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Posts Tagged ‘medieval’

Bordeaux,France

January 24, 2010

Bordeaux, France, Wine Region

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En route to the city of Bordeaux from Bergerac, France, where Belingard is located, is the impeccably preserved medieval town of St. Emilion. Its winding, cobblestone streets are lined with expensive wine shops, all tout­ing “worldwideshipping” in English and Japanese. Here you can descend into the cramped hermitage where the monk, Emilion, received pilgrims in the 8th century. The disciples who followed Emilion herewere the ones who started a wine trade in earnest. 

At Chateau Franc Mayne, a nearby vineyard, it’s possible to tour the former limestone quarries whose pale ochre innards were used to build the town. The quarries beneath this and many other St. Emilion chateaux are now wine caves-happily, they possess the perfect conditions for aging wine in oak barrels. A tour guide points out a skylight punched into the roof of Franc Mayne’s cave. It shows the cross­-section of limestone that gives St. Emilion’s mostly merlot and cabernet franc grapes their character, along with the stories of Roman poets and monks and queens, of course. 

In Bordeaux, the busy Place de la Comedie is the city’s social center. Mayor Alain Juppe launched an ag­gressive clean-up and modernization initiative when he was elected in 1995, and today the city is an obvious “after.” A sleek tram makes it easy to get around, and the bulk of 8th ­century facades have been sandblasted to remove centuries of built-up dust and grime from the porous yellow limestone. The broad avenues gleam, and the tiny squares at the ends of the St. Pierre quarter’s narrow streets are packed with students, young couples and families, caffeinating, kissing and splashing in fountains. 

On the banks of the Garonne River, many plaques adver­tise the offices of negociants, or wine merchants. Negociants have been trading from this port since the mid-r2th century, when Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henryof Plantagenet, the future Henry II of England, which led to many trade exchanges between Bordeaux and England and the golden age of claret. 

That tidbit is imparted duringatwo-day course called “Bordeaux Wine Tasting, from A to Z” at L’Ecole du Vin de Bordeaux, a few blocks from the Regent Grand Hotel. After this crash course in a classroom with white-slab countertops and chrome spit-sinks, it’s practically required to apply the new knowledge downstairs at the posh Le Bar a Vin. More than go wines by the glass are available, and little foldout maps on each table pinpoint where each wine originat­ed. The servers are well equipped to steer people toward clarity when the breadth of choices becomes overwhelming.


France,Paris

December 8, 2009

Saint-Chapelle, The Chapels

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Sainte-Chapelle

A gem of High Gothic architecture

In the centre of the Ile-de-la-Cite

The Palais de la Cite was the residence and seat of royal power from the 10th to the 14th centuries in Paris, and housed the Conciergerie and Sainte Chapelle which are now part of the Palace of justice, the new function of the building. I The Sainte-Chapelle was built between 1242 and 1248, in accordance with the wishes of Louis IX (king from 1226 to 1270 and the future Saint Louis) to house the relics of the Passion of Christ. The most famous of these relics was the Crown of Thorns, acquired in 1239 for a sum that greatly exceeded the cost of building the Chapel itself.    

Religious and political influence

The Holy Relics had belonged to the emperors of Constantinople since the 4thcentury. In purchasing them, Louis IX added to the prestige of both France and Paris which, in the eyes of medieval Europe, became a “New Jerusalem”, and hence the second capital of Christianity. Throughout the revolutionary period, the Sainte-Chapelle, which was a symbol of royalty by divine right, suffered a great deal of damage, although the stained glass windows remained intact. From 1846 onwards, a huge wave of restoration work was carried out on the building, giving it its current appearance.

The Ile-de-la-Cite

The seat of royal power

In the 1st century BC, the Parisii, a Gallic tribe, settled on an island in the middle of the River Seine, later known as the I1e-de-la-Cite, and founded the town of Lutetia, which in the 5th century took the name of Paris. In the 6th century Clovis, the first French King, made the Palais de la Cite his royal residence. His son Childebert had Paris’s first cathedral built.

