Nîmes Part 2: The Fountain Gardens

Nîmes is located in The Languedoc-Roussillon in the south of France. This city dates back to The Roman Empire. The Fountain Gardens were built by the Romans to create Holy Water from the spring which was available year round. In the early eighteenth century, the city’s need for water brought about the discovery of the gardens which were then excavated. Unfortunately, much was destroyed or sold off. Despite that fact, what remains is stunning and well worth the visit even if there were no other ruins in the area. However, Nîmes is an ancient Roman City and its great wealth of treasures is not to be missed. It is the perfect place to stay for a week or so to explore the ruins and the many treasures of this part of the region.

Bisous,

Léa

NÎMES Part 1: TOUR MAGNE

Tour Magne

GALLO – ROMAN PERIOD

In approximately 50 BC, Nîmes became a colony of The Roman Empire. Coins bearing the abbreviation NEM. COL. or Colony of Nîmes bear testimony. Eventually, a church and other buildings were erected at this location. While the colony was already under Roman occupation it was not until the reign of Augustus that it achieved its glory and became the capital of the province.    He created a fortified city with fourteen towers and six kilometers and the walls connecting them ran for six kilometers. Of the gates, there are still two remaining: Porte Auguste and Porte de France. Other structures he caused to be built included the Forum and perhaps the aqueduct. Some monuments no longer remain but architectural fragments and inscriptions have been found in the course of excavations that have taken place. There is evidence of a gymnasium, a civil basilica and possibly even a circus.

Tour Magne is at the summit of Mt. Cavalier: here the city began, and from its top, there is a panoramic view over the Fountain Gardens and the city. Today the tower is thirty meters high. It is believed to have been at least ten meters higher originally.

Today the tower is decked out with banners and information boards that provide that explains the monument, its history and cultural significance. There is access to the top with panoramic views across Nîmes.

This ancient watchtower, stood sentry over the Via Domitia which linked Italy and Spain. This great tower is the last remnant of the ancient city constructed by Augustus. Erected at the pinnacle of Mont Cavalier it dominated the entire plain. Its size and position showcased the prestige and supremacy of the colony over the city.

As recent as 1337-1453 Tour Magne was pressed into service against the English during the 100 year war.

Bisous,  Léa

Mont-Saint-Michel

Mont-Saint-Michel
Crowning a dramatic island off the shore of Normandy, in the Gulf of Saint-Malo, is perched the abbey of Mont-Saint-Michel. It sits in a bay, which is assaulted by some of Europe’s uppermost tides. The island is connected to the mainland by a causeway that is known to disappear when the tide returns. The Benedictine abbey is the pinnacle and beneath it are small houses and shops on its lowest levels. The monastic buildings are considered exceptional examples of Gothic architecture. The Romanesque abbey church was founded in the 11th century over a series of crypts the first of the monastery buildings were built against the north wall. The monastery buildings were extended to the south and west in the 12th century. The abbey church crowns the entire islet about 240 feet above sea level.

In the 13th century, the king of France, Philip Augustus, in the wake of his occupation of Normandy, enabled a start to be made on the Gothic section of the two three-storey buildings, crowned by the cloister and the Refectory.

In the 14th century, the Hundred Years War made it essential to safeguard the abbey wrapping around it a series of military buildings, enabling it to hold out against a siege, which lasted 30 years. The Flamboyant Gothic chancel replaced 

In the 15th century, the Romanesque chancel of the abbey church, broken down in 1421. 

With Rome and Saint Jacques de Compostela, this great sacred and academic center, was one of the most important places of pilgrimage for the West in the middle ages. For nearly one thousand years “pilgrims” went there by roads known as “paths to paradise” guided by the promise for the assurance of eternity, given by the Archangel of judgment who was the “Weigher of souls.”

During the French Revolution and Empire, the abbey was turned into a prison so that restoration was required in the late 19th century. In acknowledgment of the monastery’s 1000th anniversary, a sacred community once again took possession of the abbey.

In 1979, UNESCO classified Mont-Saint-Michel a world heritage site. Over three million visitors a year are welcomed to this magnificent example of architecture and history.

