Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Henrichemont, France - date visited July 12, 2012

Trundling north along the D12 on an overcast morning, we passed under an arch and emerged into the heart of the tiny town of Henrichemont, population 1800. Such a contrast to the usual string of houses along the roadside that form the typical small French community, this one was rigorously laid out around a grand central square. There had to be a reason...
Boisbelle, as the area had formerly been known, had been an allōd under Roman law, a sovereign freehold with none of the constraints of feudal tenure but one wherein the owner had the rights of a ruler and governed the territory in complete independence. Thus, the inhabitants of Boisbelle were free from any taxes or services and could not be conscripted into the armed forces. They were, however, subject to the requirements of the Roman Catholic Church.
In 1605, Maximilien de Béthune, Duke of Sully, a Protestant and a friend of King Henri IV for more than  30 years, bought Boisbelle from the Duke of Nevers. The French Treasury challenged the tax-exempt position of Boisbelle so Sully obtained letters patent from Henri IV in 1606 confirming its status and the immunity of its inhabitants. The dispute continued until 1608 when Henri IV issued further letters declaring the people of Boisbelle free of all tax in perpetuity. Apparently secure, Sully decided to build a new capital, Henrichemont, in honor of the king and the first stone was laid in April 1609.
Then, tragedy! On 14 May 1610, Henri IV was assassinated, Sully lost his friend and protector, his offices and his income. Construction slowed, contractors fell into dispute and lawsuits abounded. In 1624, Sully was ordered by the court to pay the contractors and in 1636 the owners of the few private houses that had been built, all sold at a loss. Ultimately, on 24 September 1766, the 7th Duke of Sully and last independent Prince, ceded the principality to the Crown. It was integrated into France and the inhabitants lost all their privileges. Too bad! Still, it was a nice coffee break and served to confirm that its not what you know but who you know, at least until they are assassinated - see pictures here.

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Bourges, France - visited July 11, 2012

Bourges, a city with a population of around 70,000, is in Centre region on the Yèvre river. It is the capital of the Cher department. A great walkabout city - off the beaten track, lots of locals and no intense crowds.
Following the siege of Avaricum, the commune name in Roman times, Julius Caesar's forces destroyed the city and killed all but 800 of its inhabitants in 52 BCE. A Christian center had developed on this site by the 3rd century when Saint Ursin is believed to have been the first bishop of the city of Bourges. In the 4th century a defensive stone wall, strengthened by some 50 towers and pierced by four gateways, was built and some vestiges of this can be seen along the Promenade des Remparts and at the foot of Jacques Coeur's Palace. The city, which has a walled market that opens once a week, actually served briefly as the capital of France during the "Hundred Years War".
The Gothic Cathedral of Saint Etienne, begun at the end of the twelfth century, is listed as a World Heritage Site and is second only to Paris' Nôtre-Dame cathedral in size. It contains some of France's best stained-glass windows representing Christ at the Last Judgement and the Apocalypse among others. The structure is essentially as it was when it was completed in the late 13th century, although many elements have been replaced over the centuries.
By 1487, Bourges boasted 15,000 inhabitants despite outbreaks of plague and general paucity but, in that year, a disasterous fire consumed more than a third of the city and precipitated a rapid decline. In 1562 the War of Religion reached Bourges with much pillaging by the Protestants leading to the flight of many of its bourgeois and intellectual elite. The Revolution further diminished the city's allure and it wasn't until 1851 when the railroad station was built that redevelopment began.
In 1860 Bourges was selected as the armament manufacturing center for France and by 1866 the population had doubled to 30,000 and peaked at 100,000 briefly during WWI. Since WWII, most housing expansion has been in the form of apartment blocks north of the city, leaving the old town fairly intact. Lots of things to see here.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

St. Pourçain sur Sioule, France - visited July 9, 2012

Still in the Auvergne region, we headed north and shortly descended from the Massif Central, skirted Clermont Ferrand and eventually came to St. Pourçain sur Sioule.
In the Allier department of the Auvergne region, St. Pourçain sur Sioule sits along the river Sioule and is home to around 5,000 inhabitants. The city lies at the crossroads of the north-south Clermont-Ferrand to Paris road and the east-west Lyon to Limoges highway.
It is probable that a swineherd called Porcianus or Purcianus, sometime in the 5th century CE, was elevated to abbot of a monastery that was built on the hill overlooking the river Sioule. In the 14th century the village was fortified into a walled city. Around this time the it was known as St. Pourçain Arbors from the grapevines grown on trellises or arbors. Following the Revolution it was renamed Mont-sur-Sioule but after the revolutionary fervor died down it became known as St. Pourçain sur Sioule early in the 19th century.
The municipal campground, contained in a park on an island in the Sioule, is very comfortable and enjoys a lot of family friendly activities. See here for more pictures of this city.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Tidying up the backyard...

