Tuesday, February 16, 2010

June 14, 2009 - Aurillac, France

Aurillac is the little known and somewhat isolated capital of the Cantal department in the Auvergne region of south-central France. With a population of around 30,000, it is a mid-sized market town built along the Jourdanne River at about 2,000 feet altitude. In the 9th century CE, Saint Geraud founded the Benedictine Abbey and, around the same time, houses were built on the city walls along the river. At the end of the 10th century, in 999 CE, a local lad, Gerbert d'Aurillac, became the first French Pope, Sylvester II, following his education in the Abbey. He only Poped for four years until his death in 1003 CE at the age of 57. While Aurillac can trace its origin back to the 1st century CE, it really didn't gain traction until it received its first charter around 1300 CE. In 1339 the Gothic style Notre-Dame-aux-Neiges was built on one corner of the of the Place de la Square. The town suffered a setback during the 16th century Religious Wars when a wholesale massacre of Huguenots (Protestants) was quickly countered by a the Huguenots sacking and burning much of the city while slaughtering Roman Catholics. Ain't Religion Great? In 1794, Aurillac was designated the capital of the Cantal department and, in 1850, it laid claim to the title of "Umbrella Capital" of France. As recently as 1999 it produced a quarter of a million parapluies - as many as were produced in the rest of France combined. Wow! Sadly, like stuffed toys and tee shirts, umbrellas are fast becoming the province of China and the industry in France seems doomed to an imminent demise. The historic remnants of the town comprise a small core of old streets, now largely pedestrianized, that has been given over to fashionable shops. The homely Hôtel-de-Ville anchors the Wednesday and Saturday markets and is just a short walk away from Place St-Geraud with a small fountain and the unimpressive church of St-Geraud. Click here for more pictures about town.

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