Bisous,

Léa

Centre Ville – Narbonne Part II

Narbonne – While its status today has lessened considerably, Narbonne is still a vital link by road and rail for those traveling in the region. A tremendous boost has come from the wine industry and the tourists who come for the sea, sunshine, food, culture and more. Despite the fact that it is larger than Carcassonne, Narbonne has a leisurely, festive atmosphere.

The Canal de la Robine runs through the heart of Narbonne and connects to The Canal du Midi. Boats full of tourists stop to spend the day and it is a lovely backdrop for dining at a waterside cafe or shopping. Les Halles a large covered market was opened in 1901, is packed with vendors of local produce, wines, cheeses, baskets of spices, vats of olives and anything one could desire for a meal or picnic. There are also open air markets on Thursday and Sunday mornings and a Bio (organic) market every Saturday morning.  

Places to visit:

Cathedral. The medieval Cathedral of Saint-Just with its 40m-high apse and choir making it the third tallest Gothic structure in France. The reredos, which had been hidden for 250 years, was restored and put on display in March 2000. You can climb the 251 steps of the north tower for a view over the rooftops of Narbonne. On a clear day you can see the Pic du Canigou in the Pyrenees from here. The Cathedral treasury contains two fine Flemish tapestries of the early 16th century. (More below)

The Basilique de St. Paul, the oldest Christian building in Gaul, is also worth a visit.

Palais des Archêveques (Archbishop’s palace). Three square towers of the fortified Palais date from the 13th and 14th centuries. The Gothic-style town hall was added to the palace in the 19th century. The building now houses two museums containing collections of Roman artefacts, paintings, and ceramics.

Roman ruins. Including L’Horreum the only extant Roman building. . Roman underground merchants’ warehouses.

Basilica of Saint-Paul-Serge. Mainly 12th century. An example of southern French early Gothic architecture.
Archaeological Museums. The Musée Archéologique is housed in the Archbishop’s Palace, restored by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc, the architect responsible for the restoration of the fortifications of Carcassonne. The museum has a large collection of statuary, pottery, and examples of Roman wall paintings and mosaics from excavations in the city.

Musée Lapidaire. Stone Museum – an impressive collection of Roman stones from around Narbonne, housed in an empty church.
The Musée d’Art et d’Histoire, next door to the Archaeological Museum, has a collection which includes Dutch, Flemish and Italian paintings, and some 18th century French painted ceramics.

Via Domitia. Recently, work in the Place de l’Hôtel de Ville, the main square, uncovered part of the Roman road, the Domitian Way (Via Domitia). This has been conserved and is now open to view.

La Poudrerie, a 17th-century powder house, has been converted into a museum of winemaking.

A pleasant way to see the surrounding countryside is to take a cruise along the canal, either to the coast (at Port-la-Nouvelle), or inland (to Le Somail on the Canal du Midi. You can join a boat which leaves from the Pont des Marchands; originally a Roman bridge carrying the Via Domitia into the port, it is now lined with medieval buildings housing small shops.

For more information, visit the tourist office in the Place Salengro, behind the cathedral (Tel. 04 68 65 15 60; fax 04 68 65 59 12).
Narbonne lies on the Canal de la Robine, an extension to the Canal du Midi, built by Pierre-Paul Riquet a notable Languedoc resident. The Canal is popular for boating holidays and through France’s extensive canal network provides a way to get to the Languedoc from the Atlantic Ocean, Northern France and Mediterranean Sea. 

The annual Braderie
Each summer, at the beginning of August, the braderie gathers in the town center, a large fair and a massive wholesale (stock clearance) of all the shops of the town center, joined by some 300 stallholders. If you shop until you are ready to drop, this is also the place to be revived!

Bisous,

Léa

Centre Ville: Narbonne Part I

Narbonne is located in the Aude département, approximately 8 miles from the the Mediterranean Sea.

Via Domita

The earliest settlement here was a defended Iron Age village at Montlaurès, about 4km north-west of the present city. Narbonne was the site of the first Roman settlement beyond the Alps in Gaul founded in 118 BC.

