Archive for October 13th, 2021

October 13, 2021

Deep Béarn Basque in St Jean Pied de Port !

On our road warrior trips in the south of France we did some amazing trips by car in our belle France. One of this was going by the Pyrénées mountain French side on very very steep narrow roads and the world below you !!! I admit I was very tense even scare sometimes at the height and no turning back on narrow one way roads, climbing the ladders of a mountain, and the family was silence not a whisper…before we rearch beautiful enchanted Saint Jean Pied de Port. I like to tell you more about it and bring memories to me and my dear late wife Martine. Do read my other posts on this wonderful town as this was my introduction.

Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port (in Basque Donibane Garazi) is in the département  64,  Pyrénées-Atlantiques, région of  Nouvelle-Aquitaine. It gets its name from the fact that is at the foot of the port of Roncevaux (about 1057 meters high) in the Spanish territory. The city is at the confluence of the Nive and Laurhibar rivers. In 2016 it received the designation as one of the most beautiful villages of France or Les Plus Beaux Villages de France. Other interesting facts are the different local languages the town is name as Sent Joan Pè de Pòrt in Gascon, Sant Chuan Piet de Puerto in Aragonese, and San Juan Pie de Puerto in Spanish. During the French revolution it was rename Nive-Franche (1793) and later Jean-Pied-de-Port (1794).

There is an upper city on the right bank of the Nive river enclosed by ramparts of the 15C and on the left bank ramparts from the 17C. Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port is on the railroad line Bayonne- Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, and the roads D933 to the frontier with Arnéguy, Spain at only 7 km, and the D918 as well as the D401. It connects to Bayonne by the D22 a road ordered done by Napoléon I while the war of independence in Spain to use as an strategic  escape route to the sea. Coming from Pau as we did on our family trip, we passed very high mountain passes such as the road D26 to reach Larrau and then Iraty and its col de Bergagi!!!1327 meters high through the clouds wow!!! on third gear on the D19 now, then again thru huge mountains we hit the road D18 direction Saint-Jean-le-Vieux (here they had a fairs all goodies from the region and it was packed traffic directed to connect with the road D933  and onwards to Saint jean Pied de Port!

A bit of history I like

It is a “new city” built in the 12C. One of the first buildings in the city was the Church of Saint Eulalie, raised in the 12C near the ford of the Nive; You can still see its well-preserved Romanesque portal on the façade of the retirement home Toki Eder in the Ugange district. On the hill dominating the city stood the castle of Mendiguren, which is mentioned as early as 1191. At the foot of the castle, Sancho VII the Strong, King of Navarre built in the early 13C a fortified city, surrounded by ramparts with ogive gates, still visible today, as well as a Church, included in the defensive system of the city. He was one of the main players in the victory over the Almohades in 1212, in Las Navas de Tolosa. The kings of Navarre make frequent stays there and, importantly, in the 15C, schismastic Bishop of the Pope of Avignon resides there from 1383 to 1388, during the schism of the West, while that of the Pope of Rome reigned in Bayonne.

In 1512, king Fernando ,the Catholic of Spain removed Navarre from its rightful sovereigns, Jean and Catherine of Albret, who took refuge in Béarn. The Spanish army crossed the Pyrenees and took Saint Jean in 1512. The city passes from one hand to the other, not without suffering significant damage. In 1516, Jean Albret seized it, but failed to take the citadel. Beaten in the Col of Roncesvalles, he died. A new siege in front of Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port in 1521 by his son Henri II of Navarre, who took town and castle, thanks to the help of a French army. But this one is beaten at Noain. The Duke of Alba took over the city, and the garrison perished after a siege of three weeks. The Spaniards evacuated the garrison in 1522, before returning to the city in 1524 during the invasion of the south of France. Charles V gave up in the Foix-Albret-Navarre, as he found the city too costly to preserve, and destroyed the château.  The northern part of the Navarre then became Lower Navarre as opposed to Upper Navarre. This is why king Henri IV, when he accedes to the throne, called himself King of France and Navarre, a title that his successors carry to Charles X.

In March 1789, meeting in Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port, the states of Navarre, considering that Navarre is not a simple French province, refuse to send members to the States General (French revolution was on). At a session in June, they nonetheless send four deputies, with very strict mandates, including respect for their laws. This was in vain; their privileges are abolished on August 1789. Lower Navarre, with the other two provinces of the northern Basque Country, is attached to the Béarn to form the department of the Basses-Pyrenees (today Pyrénées-Atlantiques dept 64) All remain calm until  1793, the beginning of the war between the French revolutionary Convention and Spain, the stronghold, renamed Nive-Franche, played an important role in defending the Territory, particularly with the Basque hunters. In 1813, the counterattack of the Napoleonic armies commanded by Soult to attempt to deliver Pamplona, besieged by Wellington and its allies, is a failure, France is invaded. The Spanish general Mina is responsible for the remote siege of the city which only goes to Louis XVIII, after the abdication of Napoleon I. The rest is fairly quiet.

Things to see and do in this wonderful town of many nice memories.

