During the night, the face of The City of Lights was changed. For much of the world, Notre Dame symbolizes Paris and indeed, France. As my home is located on the Mediterranean, I relied on the photos in my local morning journal (newspaper).
Like many, I had been forwarned last night by the internet. But seeing what is available on my computer or television cannot compare to the stunned faces I encountered this morning. One neighbor retired barber, extended a near usual morning greeting. However, today, his cheeks were streaked with tears. While this is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, this marks a National, European and even World Wide loss. Without a doubt, she has been one of the top visited locations in France.
Having lived here for nearly twelve years, I’ve witnessed loss and mourning in my village. This is different. It is a loss shared by the entire nation and beyond.
Television, radio and the internet will be filled with photos and stories for some time. No doubt, efforts will be made to restore the cathedral as close as possible to its former glory. Lost art and relics have left a space for new treasures that will try to capture some of her past and a glance toward the future.
While the nation is grateful for what was spared and the fact there was no loss of life, there is also the deep sadness for what is gone.
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.
“The hugeness, the solidity, the unexpectedness, the monumental rectitude of the whole thing leave you nothing to say – at the time – and make you stand gazing. You simply feel that it is noble and perfect, that it has the quality of greatness… When the
vague twilight began to gather, the lonely valley seemed to fill itself with the shadow of the Roman name, as if the mighty empire were still as erect as the supports of the aqueduct; and it was open to a solitary tourist, sitting there sentimental, to believe that no people has ever been, or will ever be, as great as that, measured, as we measure the greatness of an individual, by the push they gave to what they undertook. The Pont du Gard is one of the three or four deepest impressions they have left; it speaks of them in a manner with which they might have been satisfied.” Henry James – British Novelist
Just North of the city of Nîmes sits the “Gateway to the Tarn” Pont du Gard. This majestic site was inhabited for thousands of years before the Romans built their aqueduct in the year 1 A.D. Artifacts testify to human occupation such as ceramic vestiges and
standing stones to the history of settlements in the
caves offering shelter from the elements but yet close to the river a vital source of both water and food. This ancient Roman bridge crosses the Gard River and is part of a thirty mile long aqueduct. In 1985 it was added to UNESCO’s list of World Heritage Sites. It is one of the best preserved examples of Roman architecture.
Standing 160 feet high, the three tiered bridge carries an estimated forty million gallons of water a day to the citizens of Nîmes. There is evidence suggesting that it remained in use until the late ninth century and remains a monument to the ingenuity and precision of the Roman engineers in a time of basic technology.
In the 19th century, archaeologists found human settlements. Further explorations allow us to see how the evolution of human history in this location. Multi-disipline research teams continue to excavate chronological evidence.
Used as a toll bridge ensured its survival during the Middle Ages. The tolls extracted from voyagers needing to cross the river were earmarked for its upkeep. From the 18th century on, it became a popular tourist attraction.
The visitor’s center has a wealth of information, museum and of course the usual gift shops that a multitude of tourists often expect. However, the people visiting today would see a river filled with swimmers, canoes, and those enjoying this treasure.
The Pont du Gard was constructed largely without the use of mortar or clamps. An estimated 50,00 tons of stone with some of the individual blocks weigh up to 6 tons.They were precisely cut to fit perfectly together by friction alone, eliminating the need for mortar.
The Pont du Gard’s design represents a fairly early stage in the development of Roman aqueducts. The technique of stacking arches on top of each other is awkward, expensive and the additional burden working with a very large amount of stone. Future aqueducts had a more sophisticated design,with the use of concrete to reduce their volume and building expenses. Roman architects were eventually able to do away with “stacking” altogether.
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