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Step nine – A village with a mistery

Rennes-le-Château is a castle in a small hilltop village in Southern France that is at the center of many conspiracy theories. Some say that priest Bérenger Saunière discovered buried treasure in the 19th century, but there are many conflicting theories and stories about what exactly transpired in this area filled with beautiful scenery etched with deep river canyons.

The history of Rennes-le-Château reflects the history of many other European villages. It began with a prehistoric encampment, followed by a Roman villa. The area was a part of Septimania during the 6th and 7th centuries. Thirty thousand people lived in the city around 500-600 AD, with the number of castles rapidly increasing in the area around 1002 AD. In modern times, Rennes-le-Château became very famous when stories from the mid-1950s concerning Roman Catholic priest, Francois Bérenger Saunière, influenced modern writings including The Holy Blood and the Holy Grail, published in 1982, and The Da Vinci Code, published in 2003 (obviously I’ve read both of them and others, that’s why I wanted to visit there, dragging along a reluctant husband….).

The stories told about Rennes-le-Château and Bérenger Saunière consist of many theories, revolving around all matters of conspiracies involving the Blanche of Castile, the Merovingians, the Knights Templar, the Cathars, and later, the Priory of Sion, the Holy Grail, Mary Magdalene, and the remains of Jesus Christ.

The starting ground for these conspiracy theories involve Bérenger Saunière. He was the priest of a small village from the late 19th to early 20th centuries. Somehow, Saunière came across large sums of money – amounts so large that it is unimaginable how a small village priest could come to have such wealth. This led to much speculation as to where and how he got the money. Some say that he discovered a buried treasure, but this theory has never been substantiated.

During his first few years in the village, Saunière lived in poverty. He kept meticulous accountings of his money, which showed that in 1892 he owed a debt of 105 francs and had savings of 80.65 francs. From the 1890s on, his papers showed that he spent an alarming total of 660,000 francs. As a priest, he earned a salary of 900 francs per year. Around 1880, the going rate for a single mass was 1 franc, so it is difficult to imagine that Saunière could have earned such an income on performing mass alone. In 1910–1911 Bérenger Saunière was summoned by the bishopric to appear before an ecclesiastical trial to face charges of “mass trafficking” – receiving money for masses that he never actually performed. He was found guilty and suspended of the priesthood. When asked to produce his account books he refused to attend his trial. Even if Saunière was guilty of this, he could not have collected enough through this practice to amount to the sums he spent over his lifetime. As his life came to an end, Saunière began having financial difficulties. It has been noted that this time in his life corresponded with the start of World War I, which may indicate that his funds were held abroad and he could no longer access them. Saunière’s income and spending have led to many conspiracy theories about Rennes-le-Château and where the money may have come from. Some say he came across a buried treasure. Others accused him of digging graves and stealing from the dead. When his spending was investigated by the church, Saunière claimed that the money had been gifted to him. Marie Dénarnaud, the faithful housekeeper who was accused of digging through graves with Saunière, claimed to know a secret that would make one extremely wealthy. When Noel Corbu purchased the Saunière estate from her, she told him she would tell him a secret that would make him powerful and rich. However, prior to her death, Dénarnaud had a fit that left her unable to write or speak. She ultimately took her secret to the grave.

During the 1950s, Corbu began circulating stories that Saunière was in possession of parchments, which he found while renovating his church in 1892, and that these were linked to the treasure of Blanche de Castile, supposedly amounting to 28,500,000 gold pieces. This was the treasure of the French crown assembled by Blanche de Castile, wife of Louis VIII, to pay the ransom of her son Louis IX (Saint Louis), who was captured during a crusade. The surplus was said to have been hidden at Rennes-le-Château.

