We reckon UNESCO World Heritage sites are pretty good indicators of quality, so beyond Paris we hit three sites in quick succession, the nearby town of Provins, the Abbe de Fontenay and the city of Besancon
According to the listing statement this towns urban development is “the most authentic and most complete testimony of the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries of medieval history” – but besides that it had a neat castle wall and keep that the kids really wanted to see.
|Provins had lots and lots of mouldy old buildings...|
|... and even though some of these houses might be pushing |
900 years old they are still most definitely lived in...
|... but mostly by short people!|
|But those amazing castle walls! They would have looked a little lower when the moat was filled with water, but still!|
|Next the keep. The form of it was so Walt Disney I thought it had to be fake ... but they told me it’s real alright.|
|At the top of the keep inside the roof are a series of bells mounted within a massive oak framework.|
Abbe de Fontenay
Mentioning the word abbey and the kids went a bit cool – “not another church Dad!” But in the end they were brought around by this fascinating site described thus:
'Fontenay Abbey, whose various buildings are for the most part still standing, is one of the most accomplished and beautiful ensembles of the early Cistercian years. It was founded in 1119 in northern Burgundy.'
|The abbey, once vital, gradually decayed and was eventually abandoned by the monks. For a long time it became a factory. When the factory ‘layers’ were finally removed the original abbey was revealed again in all its glory.|
|During the factory era the original church floor was destroyed. Rather than re-floor it it has been left as gravel. This surface lends a very singular charm and authenticity to this ancient building.|
|At the transept a set of stairs leads directly to the monks sleeping dormitory (no cells here apparently, all 200 of them slept in a single very large room). The exposed oak roof trusses are 15th century and spectacular.|
|View of the cloisters from a dormitory window.|
|Finally we get to the really interesting bit – the forge. Those clever monks not only mined iron ore and produced charcoal on site to run a reduction furnace, but they also mechanised the forge hammers (one is seen on the far right).|
|Top is a plaque, and a model of the ‘hydraulic hammer’ and bottom is the drive shaft.|
|And here is the water wheel (like the one) |
that ran the hammer.
Originally a Gaul town, occupied by the Romans under Julius Caesar, then an independent city state, it was conquered by Louis XIV who had his engineer Vauban develop its hilltop fortifications into a state of the art impregnable fortress. The kids are really into castles (long story on why) so this bit of World Heritage was ‘must see’.
|Seen from below, the fortifications (undergoing some stabilisation) are pretty impressive.|
|The general idea in citadel construction, Zeke tells me, |
is to provide a series of heavily armoured gates, ....
|... flanked by defensive walls, ditches and high ramparts so that the enemies approach must necessarily be slow and very vulnerable to archers, boiling oil etc from above.|
|The second gate is even more impressive than the first.|
|And anything other than a frontal assault looks ugly.|
|But in a siege you had to be able to sit it out for a long time. Here is the citadel’s horse drawn flour mill.|
|and here is the water well at a 132 metres deep.|
|Here is the well’s treadmill; used to haul buckets up and down. One went up as one went down. The vaulted roof was to protect this all important asset from enemy canon fire.|
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