At the end of the l Oth century, Nugues Caper, the first Capetian king, established his royal council and government in the palace, which thus became the seat of royal power.

A palace deserted by its kings

In 1248, when Louis IX signed the deed foun­ding the Sainte-Chapelle, the nearby Cathedral of Notre-Dame already had its current facade. In 1358, the advisors to King john II (The Good) were assassinated before the eyes of the Dauphin, the future Charles V, who once he became king decided to move to better protected premises, firstly the Hotel Saint-Pol, one of his Paris residences (no longer standing), then to the Louvre and Vincennes. The royal government, Parliament, Chancery and the Chamber of Accounts remained in the Capetian palace for a while, but as the centuries passed only the law courts and prison stayed on.

Nowadays, the Sainte-Chapelle and the Conciergerie are the only visible remains of the oldest palace of the kings of France.

Two sanctuaries, one on top of the other

From the beginning, the relics were displayed and worshipped in the upper chapel. Only the king, his close friends and family, and the canons leading the services entered it via the outdoor terrace, which at the time was connected to the Palace. The lower chapel was the place of worship for the palace staff.

The basilica-type layout with a semi-circular apse was very simple. It was to be used as a model for other Holy Chapels, including those of Vincennes and Chateaudun.

The lower chapel

Visitors are greeted by a statue of the Virgin Mary, the sanctuary’s patron saint, at the portal. Inside, the polychrome decoration, like the carved decoration in the porch, dates back to the 19th­century restoration work. In the apse on the left, above the door to the former sacristy, is a 13th­century fresco depicting the Annunciation. This is the oldest wall painting in Paris.

The low vault is held up by openwork struts linking the aisle columns to the lateral walls. These walls are decorated with blind trefoil arcatures and 12 medallions featuring the apostles. The vaults’ fleur-de-lvson an azure background are also found on the columns, alternating with the towers on a purple background which were the arms of Queen Blanche of Castile, Louis IX’s mother.

The Upper Chapel

This is a truly monumental and sumptuously decorated reliquary. Sculptures and windows combine harmoniously to glorify the Passion of Christ and create a feeling of entry into the Heavenly jerusalem, bathed in light and colour. The Sainre-Chapelle owes much of even its early fame to its stained glass windows.

The 1,113 scenes depicted in the 15 stained glass windows tell the story of mankind from Genesis through to Christ’s resurrection. Fourteen of the windows, depicting episodes from the bible, should be read from left to right, from the bottom upwards.

I The window telling the story of the relics of the Passion is the only one to he read houstro­phedonicall. In the lower part of the lights, it illustrates the tale of the relics, from their discovery bv Saint Helen in Jerusalem to their arrival in the kingdom of France.

2 The Statue of Saint Peter is the original, as are 5 other apostle statues. He is holding the keys to heaven. The statues of the 12 apostles, the “pillars of the Church” are symbolically arranged in the nave on the ribbed vault’s springing line. Thev typify the harmony and idealised faces of Parisian sculpture in the years between 1240 and 1260.

3 The great shrine containing the 22 relics” of the Passion of Christ, including the fragment of the Holy Cross and the Crown of Thorns, used to be displayed on the gallery but was melted down during the Revolution. The remaining relics are now kept in the treasury of the Cathedral of Notre-Darne de Paris.

4 The western rose illustrates the prophetic Apocalypse of St John, symbolically represented opposite the Passion of Christ in the choir’s central stained glass window. In the centre of the rose, Christ returns in glory at the end of Time to judge the dead and the living.

The 100 foliage-decorated capitals along the lateral walls are all different. The angels on the corner pieces of the arcatures echo the 42 martyr scenes featured in the quatrefoils.