It was during the 1960s that Corbu’s stories took on a life of their own, and ignited interest in the case of Saunière and Rennes-le-Château. Corbu’s account of Saunière reached the ears of Pierre Plantard, a French draughtsman who is famous for claiming to be a direct Merovingian descendant and for being the principal perpetrator of the Priory of Sion story. Plantard adapted Corbu’s story and entwined it within the mythological account of the Priory of Sion, which inspired the 1967 book L’Or de Rennes by author Gérard de Sède. The book had photographs purportedly showing the parchments discovered by Saunière, but a friend of Plantard later admitted to forging the parchments and both Plantard and his friend were also involved in planting fabricated documents in France’s Bibliothèque Nationale that dealt with the secret history of the Priory of Sion. A decade later and the story of Saunière became even more convoluted and mixed up with conspiracies relating to the ‘Jesus bloodline’, made popular in the bestselling book ‘Holy Blood, Holy Grail’. Wikipedia reports:“In 1969, a British supporting actor and screenwriter for the BBC by the name of Henry Lincoln read de Sède’s book while on holiday in the Cévennes in 1969 that led him to inspire three BBC Two Chronicle documentaries between 1972-1979, working some of its material into the 1982 non-fictional bestseller Holy Blood, Holy Grail, that he co-wrote with Michael Baigent and Richard Leigh. The book claimed Bérenger Saunière discovered proof (possibly the Marriage Certificate) that Jesus Christ and Mary Magdalene were married and their descendants became the Merovingian dynasty. Among the book’s hypotheses are the possibilities that this was the secret of the Priory of Sion; that Pierre Plantard could have been the descendant of Jesus Christ; that the source of Saunière’s wealth could have involved the blackmailing of the Vatican.”

This theme was further picked up by Dan Brown for his famous historical novel, ‘The Da Vinci Code’, which led to a further surge of interest in Rennes-le-Château. The story of the castle and the priest with his hidden treasure has since become popularized in radio shows, TV programs, and films, and it is now virtually impossible to separate fact from fiction in this complicated conspiracy story. To this day, the secret of Saunière’s fortune remains a mystery. Many theories as to where he got the money have been developed, but none substantiated. Was he a dishonest priest, highly skilled in mass trafficking? Did he come across buried treasure? Was his money kept and hidden overseas? We may never know the real story of Saunière and his fortune, the truth of which he most likely took to his grave when he passed away on 22 January 1917.

The village church dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene has been rebuilt several times. The earliest church of which there is any evidence on the site may date to the 8th century. However, this original church was almost certainly in ruins by the 10th or 11th century, when another church was built upon the site—remnants of which can be seen in Romanesque pillared arcades on the north side of the apse. This survived in poor repair until the 19th century, when it was renovated by the local priest, Bérenger Saunière. Surviving receipts and existing account books belonging to Saunière reveal that the renovation of the church, including works on the presbytery and cemetery, cost 11,605 Francs over a ten-year period between 1887 and 1897.

One of the new features was the Latin inscription Terribilis est locus iste above the front doors, taken from the Common Dedication of a Church, which translates as: “This is a place of awe”; the rest of the dedication reads “this is God’s house, the gate of heaven, and it shall be called the royal court of God.” The first part of the dedication is above the front doors—the rest inscribed on the arches over the two front doors of the church.

Inside the church, one of the added figures was of a devil holding up the holy water stoup, its original head was stolen by persons unknown in 1996 and has never been recovered. A devil like figure holding up the holy water stoup is a rare and unusual choice for the interior decoration of a Church but not exclusive to the Church of Saint Mary Magdalene, a similar subject matter can be seen in the Saint Vincent Collegiate church in Montréal, a short distance from Rennes-le-Château. The new figures and statues in the church were not specially made,[13] but were chosen by Saunière from a catalogue published by Giscard, sculptor and painter in Toulouse who—among other things—offered statues and sculptural features for church refurbishment. Following Sauniere’s renovations and redecoratations, the church was re-dedicated in 1897 by his bishop, Monsignor Billard.
As you can see from my photos below, it’s not exactly the roman catholic church you can expect……the first impression is you are on a movie stage really, not the feeling you’re in a blessed place….stunning nevertheless, due to the different lights (natural and artificial), the colors of the statues, the paintings of the walls….have a look….
Near the church there’s a little museum about the story of the village and the Saunière life and mystery, not really adding much to the visit, but from the back garden (a nice walk) there’s the access to the Tour of Magdala….
In September 2004, the mayor of Rennes-le-Château exhumed Saunière’s corpse from the cemetery and reburied it in a concrete sarcophagus in the garden to protect it from grave-robbers. Since then, the cemetery of Rennes-le-Château has been closed to the general public.
Saunière also funded the construction of another structure dedicated to Saint Mary Magdalene. Named after his church, he built the Tour Magdala originally named the Tour de L’horloge on the edge of the village which he used as his library, it features a circular turret with twelve crenellations, on a belvedere that connected it to an orangery, a tower-like structure. The tower has a promenade linking it to the Villa Bethania, which was not actually used by the priest. He stated at his trial that it was intended as a home for retired priests. Surviving receipts and existing account books belonging to Saunière reveal that the construction of his estate including the Tour Magdala and Villa Bethania (including the purchases of land) between 1898 and 1905 cost 26,417 Francs. Believers in the enigma have suggested that Saunière’s estate was set up on a large-scale checkerboard, while others have claimed that Saunière produced a Mirror image of selected architectural features of his property.