Having lived in our Florida home for a few months and thoroughly checked out the amenities we felt the urge to do a little tune-up. Several items seemed irksome and were slated for change so, after a little planning, the artisans were let loose to do their thing.
See here for more images.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Saint Flour, France - visited July 6, 2012

Nestled between two volcanic mountain regions in the Massif Central of the Haute Auvergne region, Saint Flour offers an insight into rural medieval France amid the grandeur of a volcanic landscape. The medieval town of 6,500 or so is on the top of the Auvergne's highest volcanic outcrops and is in the Cantal department in the Auvergne region in south-central France. The upper city is located on a volcanic dike, the lower city extends to the banks of the river Ander. There are a number of megalithic graves in the area known as dolmens that probably originated in the bronze age and there is ample evidence to confirm Roman occupation.
During the French Revolution Saint Flour took several successive names. De-Christianized first as Fort-Cantal then Fort-Libre then Mont-Flour before readopting its original name in 1793. The territory of the commune was never changed. Briefly, between 1790 and 1795 it served as the préfecture of the newly-created département, before Aurillac succeeded to that position. The population at the time was around 5,300, about 1200 less than today.
Proclaimed as religious capital of Haute-Auvergne in 1317, Saint-Flour didn't have its own cathedral until the following century. Built in the 15th century, on the ruins of the priory founded by Saint Odilo of Cluny, Abbot of Cluny, in the 11th century, the cathedral offers an foreboding exterior facade and a black Christ inside. More pictures here.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

Mende, France - visited July 4, 2012

Mende (pronounced "Monder"), is the capital of the Lozère department in the mountainous area of the Languedoc-Roussillon region. It is a small city of population about 12,000 and is dominated by an enormous 14th century Gothic cathedral. The basilica style cathedral is dedicated to Notre-Dame and Saint-Privat and was built by Pope Urbain V who was born in the area. Although originally in the Gothic style, a radical makeover was undertaken in the first half of the seventeenth century. Mende is at the doorstep of the Cevennes National Forest close to the Gorges du Tarn, a massive 25-mile canyon.
The are records mentioning Mende dating back to the 3rd century although it wasn't until the Middle Ages that the city really began to thrive. Mende suffered during the Wars of Religion and also from visitations from the plague before finally settling to become the department capital while retaining a small-town feel. A few additional pictures are here.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Florac, France, visited July 3, 2012

Florac, in south central France, is in the Lozère department of the Languedoc-Roussillon region. It is a small town with a population of approximately 2,000 people.
Raymond of Anduze once held the barony of Florac and is recorded as using the castle there in the 13th Century. Later, in 1363, local born Pope Urbain V lent the town 300 florins for the construction of ramparts, defenses that were not unusual and offered desirable security and protection for the townspeople. These defenses remained in place until 1629 after the Treaty of Ales which insisted on the razing of fortifications as perceived "strongholds".
The Château passed through a number of feudal families before being entirely rebuilt in 1652 after the Wars of Religion.
During the French Revolution, it was turned into a "salt loft" and later was used as a prison in the 19th century. In the late 19th century, a then young Robert Louis Stevenson visited the area and featured the town in a chapter of his wry Victorian bestseller Travels through the Cevennes with a Donkey, published in 1879.
Since 1976, the castle has been the headquarters of the Cévennes National Park, who restored it and installed a permanent exhibition on the National Park.
Florac's Medieval Catholic Church was destroyed in 1561, during the Wars of Religion, and the first Protestant church was razed following the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685. In a rush to recapture the religious revenue stream after the revolution, two new churches were erected on the old sites - a Protestant church in 1832 followed by the Catholic Saint Martin's a year later. More pictures of this interesting town are here.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Seaplane Saturday in Tavares Florida

Postponed twice for inclement weather, the Seaplane fly-in and competition finally got under way on Saturday, May 11, 2013. The weather was excellent, slight wind, partially cloudy and pleasantly warm. About 10 seaplanes were on hand to entertain and thrill the crowd at this free event organized by the city of Tavares.
We chose to chug on over there in our little boat and watch the proceedings from Lake Dora in the company of a neighborhood acquaintance and a motley selection of their kids with their intendeds. A great way to spend a relaxed Saturday - bombing buoys with grapefruit and a precision landing exhibition. For more pictures click here.

Saturday, May 04, 2013

Saint Pierre d'Albigny, France - June 25, 2012

Saint-Pierre-d'Albigny, a small rural town of 3700 souls is in the Savoie department of the Rhône-Alpes region. It is 290 miles from Paris and about 420 miles from Calais. A market is held in the town each Wednesday morning.
This fairly featureless farming town still supports an Office de Tourisme, a Mairie, a rundown hotel and the obligatory church. Certainly not a place to go out of one's way for but there is a reasonable campsite down by the river with a substantial grocery store nearby. See here for a few pictures.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Annecy, France - June 23, 2012

Modern Annecy is an agglomeration of 13 small municipalities producing a total population of more than 50,000. It is the capital of the Haute-Savoie department in the Rhone-Alpes region of France and is located on the northern shore of lake Annecy.
The lake is about 9 miles long and 1/2 to 2 miles across and is fed by the river Thiou that runs through the city. The Thiou, at about 2 miles in length, is one of the shortest rivers in France. The area in the vicinity of Annecy has been occupied since at least 3,100 BCE and was home to an industrious community up through the collapse of the Roman Empire, after which the population declined precipitously.
A mild resurgence occurred in the 12th century which supported the construction of the medieval fortifications but, it wasn't until the late seventeenth century, that the city really began to prosper again. This latter comeback was fueled by the industrial revolution and enabled by the hydraulic power of the river.
In 1860, after the annexation of Savoy to France, Annecy became the capital of the new department of Haute Savoie. Annecy is host to several annual and bi-annual film festivals and, for the casual explorer, offers something for everyone.
More pictures are here.