France,Paris

November 28, 2009

Conciergerie – Palace and Prison, The Medieval and Revolutionary Halls

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The medieval halls

The lower parts, the only ones still standing today, were reserved for the Royal Guard and the numerous staff – clerks, officers and servants – who worked for the king and his family (about 2,000 people in all). The floor of the medieval halls is still at its 14th-century level. The creation of embankments in the 19th century raised the level of the rest of the Ile-de-la-Cite and its other buildings.

The Hall of Men-at-Arms, built from 1302 onwards under Philippe le Bel, is one of the finest examples in Europe of Gothic secular architecture. Consisting of four rib vaulted “naves”, the hall was generously lit by twin windows, traces of which can be seen on the left wall. This huge refectory was heated by four large fireplaces. On the left hand wall, there is still a fragment of the black marble table used during the sumptuous receptions held by the Capetian monarchy in the Palace’s Great Ceremonial Hall, on the upper floor. The latter, which has now disappeared, used to be served by spiral staircases, an example of which can still be seen on the right hand side of the hall.

2 The kitchen outbuilding, built during the reign of John the Good and of which only the lower level remains, was built slightly later and used by the king’ staff. Foodstuffs were delivered there directly by river.

3 The Guardroom was built around the same time as the Hall of Men-at-Arms. The capitals” on the central pillar are thought to portray Heloise and Abelard. This hall was used as an antechamber to the Great Chamber on the upper floor (no longer standing), where the king held meetings with his council and his “lits de justice”. The Revolutionary Tribunal also sat here in 1793.

4 The Rue de Paris which gets its name from that given to the executioner during the Revolution, “Monsieur de Paris”, was used to imprison pailleux”. This area was once an integral part of the Hall of Men-at-Arms, but was separated off and raised in the 15th century.

The revolutionary halls

After the fire of 1776, Louis XVI modernized the Conciergerie prison, later used during the Revolution.

5 The Prisoners’ Gallery was the prison’s main thoroughfare, where prisoners could wander freely.

6 The Girondins’ Chapel stands on the site of the king’s medieval oratory’. The 21 Cirondins  feasted here prior to their execution on 30 October 1793.

7 Marie-Antoinette’s Chapel was built in 1815 on the exact spot where her prison cell stood.

 8 The Women’s Courtyard surrounded by two floors of prisoners’ cells, still has the fountain where they washed their clothes and one of the stone tables at which they ate, and the “Corner of the Twelve” or “of last goodbyes”. This is where condemned prisoners waited in groups of 12 for the cart that would carry them off to the scaffold.

9 Marie-Antoinette’s cell was reconstituted on part of the actual site of her dungeon. She was permanently guarded by two gendarmes.


France,Paris

November 27, 2009

Conciergerie – Paris Palace and Prison

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About the Conciergerie, Paris

Palace and prison

Residence of the Kings of France

In the 6th century, Clovis, the first French king, established his royal residence on the Ile-de-la­Cite. Five centuries later, Hugues Caper, the first Capetian king, established his council and government in the Palais de la Cite, which thus became the seat of royal power.

Symbol of royal power

In the 14th century, Philippe IV the Fair – continuing the work of his grandfather, Saint Louis – turned the Palace into a prestigious symbol of the monarchy. It became the seat of the Parlement de Paris.

Palace of justice and prison

At the end of the 14th century, Charles V left the royal residence on the Ile-de-la-Cite for the hotel Saint-Pol, since destroyed, following the assassination of his father’s advisors. He appointed a steward, or “concierge”, endowed with legal powers, to run the Palace and prison Numerous prisoners of State were kept here, such as Ravaillac, Henri IV’s assassin. In later times, the Revolutionary Tribunal sat in the Palace and used it increasingly as a prison. The Conciergerie was listed as a historical monument in 1914.

A major centre during the Revolution

The Revolutionary Tribunal

In 1790, the mayor of Paris sealed the doors of the Palace, up until then the seat of the Parlement de Paris”. The Revolutionary Tribunal initiated in March 1793 took over the Grand Chamber. In July, Robespierre joined the Committee for Public Safety with a programme based on virtue and terror. The “Law of Suspects” ordered the arrest of anyone pre-sumed to be an enemy of the Revolution or who confessed to being so.