From there you can have an unobstructed view of the Aude valley towards the Pyrenees………..

After the still unsolved mistery (if really there’s one) we needed a break, so we drove to a nearby lake to have a late lunch and a relaxing afternoon…

 
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Posted by on September 9, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Step eight – Two museums in Toulose

The Cité de l’espace (City of Space) is a theme park focused on space and the conquest of space. It was opened in June 1997 and is located on the eastern outskirts of Toulouse. As of 2015, there had been more than 4,5 million visitors.

There you can visit full-scale models of the Ariane 5 rocket (55 metres or 180 feet), Mir space station, and Soyuz modules. The original planetarium has 140 seats and presents shows throughout the day. Cité de l’Espace also has numerous exhibits, often interactive; for example, a mock-up of a control room near the model of Ariane 5, allows visitors to prepare the launching of a rocket, help with its flight and then place a satellite in orbit. Terr@dome (a terrestrial half-sphere 25 metres or 82 feet in diameter) presents the history of space from the Big-bang to the solar system. A building about Australia, which opened in 2005, includes: a new 280-seat planetarium, called the Stellarium, equipped with a hemispherical screen 600 square metres (6,458 sq ft) in area; a 300-seat IMAX cinema, which shows the film Hubble 3D (previously Space Station 3D, a 3D film made on board the International Space Station); and conference rooms.

For more about this very interesting museum (hubby is a fan of everything is space and planes, but I found it so well presented and beautiful as well) read their website, below are my photos of the day spent there.

Lunch was a bit expensive, but we enjoyed it nevertheless………….

Aeroscopia is a aeronautic museum based in Blagnac (where the Toulose airport is) near the site AéroConstellation (an industrial zone dedicated to the aeronautic industry) and hosts several planes, including two copies of the Concorde, the opening took place January 14, 2015, and here is their website to learn more about it. Below, my phots……….

 
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Posted by on September 7, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Step six – Within the walls of Carcassonne

Above, a mold of La Citè and its walls as seen inside the castle. You can see in it a castle and a church…….

The castle of Carcassonne, known as the “Palatium” or Château Comtal has a strong claim to be called a “Cathar Castle“. When the Catholic Crusader army arrived in 1209 they first attacked Raymond-Roger Trencavel castrum at Bèziers and then moved on to his main stronghold at Carcassonne. The castle takes its shape and position from the need to be a safe place, fortified and capable of receiving attacks without succumbing to them. It is a fortress within a fortress that is the city itself, since both have their own walls and watchtowers and defense.

During the French royal domain, between 1228 and 1239, the castle was completely redesigned to become a fortress within the city. Several structures were built. A barbican with a walk and a parapet wall guarding the entrance to the castle, just before the moat surrounding the entire inner wall; the entrance to the castle, framed by two towers, with machicolation, accessible only by a fixed bridge with a stone, followed by a liftgate driven counterweights. The walls replaced the original fence completely surrounding buildings. At the end of the stone bridge, overlooking the pits, the door of the castle and single access point, is flanked by twin towers that defend the entrance to the main courtyard.