The town is located on the via Podiensis, one of the pilgrimage routes of Santiago de Compostela (St James) , which departs from Puy-en-Velay and extends to the Col de Roncesvalles and thence to Santiago de Compostela. Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port is also located on the way to the Nive, a variant of the Santiago de Compostela Road followed by the pilgrims who, from Bayonne, sought to return to the Camino Navarro before crossing the Pyrenees, to Saint-Jean-Pied-de-Port. Arriving to the north, through the chapel of the Madeleine, the pilgrims entered the upper town by the Porte Saint-Jacques, and then followed the rue d’Espagne to the bridge spanning the Nive. There, two itineraries were offered to them to win Roncesvalles: that of the port of Cize, which follows the route of the ancient Iter XXXIV of the itinerary of Antoninus connecting Bordeaux to Astorga, or the easier one that joins the Col de Roncesvalles (Puerto de Ibañeta in Spanish) by Valcarlos, located in the valley of the Nive, where Charlemagne once established his camp, before going to the rescue of Roland, in Roncesvalles.

The citadel of Mendiguren with four bastions (see post), it was built in 1625-1627, and then continues building it in 1640-1648. Its west wall includes artillery bunkers built in the years 1540 or 1550, to ensure the city’s fidelity. The 19C hardly modifies this citadel, which is a well-preserved and exceptional example of the military architecture as it was understood in France, in the first half of the 1600s a ramp allows to reach it. From the West half-moon, the panorama opens onto the town and the Cize basin. The fortress, occupied by a school, cannot be visited. Around the inner courtyard and against the rampart, built over vaulted underground bunkers, the barracks, the governor’s pavilion and its chapel, the powder shops and the well. I have one additional picture to show you here.

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Porte Arrankuntzea called  Saint-Jacques or St James , and the ramparts of the upper City .One enters the city by this porte or gate, opened in the ramparts of the 15C, improved in 1680. The steep slope of the rue de la Citadelle, bordered by pink sandstone facades, sometimes alternated with grey sandstone. The stones still draw the frames of the old stalls, tightened against each other and sheltered under the protective awnings. The chiseled door lintels have, between decorative motifs, the name of the house, the date of its construction, the names of the first owners and sometimes even their profession. The attentive walker can read the history of some of the city’s families. I have one additional picture to show you here.

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The Porte  Notre-Dame curiously opened in the Church steeple, it gives on one side on the street of the Citadel, on the other on the bridge Notre-Dame. Its harrow and impressive wooden leaves are well preserved. Above the door is nestled a copy of the Virgin and the Child who, during the wars of Religion, found refuge in Upper Navarre and was never returned. The Pont Notre-Dame (Bridge) also called Pont Sainte-Marie, this work was built on the levy  that led to the Church, told  Romaine , in reality Medieval  in style and restored in 1634. The Rue d’Espagne , where the pilgrims left their wide and richly carved awnings, are already announcing the nearby Spain; Lintels carry original inscriptions and sometimes even signs of crafts carved in stone.

The Mansart house located in the market square, this spacious Louis XIV-style hotel, with a classic and symmetrical façade, houses the City/Town hall. Majestic, it is built in chisel stone and pierced upstairs by six large stone-crossed windows. Beautiful skylights open in the large slate roof. In front of it stands a part of the wall that encircled the old town. The lower part, of the 13C, in well-paired stones, was raised late by a coarser masonry on which appear deadly and elegant Bartizans and Brattices.

The Church, formerly Notre-Dame at the end of the bridge is presently Church of the Assumption-of-the-Virgin (see post), the  Gate (Porte)  of Navarre leads to the forecourt of the Church. On the left, a staircase leads to the round road that can be walk on almost the entire rampart of the right bank of the Nive river and from where you discover a magnificent view of the basin of the country of Cize. Near the bridge, the house that adjoins the bell tower has sheltered for centuries the Hôpital Sainte-Marie. The Church and the Hospital were part of the same ensemble, according to a classical hospital architecture built in Gothic style radiating on Romanesque bases, the Church presents a nave with two aisles, two floors of grandstands, slender pillars, without other decor as the search for the line and a polygonal chorus. It has a portal and Bedsides ogivaux, a five-pan apse.  The Church, also has an organ dating from the mid 19C.

Some webpages to help you plan your trip here and you must are:

The City of St Jean Pied de Port on tourism: https://www.st-jean-pied-de-port.fr/decouvrir/saint-jean-pied-de-port/

The St Jean Pied de Port tourist office : https://www.en-pays-basque.fr/en/territory-and-destination/saint-jean-pied-de-port-and-its-valleys/

The Nouvelle Aquitaine region tourist board on St Jean Pied de Port : https://www.nouvelle-aquitaine-tourisme.com/fr/sit/poi/887496/saint-jean-pied-de-port

The ways of Santiago world heritage on St Jean Pied de Port : http://www.cheminscompostelle-patrimoinemondial.fr/fr/composantes/porte-saint-jacques-52

There you go folks, a wonderful town waiting for you. This is one of the most memorable stops we have done in our road warrior ways of the south of France, Saint Jean Pied de Port , I highly recommend a visit here.