Over 1793 and 1794, more than 2,700 people appeared before Fouquier-Tinville, the tribunal’s public prosecutor, including Queen Marie-Antoinette and Robespierre. The trials of famous people gave way to collective trials. In 1794, witnesses and defenders were eliminated and tens of people were guillotined each day. After the fall of Robespierre, the Tribunal was dissolved in May 1795.

Everyday life in the prison

The Conciergerie had a reputation for being the toughest of all prisons. During the Reign of Terror”, its cells accommodated several hundred prisoners kept in terribly unhealthy and crowded conditions. Up until 1794, “suspects” were kept together with common law prisoners. On the eve of their court appearance, prisoners were notified that their trial was to begin

and of the charges brought against them by the “evening journal” or bill of indictment. Once the verdict had been given, prisoners sentenced to death were allowed to enjoy a final feast.


Europe,France,Paris

November 19, 2009

Saint-Denis, Ile de France

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The consecration of the new western facade and new choir of the abbey church of Saint-Denis in Paris in 1144 had a Europe-wide impact. On the artistic level to begin with since it was there and around the personality of the Abbot Suger that Gothic art took its first steps. On the facade, the first statue-columns, carved from the same block as the column whose form they blend with; inside, at the far western end of the renovated Carolingian nave, the first ambulatory beneath crossed arches offers a uniform space, unified by a remarkable luminosity. But the impact was also political since, given the close ties between Saint-Denis and French royalty, this event also seemed to consecrate a new European political order in which the kingdoms of France and England gained ascendancy over the German and Byzantine Empires.


Europe

November 14, 2009

Medieval Europe and Cultural Exchange

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The territory of Medieval Europe was something of a politically unstable and disparate patchwork. Throughout this period, its internal and external borders fluctuated back and forth with each successive wave of invasions (the Magyars along the Danube, Viking and Saracen raids), the expansion of Islam and the rise and fall of the Carolingian Empire.

But Medieval Europe was also undergoing a process of unification, albeit more spiritual in nature than temporal. Thus. when an 8th-century chronicler from Cordoba related the Battle of Poitiers at which the Muslim advance was halted by Charles Martel, he gave central stage to the Saracens and those termed the “people of Europe”, in other words. Christians. In fact, during the early centuries of the Middle Ages, it was primarily the process of Christianisation which was to bind together this geographical area known, for that matter, as “Christendom”, the word “Europe” rarely featuring in medieval writings.

It is important to remember that Medieval Europe was a vibrant area in which people travelled widely. It also hosted considerable commercial, cultural and artistic exchange between the component kingdoms and regions as well as externally with the surrounding territories of the Muslim world and the Byzantine Empire.


Cantabria,Spain

October 25, 2009

Santillana del Mar, Cantabria, Spain

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Santillana del Mar is a unique medieval Spain town of stone-paved streets. It is a designated heritage site, and has been one of Cantabria’s best-known cultural and tourist centres for decades.

Since the Middle Ages, Santillana del Mar has been one of the region’s most important towns. It was the capital of the old ‘Asturias de Santillana’, a merindad – medieval jurisdiction – comprising the territory of present-day Cantabria. The human imprint here is far earlier, however, and goes back thousands of years: the world-famous Altamira caves are just two kilometres from the centre of the village.

The town dusters around various well-defined cores. The Plaza de las Arenas square, presided over by the Palacio de Velarde; the Plaza de la Colegiata; the Plaza de Ramon Pelayo, formerly the market square and watched over by the Merino and Don Borja towers and the town hall; and the environs of the Regina Coeli and San Ildefonso convents. Santillana is endowed with an outstanding architectural heritage. Of the religious buildings, the centre-piece is the Colegiata de Santa Juliana, around which the medieval town grew. The first monastery was founded here in the eighth to ninth century and housed the relics of St Juliana -the root of the name ‘Santillana’.  Around the twelfth century, the monastery became a collegiate church (colegiata), and from then on the town’s most powerful families vied to enlarge and develop it. Most of the church is fully fledged Romanesque, with Renaissance and Baroque additions.