The castle consists of two bodies in a building forming a L. In the northern area is a chapel dedicated to St. Mary, notable the apse of the Romanesque period. Only a fence separates the castle from the rest of the walled city.

Galleries made with wood in order to launch missiles on several assailants. They are placed 40 meters in height above the courtyard and two are located also on the belt of the castle walls.

On the walls of the castle there are nine towers, two of them being the highest in the city, the tower of the Chapel and tower Pinte, from the Visigoth period. The rest of the towers were built over the XII century, and are identical both inside and outside: consisting of four plants, including the ground floor. On the ground floor and first floor the ceilings are vaulted, while the upper floors are flat. Communication between plants is done through holes in ceilings. The Tower of Justice, built on the site of another tower (a Gallo-Roman prison) was used by the Inquisition.

 

The Lapidary Museum is located inside of the castle. Since 1927 are on display local archaeological findings in the department of Aude, ranging from the Roman to the Gothic, through the Romanesque, as well as some findings from the castle restoration. Present also some documents on the history of the city and the restoration carried out by Viollet-le-Duc. It is an ideal complement to finish the visit to the Castle and the Cité de Carcassonne. It’s worth stopping to admire its statues, alabaster, frescoes … not to mention the view of the city, which can be admired from its large windows……

A very short walk separates the castle from the Basilica of Saints Nazarius and Celsus ………The original church is thought to have been constructed in the 6th century during the reign of Theodoric the Great, ruler of the Visigoths.

On 12 June 1096, Pope Urban II visited the town and blessed the building materials for the construction of the cathedral. Construction was completed in the first half of the twelfth century. It was built on the site of a Carolingian cathedral, of which no traces remain. The crypt too, despite its ancient appearance, dates from the new construction. Around the end of the 13th century, during the rule of kings Philip III, Philip IV, and the episcopates of Pierre de Rochefort and Pierre Rodier, the cathedral was reconstructed in the Gothic style. It remained the cathedral of Carcassonne until 1803, when it lost the title to the present Carcassonne Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Michel de Carcassonne).

The Church of Saints Nazarius and Celsus obtained the status of historical monument in 1840. Around this time, the architect Eugène Viollet-le-Duc renovated the church along with the rest of the citadel. In 1898, the church was elevated to a minor basilica.

The sandstone basilica’s floor plan is based on a Latin cross, internally measuring 59 m in total length, 16 m in nave width, and 36 m along the transept. The oldest part of the church is the Romanesque tripartite nave. The main entrance in its north wall is formed by a Romanesque portal of five receding arches over two doors. A fortress façade forms the west wall, as is common for medieval Languedocian church buildings. The transept and choir were rebuilt in the Gothic style. The larger windows in this part of the church permit a better illumination compared to the darker romansque nave. The central stained glass window of the choir from 1280 is one of the oldest ones in the south of France. Together with the upper trefoils (the Resurrection of Jesus and the Resurrection of the dead), it depicts the life of Jesus in 16 medallions.

If you’re willing to know more about it, here’s a link to a very exhaustive brochure….

 
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Posted by on August 27, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Step three – Aigues-Mortes

 The day we decided to visit the fortified city of Aigues-Mortes (meaning dead waters = marsh) was incredibly hot, and almost all the visit consisted of a long walk on the ancient town walls, but the view, the history we savoured and that blue sky (along with lots of water) made up for the discomfort….(sorry….lots of pics of hubby….)

The foundation of the city is said to have been by Gaius Marius, around 102BC but there is no documentary evidence to support this. A Roman by the name of Peccius fitted out the first salt marsh and gave his name to the Marsh of Peccais. Salt mining started from the Neolithic period and was continued in the Hellenistic period, but the ancient uses of saline have not resulted in any major archaeological discovery. It is likely that any remains were destroyed by modern saline facilities.