The Roman colony soon became the wealthiest city in southern Gaul, and was nominated by the emperor Augustus as capital of a province extending from Toulouse to Geneva.

During this time it was already a wine growing region. In AD92, the emperor Domitian ordered the destruction of half of the existing vineyards.

Narbonne lay on the Domitian Way and became the capital for all of Southern Gaul. While it had been a major port at the time  it now lies some 20 km from the sea.

413 – Narbonne was defeated by the Visigoths. Later they made it capital . In 719 the town was captured by the Moors and who maintained there hold on it until 759 when the city had become part of the Frankish kingdom under Pépin the Short who was the father of Charlemagne.

The Counts of Toulouse (as Dukes of Narbonne) ruled the southern part of town during the Middle Ages. In the northern part was under the control of the Episcopal Church.

11th and 12th centuries – Narbonne becomes the centre of an important Jewish exegetical school, which played a role in the growth and development of the Zarphatic and Shuadit languages. The Kabbalah was rediscovered and developed here. Jews had settled in Narbonne from about the 5th century, with a community that had grown to around 2000 in the 12th century.

The Gothic cathedral – Work begins in 1272 . In 1347 the work was stopped by a lawsuit by the city council. To this day the cathedral remains unfinished. This action was crucial to protect the ramparts. The city wall protected the city during the Hundred Years’ War. 

A flood in 1320 created a build up of silt causing the River Aude to change course and thus this major fishing port now is a vineyard covered plain.

1348  Black Death struck the Languedoc as it spead across Europe through Italian trade routes. Nearly half of the population died. Like they did in other cities across Europe, Christian leaders created tales that the disease was caused by infected well water and that wells had been poisoned by Jews. Like other cities, surviving members of the local Jewish community were burned alive for these invented crimes.

The Hundred Years’ War added to Narbonne’s misery and by the late 14th century.

1507 – Narbonne now part of France.

17th century – Attempts were made to restore Narbonne’s former grandeur by Paul Riquet, architect of the Canal du Midi. Frustrated by the manuvers of antagonistic officials of neighbouring villages. His grand efforts did not come into fruition until the completion of Canal de la Robine (connecting  Narbonne to the Canal du Midi) in 1786.

Bisous,

Léa

Carcassonne: La Cité- Part2

Carcassonne: La Cité- Part2

La Cité

The Historic Monuments Commission agreed to undertake the restoration of La Cite in 1844. 

Two concentric rings of curtain wall surround the city, the ramparts cover a total of 3km. Parts of the inner wall show remains of Roman times. The second wall is separated from the first and was constructed in the 13th Century.

There is a total of 52 towers surrounding the city and the Chateau Comtal, the heart of the fortifications. Originally palace of the viscounts, it was reinforced and protected by a semi circular barbican and a moat.

The genisis of Carcassonne goes back to pre-Roman time.The Cité’s structure today derives from the 11th and 12th centuries. Throughout this time, Carcassonne was ruled by the Trencavel family. The Trencavel’s were central to the development of the Cathar religion.
The Cathars were generally known as “bons hommes” “bons chrétiens” and “parfaits”, they were regarded as heretics by the Catholic Church, and the ensuing conflict was characterised by unspeakable violence and persecution. In the summer of 1209 forces led by the papal legate Arnaud-Amaury, consisting of “crusaders” and armies of the King of France, laid siege to Carcassonne.

Despite this, in August 1209, Carcassonne fell. The young Vicomte, Raymond-Roger Trencavel, was thrown into his own prison and died there aged 24. Simon de Montfort was installed as the new Viscount.
Today the Trencavels’ Château Comtal is a powerful reminder of the mediaeval need to protect one’s home – a fortified sector within a heavily fortified town. Only one gate was wide enough for carts to pass into the Cité

La Cité is a must for most tourist to this region and children all find something to fascinate them. Money generated by the businesses there, insure that the attraction will be there for future generations.

Bisous,

Léa

Carcassonne: La Cité – Part 1

The origins of Carcassonne are traced back to the 4th C BC.

