road, but as is the custom in France, it's closed from 12h00 to 15h00, so we weren't able to see it!

The smaller of the two stone circles, with the outlines of the two temples visible.

An artist's impression of what the site might have looked like when in use. It would have formed a very prominent statement in the landscape and been most visible to travellers on the Agrippan way below.

Foundations of the two larger stone temples in the other stone circle, visualised in the sign below. Each temple comprised a central room (the red brick), accessible only to servants of the Emperor, with a colonnade (gravel) all round, which was used for ritual ceremonies.

The artist's impression, bringing to life the meagre stone remains visible today!
The amazing amphitreatre, seating about 7000 people, was one of the most imposing to be found in rural Gaul at that time. Lots of earth to move, but I assume that the Romans organised the local people to do all the shovelling!

The arena and stage!

Yet another artist's impression! The amphitheatre was a gathering place for the local people to put on and spectate at events involving music and dance, (no lions here!) but promoting the Roman culture before anything else!

 It's quite a significant hill and a huff and puff to climb up from the car park on the other side, but this is the reward - the fabulous view north across the countryside! The weather conditions were thin cloud and humid, hence the lack of blue sky!

A 19th century engraving of the remains of a "fairy castle" at the rear left on the amphitheatre

All that remains of the "fairy castle" today!

Thanks Nigel for your research and help once more.

See also my daily Photo Diary Here

My Life Before Charente   - New post 13/08/2015

Sunday, 19 July 2015

The historic town of Troyes; part 3 - its cathedral and some sculptures

Close to the ancient city centre is the Cathedral dedicated to Saint Pierre and Saint Paul. This is the third such on or around this site. The first was built in the 5th century but destroyed by the invading Normans in the 9th. Around the year 1000, a second Romanesque style church was built, and in 1128 it witnessed the founding of the Order of Knights Templar, but less than 200 years later, this was badly damaged by fire. The early 13th century had brought in the Gothic style of church building and work commenced on one of the largest and most beautiful of France's churches. The building work went on for 400, yes 400 years, interrupted by the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453) and repairs necessary due to fire and storm damage. In 1634, the building work was stopped due to a lack of money, the second tower remaining unfinished to this day, as you can see below!

The main elevation

This plaque commemorates the day in July 1429 when Joan of Arc escorted the Dauphin (King's son) to mass in the cathedral, en route to proclaiming him Charles VII of France at Reims cathedral, in contravention of the Treaty of Troyes signed in 1420. This treaty was set up as a plot between Henry V of England and a French ally, Phillip of Burgundy to try to prevent the Dauphin from becoming French king (Charles VII) on the death of his father Charles VI, who was mad in any case! Henry has already married a French noblewoman in 1420 in order to try to stake his own claim to the French throne, so Joan of Arc had thwarted Henry's plans and he never achieved his desire to be king of England AND France, as many of his ancestors has been!

Towering columns supporting the stone vaulting of the roof.

Altar and choir, built in the 12th century

Rose window of the North Transept

If these stones could talk..............!

Spectacular stained glass windows in the nave and transept.

 A permanent sculpture, entitled the Heart of Troyes, next to the Bassin, explained in the last part of this blog.

The following four sculptures are nearby, and somewhat controversial according to the local press. They are the work of Reynald Jenneret, a local artist and are in the so-called "retro-futurist" style. He says they are "tongue-in-cheek" and not to be taken seriously! If you don't like them, you will be pleased to hear they will be moved away in November!

My thanks once again to Nigel for all his research and help.

See also my daily Photo Diary Here

My Life Before Charente   - New post 19/07/2015

Wednesday, 1 July 2015

The historic town of Troyes - part two.

We're in the pedestrianised rue Paillot de Montabert here, with our hotel, the Relais Saint Jean on the left. A great place to stay and the friendly and helpful managers speak English! The car parking is brilliant; you drive down a ramp into a basement in a nearby street, park the car, take your bags down a passage to a lift, which magically pops up in the hotel reception! Very convenient, as there aren't many places to street park in the old town area.

This is the house diagonally opposite the baker's house shown further down. It belonged to a silversmith, Francois Roize, who built it between 1578 and 1618, incorporating this turret to accommodate the staircase. Space was always at a premium (see last picture too) and ingenious ways were found to make the best of what there was available.

This shows the support to the circular turret above; the figures are two caryatids and a Telamon, so I'm told!

View from the hotel bedroom window.

This building is known as "the baker's house" after its first owner. Note the silversmith's turret at right. The pulley at the top of the house, used to pull flour bags up to the loft, can still be seen. This house was the first in the area to be renovated, in 1964, after a long battle to prevent it being demolished! The facade is typical of building styles in the town in the 16th century. The building now houses  the cultural centre. Why is there a commando hanging from his parachute? Well, when were in town, there was an exhibition illustrating the liberation of the town by Allied forces from the Nazis in 1945.