In 791, Charlemagne erected the Matafère tower amid the swamps for the safety of fishermen and salt workers. Some argue that the signaling and transmission of news was not foreign to the building of this tower which was designed to give warning in case of arrival of a fleet, as for the Magne Tower at Nîmes

The purpose of this tower was part of the war plan and spiritual plan which Charlemagne granted at the Benedictine abbey, dedicated to Opus Dei (work of God) and whose incessant chanting, day and night, was to designate the convent as Psalmody or Psalmodi. This monastery still existed in 812, as confirmed by an act of endowment made by the Badila from Nîmes at the abbey.

At that time, the people lived in reed huts and made their living from fishing, hunting, and salt production from several small salt marshes along the sea shore. The region was then under the rule of the monks from the Abbey of Psalmody.

In 1240, Louis IX, who wanted to get rid of the influence of the Italian navy for transporting troops to the Crusades, focused on the strategic position of his kingdom. At that time, Marseille belonged to his brother Charles of Anjou, King of Naples, Agde, Count of Toulouse, and Montpellier, and King of Aragon. Louis IX wanted direct access to the Mediterranean Sea. He obtained the town and the surrounding lands by exchange of properties with the monks of the abbey. Residents were exempt from the salt tax which was previously levied so that they can now take the salt unconstrained.

He built a road between the marshes and built the Carbonnière Tower to serve as a watchtower and protect access to the city. Saint-Louis then built the Constance Tower on the site of the old Matafère Tower, to house the garrison. In 1272, his son and successor, Philip III the Bold, ordered the continuation of the construction of walls to completely encircle the small town. The work would not be completed for another 30 years. This was the city from which Louis IX twice departed for the Crusades: the Seventh Crusade in 1248 and again for the Eighth Crusade in 1270 for Tunis where he died of dysentery.

The year 1270 has been established, mistakenly for many historians, as the last step of a process initiated at the end of the 11th century. The judgment is hasty because the transfer of crusaders or mercenaries from the harbour of Aigues-Mortes continued after this year. The order given in 1275 to Sir Guillaume de Roussillon by Philip III the Bold and Pope Gregory X after the Council of Lyons in 1274 to reinforce Saint-Jean d’Acre in the East shows that maritime activity continued for a ninth crusade which never took place.

There is a popular belief that the sea reached Aigues-Mortes in 1270. In fact, as confirmed by studies of the engineer Charles Leon Dombre, the whole port of Aigues-Mortes, including the port itself, was in the Marette pond, the Canal-Viel and Grau Louis, the Canal Viel being the access channel to the sea. The Grau-Louis was approximately at the modern location of La Grande-Motte. At the beginning of the 14th century, Philip the Fair used the fortified site to incarcerate the Templars. Between 8 and 11 November 1307, forty-five of them were put to the question, found guilty, and held prisoner in the Tower of Constance.

Aigues-Mortes still retained its privileges granted by the kings. Curiously it was a great Protestant in the person of Jean d’Harambure who said that the one-eyed light horse commander of King Henry IV and former governor of Vendôme should be appointed governor of Aigues-Mortes and the Carbonnière Tower on 4 September 1607. To do this, he took an oath before the Constable of France Henri de Montmorency, Governor of Languedoc. But one Catholic, the Lord of Berichère, supported the rival Adrien de Chanmont. The conflict continued until 1612, and Harambure, supported by the pastors of Lower Languedoc and the inhabitants, finished it by a personal appeal to the Queen. He eventually resigned on 27 February 1615 in favour of his son Jean d’Harambure, but King Louis XIII restored him for six years. On 27 July 1616 he resigned again in favour of Gaspard III de Coligny, but not without obtaining a token of appreciation for the judges and consuls of the city. At the beginning of the 15th century, important works were being undertaken to facilitate access to Aigues-Mortes from the sea. The old Grau-Louis, dug for the Crusades, was replaced by the Grau-de-la-Croisette and a port was dug at the base of the Tower of Constance. It lost its importance from 1481 when Provence and Marseille were attached to the kingdom of France. Only the exploitation of the Peccais salt marshes encouraged François I, in 1532, to connect the salt industry of Aigues-Mortes to the sea. This channel, said Grau-Henry, silted up in turn. The opening, in 1752, of the Grau-du-Roi solved the problem for a while. A final solution was found in 1806 by connecting the Aigues-Mortes river port through the Canal du Rhône à Sète.