In the 2nd Century BC it served as a strategic outpost fortified by the Romans, who gave it the name Carcassonne. The Visigoths succeeded the Romans and overran Gaul in the 5th C AD. When they converted to Christianity, it became a diocese. In the 8th Century the fortress fell to the Franks who later defended the city against attacks from the Saracens.

The Emperor Charlemagne besieged the town in 795, and was held by Dame Carcass, a Saracen princess. After a five year siege, the only food left was one little pig and a bag of corn. Dame Carcass gave the bag of corn to the pig and sent it out to the ramparts. Charlemagne raised the siege, since he thought there was enough food even to feed a small pig. Before the Emperor left, Dame Carcass rang out the bells making them sound the word Carcassonne.

In 1209, Crusades from the north came down the Rhone valley to stamp out the heretic Cathars.
The Viscount
Raymond Roger Trencavel publicly offered protection to all those being hounded by the northern invaders.

After sacking Beziers, the crusading army besieged Carcassonne. Despite the leadership of a youngl Trencavel, in his early 20’s, the town was forced to surrender after only two weeks through lack of water.

The Army council appointed Simon de Montfort, Viscount of Carcassonne in place of Trencavel.
River Aude
Within a year Trencavel was found dead in the tower where he was being held prisoner.

In 1240 Trencavel’s son tried in vain to recapture Carcassonne by siege. Although his mines and missile breached the walls, he was forced to retreat by the royal army.

St Louis IX had the small towns around the ramparts razed and the town’s inhabitants paid for their rebellion with seven years in exile. Upon their return they were permitted to build a town on the opposite side of the river Aude- the present Ville Basse. The walled city was repaired and reinforced. When finished, it was so well fortified it was regarded as impregnable.

Successive kings reinforced Carcassonne because of its strategic importance close to the border with Catalonia. However, in 1659, the Treaty of the Pyrenees restored the region of Roussillon to France. The new border was now 200kms away, The city of Perpignan now guarded the frontier. Carcassonne’s military importance dwindled and was eventually abandoned and left to decay.
La Cité
When I first visited France in the spring of 2006, I spent a week in La Cité staying at the hostel and exploring the area. Before arriving, I began reading the book Labyrinth by Kate Mosse. Her descriptions of the area were so vivid and I felt I had stepped into the pages of the book.
Bisous,
Léa

La château

From my bedroom window, I squint my eyes and take a leap into history. Castle Durban Corbiéres appears in the 11th century with the Lords of Durban. The powerful family of Durban had Leucate and Fabrezan had land and manorial rights to Fontjoncouse and Villeséque in the twelfth century.

La château a Durban

The château was built on Roman remains in the eleventh century for the lords of Durban and was first recorded in a document of 1018. In the twelfth century, the powerful Durban family owned Leucate, Fabrezan as well as the land rights over Fontjoncouse and Villesèque. The lords were vassals of the viscounts of Narbonne. The château was in the hands of Bernard de Durban in the twelfth century and in 1229, Guillaume de Durban swore his allegiance to the king this retaining the lands.

In the sixteenth century, the north and west walls were pierced and decorated with magnificent windows with marble columns and sculpted lintels influenced by Renaissance architecture. Much of what remained was restored in 1972.

The last direct descendant of the Durbans to own the château was Joseph de Glèon the Baron of Durban. He died at the age of 82 without providing heirs. The last relative to inherit the castle sold it to Paul Comes in 1873. Monsieur Combes intended the stone for building material and had destroyed large parts of the structure by the end of the nineteenth century. The property was abandoned only to be occupied by a Spanish soldier. It later became public property and continued to be used as a source of stone (building material).
All that remains of the chateau is the north face of the main building, a round staircase and a square tower. Unfortunately, without restoration, it continues to crumble and there are warnings to keep tourists away. It is now owned by the town of Durban-Corbiéres and reclaimed by the association’s Committee for the Protection of Old Durban.Le château la nuit

After four years living beneath this amazing bit of history, I still marvel at its feet.  The view at night is spectacular. On 14 Juillet, La Fête Nationale, the Pompieres (fire-fighters) launch fireworks so that they come shooting from the château. It can take your breath away!

Bisous,

Léa