Among the lay architecture, the standouts are the torres (towers) of Don Borja and Merino or Velarde, both being fifteenth-century; and then the Peredo-Barreda palace, the Villa palace and the Bustamante palace, all built in the eighteenth century. Some of these old manor houses are now home to arts institutions like the Diocesan Museum, the museum dedicated to the sculptor Jesus Otero, the Fundacion Santillana, an arts centre sponsored by Caja Cantabria, and the Casas del Aguilay la Parra, which are nosv exhibition centres. The town’s powerful attraction isn’t just its landmark buildings, though. It’s the place as a whole, with all its more modest buildings-all of them are period architecture. Santillana’s wonderful townscape takes you back to times gone by.

Besides the architecture, there is a wealth of things to see and do at the town’s many temporary exhibitions and arts-centre activities, all the year round. There is also a wide range of available accommodation and hotels for all tastes; establishments tend to be small or medium, and are very often housed in old buildings that contain centuries of history within their walls.

Guided walk

If you leave your car in one of the parking lots signposted on the way into the town, a good place to start your tour of Santillana is the road­crossing opposite the Regina Coeli convent of cloistered Poor Clare nuns: the building is sixteenth-century and houses a very interesting Diocesan Museum.

Enter the town by the Calle Santo Domingo. On your left you will immediately see the Peredo-Barreda palace (now home to the Caja Cantabria arts centre), and the Casa de los Villa manor house to your right. A little further on, the street forks. To the left, Calle Juan Infante, flanked by small houses bedecked with flowers, opens out into the Plaza Mayor, one of the town’s most characteristic corners. Here are the Casa del Aguila and Casa de la Parra manor houses, in front of which stands a statue of the Altamira bison. Opposite, the Parador Gil Bias hotel occupies an old house that used to belong to the Barreda family. A short distance away is the town hall, with its wide balcony of wrought iron and its decorated arcade. Nearby, as if presiding over the square, is the Torre de Don Borja, now the seat of the Fundacion Santillana, and the Torre del Merino, a ‘house fort’ where the merino mayor of Asturias de Santillana – the highest local authority in medieval times – had his residence. Leaving the square at its left end we carry on along a narrow alley that runs perpendicularly into the junction of Carrera and Canton streets. In the Calle Carrera, to the right, there rises the fifteenth­century Torre de Velarde. To the right, heading towards the Colegiata church along the Calle Canton, you’ll pass the eighteenth-century Valdivieso palace, now a hotel. On both sides of this street, which is one of the busiest in town, there are a great many typical dwellings, including the house of Leonor de la Vega, a late fifteenth-century noblewoman whose son became the famous Marquis of Santillana. Next to Leonor’s house stands the Casa de los Hombrones (‘the big men’), named after the heavy stone coat of arms of the Villa family. The street from here on takes the name Calle de! Rio, and goes down to a picturesque water trough, to the right of which are the late seventeenth-century manor houses of the Cossio and Quevedo families, with the Casa de los Abades opposite; the space is closed off by the beautiful Romanesque Colegiata de Santa Juliana (collegiate church). A visit to the church and its cloister is a highpoint of this walk. Finally, after the Colegiata you will find the Plaza de las Arenas, the most notable building being Velarde palace.

A visit to Santillana del Mar should start or finish with the Altamira Museum, next to the original Altamira cave. Just two kilometres away from the town centre, Altamira is one of the finest European examples of Upper Palaeolithic art.

Finally, Santillana boasts a small but prestigious zoo with a very wide range of wildlife. Its standout section is its ‘quaternary park’ of species that were widespread in Cantabria in the times of the Altamira settlers: bears, horses, bison, reindeer, wolves, capercaillie, lynx, and more.