From the walls we had a great view of the salt pans, the water pink colored because of some shrimps (the same color they give to the flamingos there – plenty of them).

After lunch we had the chance to see the town from another point of view, by a little train, in and out of the city wall…..shaded this time!

It’s been really a nice day, so full of colors, smells and wind…such a sweet memory to cherish.

 
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Posted by on August 21, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Step two – A church, a garden and a castle

Having more time meant we had the chance to spend some visiting specific places, not just strolling around. We remember from our first time a few interesting things and now here we were……First we stopped to visit the Cathedral, four years ago the Mass was held and we couldn’t have a deep look inside….

Uzès Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Théodorit d’Uzès) is a former Roman Catholic cathedral, now a parish church, dedicated to Saint Theodoritus. It was formerly the seat of the Bishops of Uzès, until the diocese was abolished under the Concordat of 1801 and its territory passed to the Diocese of Avignon. In 1877 the territory of the former diocese of Uzès was removed from that of Avignon and added to the Diocese of Nîmes, now the Diocese of Nîmes, Uzès and Alès.

The present building, which was gutted during the French Revolution, and after repair and with the addition of a 19th-century Neo-classical façade is now used as a parish church, dates from the 17th century, and was a rebuild of the previous cathedral, which was destroyed during the French Wars of Religion. That cathedral in its turn had been built to replace a still earlier one which had been destroyed in the 12th century during the Albigensian Crusade. The campanile, the well-known Tour Fenestrelle, is the only part to survive from the medieval structure, although it was previously taller by two storeys.

The interiors were nothing I could have expected, so different from the churches we have in Italy. The balustrade makes this church more alike to a royal palace….

In the reliquary, St. Firmin, Bishop of Uzès from 538 to 553…

After the church, we walked to the castle complex, to have a look at the Medieval Garden….

A part of the castle that includes the Rainon Tower, called the Clock Tower, was sold to the Bishops in the thirteenth century; the other tower was exchanged with King Charles VIII of France in the fifteenth century. Both had their courts and prisons. The rooms served as prisons until 1926, when Uzes lost its status as sub-prefecture. Later they were transformed into reserve space, municipal workshops as well as residences. Abandoned for decades, the restored rooms come alive again through the creation of the Garden in medieval style in 1995.

This garden is a living herbarium. 450 varieties of plants live together and illustrate the many uses that were made of plants in the Middle Ages. The plants’ virtues are ambivalent, labels allow them to be discovered and to differentiate them. Nature does not always respect the established order; the garden plants coexist with some “weeds” and host insects.

In the garden sometimes there are also exhibitions of different kinds, at the time of our visit there was a young local painter vernissage….

Off to the castle nearby….

The Duchy of Uzès is built on an old Roman “Castrum” (camp) which became the residence of the Governor in the first millennium. These wooden constructions have not survived. We do know that Dhuoda, Duchess of Septimanie was exiled here by her husband Bernard in the middle of the ninth century, and that she was the first woman in the Occident to write a book. It was a manual for the education of her son, and it still exists. The architecture of the Duke’s chateau, named the Duchy is a potted history of France. The Middle-Ages, the Renaissance, the 17th century, and modern times are all there. Despite this, the ensemble is pleasing to the eye.

During the difficult times of the Revolution the building was considered as belonging to the nation, and sold. It was much misused, and ended as a school. In 1824 the Duke bought back the Duchy of Uzès from the townspeople (the writer André Gide was one of them) who in buying it had actually protected it. In 1834 a new school was build in Uzes and the Duke set about restoring the Duchy of Uzès. The first part of the 20th century saw sad days for the Duchy of Uzès. In financial difficulty, the Duke sold the furnishings and rented the Duchy of Uzès to the Board of Education who once again installed a school. They did not fulfil their obligation to care for the building and concreted both inside and out. From 1951 the widowed Marchioness of Crussol set about restoring the Duchy of Uzès that she had re-acquired with the help of the Fine Arts Ministry. Aided by her friend André Malraux, Minister of Culture under General de Gaulle, whom she had met in her Political Society Gatherings, she had the town of Uzes classed in 1964 as a heritage site, which greatly helped it after two centuries of being forgotten. Her grandson and his wife, the present Duke and Duchess of Uzes, are continuing the work started by the Marchioness. Since then major work has been done to the building, and furnishings and objects are regularly added to enrich the collections for the pleasure of the visitor. The Duchy of Uzès is a rare example in the 21st century of a family castle being completely restored.