The central fruit and vegetable display in Les Halles, the food market in an enclosed building near the town hall. This was taken near the end of the day, so there isn't a lot going on!

Different styles in a row, but all beautifully restored.

Restaurants, of which there are plenty in and around the old town. This is rue Champeaux, around the corner from the hotel.

Police station - it had to be, with those bars on the windows!! And that's a seriously big pot!

One of three museums in town, this is Musee Saint Loup, named after the bishop of Troyes, who saved the town from Attila the Hun and his hordes in the year 451 and lived apparently to the age of 95! It house exhibitions of fine art (including sculptures by Girardon, sculptor to Louis XIV), archaeology (including a gallo-roman bronze statue of Apollo) and natural history.

Cellier Saint Pierre, just across a square from the cathedral - this is a beautiful wine shop, which was unfortunately closed when we were there!

Troyes is famous for its sculptures. This bronze lady, if I remember rightly, overlooks the Bassin de la Prefecture, a dinky little waterway almost bisecting the centre of modern town. The bassin, or canal one might say in this case, seems to have been created by diverting water into a man-made loop off the river Seine (yes, the same river which passes through Paris, 180 km or 110 miles to the WNW), which flows around the east end of Troyes. Very imaginative and a memorable design feature!

Leaning houses propped apart! The upper floors of houses in the Middle Ages were often built out over the street to provide that extra little bit of living space. Foundations were often absent or, at their best, still inadequate to support the building load.Thus, settlement of these dwellings over hundreds of years has meant that the town council has had to resort  to extreme measures to preserve them. The ancient buildings around here are all being restored and converted into living accommodation by the council.

There's a part three to come, with photos of more delights, including the cathedral.
My thanks to Nigel for all his research and help.

See also my daily Photo Diary Here
My Life Before Charente  - 'My Mum buys a racehorse' - New post 10/06/2015

Friday, 22 May 2015

Troyes, capital of the Aube department, north-central France.

We  stopped for the night in Troyes last week, when returning from Amsterdam (of which more of both in the near future). The town centre is being exquisitely preserved by the town council, and walking around the narrow streets, you have the feeling that it is just as it was 500 or more years ago!

This is a information board in the town to show people this part of the town centre and how this church is tucked into the buildings surrounding it. La Madeleine was originally a rural settlement, developed along the western road to Paris, but, undefended, it was sacked by the Normans in 887. Once it had been enclosed within the city walls around 1200, the area was revived and the population swelled with craftsmen and traders, some being associated with the Champagne Fairs. The grand families living around the church prospered and when part of the quarter was devastated by fire in 1524, the houses were rebuilt in stone, and  are still standing today! There are 13 churches in Troyes centre, so a feast for the eyes of those who enjoy their architecture. but this is said to be amongst the best. First mentioned in 1157, it was added to, and altered, over the next 5 centuries.
The main entrance to the church, Eglise Sainte Madeleine. The great mass of masonry is difficult to see in this very narrow street! It's very anonymous from the outside, but the inside is unbelievable! Like most medieval churches, the walls inside were originally coloured, but someone in the 18th century whitewashed the lot!

And from the other direction, with a better view of the tower, which was added in 1525.

This is the portal over what they call the "small door", right next to the main entrance !

This breath-takingly carved and detailed rood-loft or gallery (one of perhaps only 12 in France) was ordered by the church clergy in 1503 and is the work of master mason Jehan Gailde, who supervised several others,  completing it during the years 1508 - 1515

It's unbelievable that craftsmen with the hand tools of the time were able to create this work out of the local fragile chalk stone.The very rich decoration mixes floral and animal motifs, with ethereal draping, grotesques and figures in period clothing. It's quite the most rich and beautiful stonework we've ever seen, anywhere!!

Gailde also made this spiral stair himself. The soft stone is presumably conducive to fine carving, but the authorities of today no doubt have a huge maintenance problem!

The glorious stained glass windows behind the altar are the subject of immense admiration by visitors.

Stone roof vaulting. How the builders worked out all the angles and curves is amazing!

Saint Robert - a carved painted wood statue from the 1500's. Saint Robert was a monk who founded  two local abbeys in the 11th century, representations of each of which he carries in his hands. A clever way of showing his achievement.

See also my daily Photo Diary Here
My Life Before Charente  - New post 22/05/2015

Thursday, 30 April 2015

A few of my favourite photos taken so far this year.

01/02/2015 Sunset.

04/04/2015 Rain drop.

05/03/2015 Snowdrop.

08/04/2015 Reflections in a wine glass stem.

11/04/2015 The problem for home grown vegetables !

26/01/2015 Blue Tit at the lounge window. "Where is my food?"

10/02/2015 Greenfinch and Sparrow altercation.

06/04/2015 A red moon.

We will be away for a bit  Off to look at  WW1 battlefields in Northern France and Belgium, before spending a few days in Amsterdam.  Hopefully I will return with some interesting photos. See you all soon.

See also my daily Photo Diary Here
My Life Before Charente  - New post 18/04/2015