Tuesday, August 12, 2014

Joigny, France - visited July 15, 2012

Joigny, in the Yonne department of the Burgundy region, is on the banks of the Yonne River and is overlooked by the Chateau des Gondi. The surrounding countryside is considered scenic, so much so, that in 1802 the English painter J M W Turner stopped by for a while and recorded some sketches.
There are several churches and chapels in the town including the church of Saint Jean and the 16th century Gothic style Church of Saint-Thibault. Fragments of the medieval ramparts that once protected the town are extant and include one of the original arched stone doorways through the early castle walls at the Porte Saint Jean. Another imposing gateway at the north of the town called the Porte du Bois is also in good repair. The town was largely rebuilt in the 16th century after much of it was destroyed by fire.
Against expectations, the area around Joigny is renowned for its cider rather than wine and the nearby valleys are populated predominately with apple orchards, not vineyards. Joigny has a market each Wednesday and Saturday. Additional pictures here.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Charny, France - visited July 14, 2012

A quick overnight stop in Charny, a tiny commune in the Yonne department of Burgundy just 20 miles east of Montargis, provided a welcome break. While there is not much to this 1700 population town, reflecting on its turbulent and violent history one might conclude it has done well to survive at all.
Charny, known at the time as Caarnetum, first appears on a deed dated 1130 CE. Two hundred years later, with its population at around 2,000, the city appears to have been at its zenith. There was a quarantine facility for lepers, a new defensive wall had been built and, in 1309, King Philippe le Bel stopped by to meet and greet. C'est magnifique! 
In 1358 the town managed to stave off an attack by Sir Robert Knolles, an English knight, during his failed invasion of France. By the 15th century however, Charny's good fortune came to a complete stop. Between 1426 and 1443 (toward the end of the Hundred Years War) the town changed hands six times, bouncing back and forth between the Bourguignons and the Armagnacs. By the end of the war, in 1453, the town was wholly destroyed and was completely abandoned for about 50 years.
Following its eventual resuscitation another misfortune struck in 1706 when a fire razed everything to the ground except a barn and a few houses. Today, Charny continues as the head town of its canton, a distinction held since 1802, and has absorbed the village of “la Mothe aux Aulnaies” along the way.
In summary, another stagnant township of rural France just 75 miles from Paris. A few more pictures here.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

Montargis, France - visited July 13, 2012

Montargis, with a population of 15,000, is the second largest town in the Loiret department after Orléans and is about 68 miles south of Paris. With numerous canals and bridges, it sometimes bills itself as the "Venice of the Gâtinais", Gâtinais being a former province of France prior to being absorbed into the Loiret department.
The town is known from ancient times and numerous Gallo-Roman artifacts have been found in the area, many of which are in the town's Gâtinais Museum. Later, the town became a stronghold of the Frankish king Clovis 1st before falling into the hands of the house of Courtenay, who fortified a château on a hill overlooking the town. The town was ceded to the king of France in 1188 and became a royal residence in the 14th and 15th centuries.
In 1427, during the Hundred Years' War, the Earl of Warwick besieged the town, beginning a bombardment on July 15 of that year. On September 5, a French force of 1600 men broke the siege, led by Jean de Dunois and La Hire, commanders who would go on to lead the army of Joan of Arc.
After the 100 Years War, Charles VII rewarded the town for its valor by granting it various privileges and, in 1490, Charles VIII officially declared Montargis Le Franc - tax-free. The acronym, MLF, appears in the official coat of arms and the town remained free of taxes for three centuries, until the French Revolution.
In the time of Louis XIII a local shop that is still in existence first produced what became known as praline, the crunchy candy made from almonds in cooked sugar. Less romantic is the rubber factory, built in the 1880s, in the Châlette district that today employs 2000 workers in the production of tires and parts for vehicles and appliances.
More pictures of this workaday town here.

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.
And, as a total bonus, when we left town to get back to the canp ground, we stumbled across a French Carnival. See the Midway delights here!