The visit is limited, you can see a lot but not everything because it’s still a private residence….lucky them…There have been some interesting characters to hold the title through the years, including the Duchess Anne, who was initially the heir to the Veuve Cliquot fortune (some fine bottles are in the cave), an adamant huntress who rode until the age of 86, the year before she died. She was also the first woman in France to get a driver’s license and the first to get a speeding ticket too….

The Duchy of Uzès, often called the First Duchy of France, is France’s oldest ducal peerage. The Viscounty of Uzes was elevated to Duchy in 1565, and to the Peerage in 1572 by Charles 1X. Ever since then, the Duke of Uzes, 1st Peer of France, Count of Crussol, Prince of Soyons, takes precedence over all other noble houses of France, both in Parliament and at Coronations. At Court, after the extinction of the Duchy of Montmorency under Louis XIII in 1632, only the Duchy of Trémoille, created in 1563 had precedence, until it became extinct at the beginning of the 20th century. Today, Jacques de Crussol d’Uzes is the 17th Duke.

The Crussol of Uzes coat of arms is emblazoned as seen here in the carpet….. The shield was established by Antoine de Crussol, 1st Duke of Uzes and it has not changed since. The family motto “Ferro non auro” means “iron not gold” as the family comes from a line of warriors rather than from finance.

The entry fee of 18€ (about $20) includes a visit to the private chapel and the cave, a little expensive but….what the hell….

The best part of the visit was from the top of the castle “donjon” (the keep)….exhausting but worth it…

This was the end of our stay in Uzès….for now at least, because the region is worth another visit for sure….

 
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Posted by on August 19, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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Step one – Uzès

We were there already, four years ago, but just for a few hours, a walk through its streets and squares…..This time we found on the web a lovely B&B  where to stay for three nights (and the expectations were more than satisfied!)….there we met an english family from Sheffield, and by the end of our stay we were already friends, exchanged our home addresses, phone numbers and e-mails, to be sure to stay in touch…and the place was so charming and cozy and the owners so friendly, we’re thinking of coming back this fall….

Staying longer we had the chance to see a little more of this charming village (photos posted at random) its very quiet streets, especially at the end of the day, or its crowded places………both aspects are nice to see.

(hubby being the lonely walker at that moment...)

Originally Ucetia, Uzès was a small Gallo-Roman oppidum, or administrative settlement. The town lies at the source of the Alzon river, at Fontaine d’Eure, from where a Roman aqueduct was built in the first century BC, to supply water to the local city of Nîmes, 50 kilometres (31 miles) away. The most famous stretch of the aqueduct is the Pont du Gard, which carried fresh water over splendid arches across the river Gardon (another beautiful memory of the region, back in the summer of 2006).

The civilized and tolerant urban life of 5th-century Uzès contrasted with the Frankish north. Jews were apparently settled there as early as the 5th century. Saint Ferréol, Bishop of Uzès, allegedly admitted them to his table; on this account complaint was made of him to King Childebert I, whereupon the bishop was obliged to change his attitude toward the Jews, compelling all those who would not become Christians to leave Uzès. After his death (581) many who had received baptism returned to Judaism. Jews were expelled from the region in 614.

In early 8th century, Uzès was a fortified civitas and bishopric under the archbishop of Narbonne. During the Umayyad conquest of Gothic Septimania, Uzès became the northernmost stronghold of the Andalusians circa 725. Charles Martel went on to lay siege to the stronghold in 736, but it remained in Gothic-Andalusian hands up to 752, when counts loyal to Ansemund of Nîmes handed over a large number of strongholds to the Frankish Pepin the Short. In 753 the stronghold rebelled against the Franks after Ansemund’s assassination, but the uprising was suppressed and a Frankish trustee of Pepin imposed. In the 13th century, Uzès hosted a small community of Jewish scholars, as well as a community of Cathars. Like many cloth-manufacturing centers (Uzès was known for its serges), the city and the surrounding countryside were strongly Protestant during the Wars of Religion in the 16th century, which wreaked havoc in Languedoc. Numerous of the city’s churches were trashed and burned by furious Protestants: only two remain today.

