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

Saturday, 18 April 2015

Châtellerault : town sights and its motor museum.

Châtellerault is a smallish town (about 30,000 people) in the Vienne department (part of the Poitou-Charentes region), 100 kilometres (62 miles) or so north of us. It's well situated on the river Vienne, very near to the A10 motorway linking Bordeaux and Paris. The high speed train line between these two cities also runs through here. We parked the car and the first thing we saw was this beautifully restored building, now apparently containing private apartments.

Lavish decoration, all done to a tight curve!

This stone plaque records the site of the Saint Catherine's gate, once an entrance into the town and through which passed the French heroine Joan of Arc in March 1429 during the 100 Years War. You will recall that Joan, a young lady of seventeen, was inspired by "voices" to raise a force to recapture the town of Orleans, held by the English. She successfully did this in May 1429 and went on to win a series of battles against them, including the capture of Reims, where Charles VII was crowned king of France in July 1429. In May 1430, Joan was captured and tried by the English as a heretic. They burnt her at the stake in 1431 in Rouen, but in 1920 she was raised to sainthood in recognition of her efforts and sacrifice for France.

Pont Henri IV. THE thing to see in the town, so the guidebooks say. The work was ordered by Catherine of Medici (queen of France, wife of King Henry II) in person, during quite a frenzy of such projects at the time and started in 1572 by Charles Androuet, whose brother built the Pont Neuf bridge in Paris. This one is 144 metres long and 21 metres wide, but it took a looooong time to build! Androuet's son Rene took over the supervision in the last 5 years up to completion in 1611.

This second bridge nearby, is the bridge Camille de Hogues, built in 1900 and notable for being the first reinforced concrete bridge in France! Chimneys at the motor museum (see later) in the background.

Église St-Jacques is yet another church on the pilgrim route to Saint Jacques de Compostelle in Spain, featured in other blogs! It was built in the 12th and 13th centuries, but the towers were added in the 19th century.

The beautiful roof vaulting inside.....

....and the stained glass windows.

But now to the main reason for our visit,  the car and bike museum.  These are only a very few of the photos I took, and if you are in the region, it is well worth a visit for a modest 5 euro entrance fee.  The museum is large and there are loads of things to see. It is housed in a 19 century former armaments factory, which is eye-catching in itself, but in 1970 the space was provided for the motor museum. These two beautiful and shapely brick chimneys below form part of it and can be seen from a long way off. A masterclass in brickwork!

Below is a very small selection of those which caught my eye! I've tried not to be too technical, limiting myself to the brief descriptions on the signs in front of each exhibit.
Draisiaenne - A replica of a German design of 1820, pioneered by Baron Drais. It allowed the rider to be "seated" and the front wheel to be steered. They excited great curiosity and amusement in the public who saw them on the streets of Paris and London!

Tricycle from 1889 offering more comfort, technical design advances and manoeuvrability than available with the bicycle of the time

Werner from 1903. The 2,5 hp 4 stroke engine was started by the cyclist pedalling. it could attain 35 -45 kph. Note: 100 kph is 62 miles per hour! It won at least 2 long distance races in 1901; Paris - Bordeaux and Paris - Berlin but the marque disappeared in 1906, when regulations were changed.

Panhard - Levassor. State of the art in 1890! One of the first models with a petrol engine. Similar to the car which Levassor drove non-stop in 1895 for 48 hours and 48 minutes! Brave man!

1906 Brouhot. Four cylinder engine with maximum speed of 60-80 kph. This car was rebuilt from pieces in 1969 and is the only known surviving example.

The Darmont from 1929, developed under licence from the English company Morgan, who had started with 3 wheeled cars in 1908. This French version has an 1100cc engine powering the car to a very respectable 150 kph!

Longchamp was an engineer who built chassis and bodywork for speed recordbreaking competition cars. The engines were ordered from other specialists. This car is from 1953 and doesn't look out of place today!

1939 Peugeot 402B , although the 402 model first appeared in 1935. A 2100cc engine gave it a top speed of 135 kph. Production was stopped in 1939 with the start of World War 2.

Teilhol electric car, with Paris registration, from 1972! Useful for parking where there isn't much space. Powered by batteries to maximum speed of 75 kph. Weighing 500 kg, it could be driven for 75 km before recharging was required.

The world famous English marque, a BSA, with sidecar from 1918. Only 4.5 horsepower! Birmingham Small Arms Company (hence BSA) manufactured rifles in the 19th century but later turned to motorcycles. The sidecar was relatively modern for its era; shaped metal panels on a wood frame.

Just a glimpse of the host of interesting exhibits following the evolution of  personal transport from the wooden bike to the more familiar machines of today!

Thanks to Nigel once again for all his research and writing the article to go with my photos.

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

Monday, 16 February 2015

Abbey of Notre-Dame at La Couronne

In May last year, we visited the ruined Abbey of Notre-Dame at La Couronne,  a small town near Angouleme. Bizarrely, some would say outrageously, contraposed only a few metres from a giant Lafarge cement works, the contrasts in building type, construction and  800 years of passing history are stark. You can see this in the fifth photo down, but as this is a blog about the abbey and not the cement works, I have tried to keep the latter out of the pictures! It's not all that easy; as one cannot walk around inside the building, snapping has to be done from the perimeter. Not only is it private property, but I guess the danger from falling stones is quite high! The decision to site the cement works here is not, however, as ridiculous as one might think. I'll reveal how it happened at the end of the blog!

The first stone was laid, it is said, on 12 May 1118, the works proceeded quickly and a monk named Lambert was elected abbot of the first, primitive, church on Easter day 1122.
The abbey proved to be very successful and further building work  proceeded over the next 80 years, the slow pace due to wars and famines, but a second, more elaborate, church was consecrated in 1201. The building and rebuilding went on; cloisters, an infirmary and refectory were added or rebuilt.
There's a distant connection between this abbey and the English royal lineage. Isabelle of Angouleme, the widow of King John (he of  Magna Carta and  lost treasure fame) was buried here, but her son Henry III of England) exhumed the body and had it reburied in the Kings' cemetery at an abbey in the Loire valley.
The monks were dispersed during the 100 Years War but for a brief period after that, more rebuilding was carried out until 1514, when it ceased.
The cement works silo looms over the ancient stonework. 
The wars of religion, lasting 36 years in the late 16th century, badly affected the abbey, parts of which were burnt and pillaged. At this time it was occupied by only eight men of faith, following the Jesuit order.

A last work programme of improvements occupied the years between 1750 and 1778 but following the great upheaval of the French Revolution which took place shortly afterwards, the site became national property and was sold in 1807 as a source of building stone. 
The beautiful stone work and carvings were dismantled, presumably in an uncontrolled fashion, over the next 120 years.

Magnificent  centuries-old abbey gateway, standing now adjacent to a suburban street in this mixed industrial, residential and rather surreal area.
Masonry and carving detail, craftsmanship of the highest order........
And now, the answer to the puzzle of the cement works! In 1928, Lafarge bought the building land for a new plant, but as a consequence of this, it also acquired the abbey, ending all the years of pillaging of stone by the local population. Since then, Lafarge has restored and looked after the building and the park. As part of its social responsibility programme, the company works with the local community to restore life to the abbey through cultural events and to provide the opportunity for the discovery of its historical heritage. So, without the deal between Lafarge and the authorities, there might well be nothing left for us to marvel at today!

Thanks to Nigel for all his research and writing the article to go with my photos.

See also my daily Photo Diary Here
My Life Before Charente  - New post 11/02/2015