While there, we enjoyed some very good meals in local restaurants….the first we tried was good for the food, but the service was really deplorable, a very long wait and not so cheap….the location, on a terrace, and the view made up for that…

Located on the Place aux Herbes there are at least 15 restaurants….we chooce A Cotè and it was a good choice….

The best was the one we found following a horse carriage, in a little place just behind the main square….

Obviously, being in France, we couldn’t avoid the nth market (not that we wanted to, but we didn’t look for it neither)……the explosion of colors and smells was amazing as always…

We decided to exlpore more of the place….but that’s for another chapter…

 

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on August 18, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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One morning in the garden

There’s this no-profit organisation in my hometown, that in spring and in winter organizes some city tours, on the footsteps of the noble families that ruled our city over the centuries. We had been with them a few times already, always a pleasure and very interesting. At the beginning of april, the meeting point was at our local botanical garden, being this spring under the name of the Borbone.

The origins of the Parma Botanical Garden can be traced back to the year 1600.
Even before this time Parma had the “Giardino dei Semplici” (Garden of Simple) founded by Ranuccio I Farnese which formed part of Medical Department and used to grow healing herbs (hence the name simple indicating medicines from the plant kingdom).

The present Botanical Garden was created in the 1768 by the abbot Giambattista Guatteri, professor of botany, under the auspices of Ferdinando I of Borbone and was located in the city centre, covering the same area of 11000 square metres when established as it does today. The central part, in front of the greenhouses, preserves the Italian garden style of the eighteenth century project, even if the shape has been partially modified with the march of time. The wooded part, created between the XVIII and the XIX century, remains in the east of the Garden, whilst the western part has been rebuilt according to the British garden style.

Above, the “V” that stands for violet, the typical Parma flower, the most loved by Marie Louise, Duchess of Parma, still today lovingly remembered (we are celebrating her bicentenary right now with lots of events).

In the last years a reorganization and an enrichment of the collections has been started, and the flowerbeds and the border have been fixed. Precious herbariua kept at the Garden include that of Giambattista Guatteri, Giorgio Jan and Giovanni Passerini which also has some working tools; an ancient herbarium of healing herbs which was the property of the botanic doctor G. B. Casapini (1722); the herbarium of the countess Albertina Sanvitale with her autograph hints (1828 – 1830) and the herbarium of Luigi Gardoni (1836 – 1878) composed of 274 boxes containing a diverse mix of local and exotic species.

Above, my daughter, the pro photographer….

The Botanical Garden’s main goal is to preserve biodiversity both “in situ” as well as “ex situ”. Other than the main institutional activities, the chief strands of activity are:

  • scientific research mainly related to environmental subjects;
  • teaching;
  • environmental education;
  • scientific cooperation with local bodies.

The garden contains aquatic plants including Acorus calamus, Butomus umbellatus, Caltha palustris, Cyperus papyrus, Eichhornia crassipes, Elodea canadensis, Iris pseudacorus, Lemna minor,Nymphaea alba, Pistia stratiotes, and Sagittaria sagittaefolia, as well as mature trees including ginkgo, magnolia, Pinus nigra subsp. laricio, and Ulmus campestris. Its glass houses contain a tropical section with Dracaena fragrans, Ficus elastica, F. benjamina, Monstera deliciosa, Tamarindus indica, Theobroma cacao, etc., as well as epiphytes, orchids, and tropical fruits; and a desert house containing a variety of cacti and succulents.

It was such a nice morning, the weather not so good, but our guide was so kind and so ready to answer all of our questions….absolutely a great experience.

 
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Posted by on April 29, 2016 in Uncategorized

 

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