And remember happy travels, good health, and many cheers to all!!!

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October 13, 2021

The Cathedral Saint-Caprais of Agen !

And let’s stayed in this wonderful area of my belle France, and the historical town of Agen. The town is famous for its canal (see post) and prunes. This time let me tell you a bit more on its main monument me think, the nice Saint Caprais’ Cathedral. 

The Cathedral Saint-Caprais is in city center of Agen , which is in the Department of Lot-et-Garonne,47 in the Nouvelle Aquitaine region. It was built in the 12C, and is the seat of the Diocese of Agen. It is time I give it credit in my blog, well worth a detour to this town and do not missed the Cathedral.

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A bit of history I like

Saint Caprais was martyred shortly after Sainte Foy, in 303. They were allegedly buried at the site of the Church of Martrou. The tradition is that a Church in homage to Saint Caprais was built at the beginning of the 5C by Bishop Saint Dulcide, who would have transported the relics of the martyrs. A basilica dedicated to Saint Caprais existed in 580 because it was quoted by Gregory of Tours. The Saint-Caprais Cathedral was built in the 12C at the site of an Episcopal basilica built in the 6C, ransacked by the Normans. In 853 was renovated and ransacked again in 1561, during the Wars of Religion. The Collegiate Church of Saint-Caprais became in 1791 a fodder shop before being reopened in 1796 and becoming the official Cathedral of Agen, after the destruction of the ancient cathedral Saint-Étienne by the French revolution. It was raised to the rank of Cathedral in 1802. Again rebuilt, from 1838 to 1847, the south facade, the steeple and the interior floors.

A bit on the construction and architecture

The Cathedral of Saint-Caprais has several architectural features such as its Romanesque apse extended by a Gothic nave with a single aisle. Replacing an old wooden bell tower, the present bell tower was built in 1835, and presents the peculiarity of being composed of the three Gothic stylistic elements such as Gothic with lancets, radiant Gothic, and flamboyant Gothic  oddly presented in their inverse chronological order. One can still see, in an angle of the north brace of the Cathedral a cul-de-lamp composed according to this principle, and which, on its own, is a small monument receiving two large warhead arches.

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The paintings on the walls and ceilings represent the history of the coming of Christianity in the region. A central place is given to the first local martyrs. Other paintings are presented in series such as The Evangelists, the Apostles, the patriarchs of the Jewish people (Abraham, Noë…), the great kings of Israel..etc..

In 1829, the Chapel of the Virgin was done, and work on decoration continue until 1869. The rest of the decoration such as the paintings mix local themes and Marian iconography, the great figures of the Old Testament Bible and the New Testament as well.

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The main organ built in 1855 for the Universal Exhibition of Paris.   According to the legend, it was offered by the Empress Eugénie in 1858 to the Cathedral St Caprais of Agen, which until then had no organ. It is the largest instrument in the  Lot-et-Garonne, with 45 games distributed on 3 keyboards and a pedal. The Choir organ was built in 1885.

Some webpages as usual from me to help you plan your visit are:

The Lot et Garonne dept 47 tourist office on the Cathedral: https://www.tourisme-lotetgaronne.com/culture-patrimoine/cathedrale-saint-caprais/

The city of Agen on its heritage: https://www.agen.fr/nous-connaitre/lidentite-agenaise/destination-agen-157.html

The diocese of the Lot et Garonne on the Cathedral: https://www.diocese47.fr/current/site/2065.html

There you go folks, another gem in my belle France, south and nice, this is Agen. The Cathedral of Saint Caprais is a must in town; hope you enjoy the post as I.

And remember, happy travels, good health, and many cheers to all!!!

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October 13, 2021

Curiosities of Agen!

I drive you down to a wonderful region of my belle France and its wonders. I am going to continue on my reminicents of old beautiful places in my belle France. This time let’s travel to the south the old Aquitaine, now Nouvelle Aquitaine and visit in the Lot et Garonne dept 47, and wonderful Agen.

Agen  is a town of thousands years old on the hills of the Ermitage that was the original site of the gallois town of Nitiobroges and a history connected always to the Garonne river. The town today is about 140 km from Bordeaux and 115 km from Toulouse.

These are the long roads of my belle France and the Nouvelle Aquitaine show this the best. You have the fable D813 coming from Toulouse and Bordeaux, another is the autoroute A62 just by the city along the Garonne river and the Canal Latéral de la Garonne. Another that I used is the N21 taking you north to Villeneuve-sur-Lot and continue into Bergerac and finally Limoges. On the south this same road takes you to Auch ,Tarbes, and Lourdes. There is also, of course, a train station at Agen  that is served by the TGV ,Intercités trains as well as the TER Nouvelle Aquitaine and Occitanie.

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A bit of history I like

The city of Agen went thru a lot of invasions even if little documentation has been saved we know of invasions by the Vandals, Visigoths, Francs, and later the Vikings in the 11C. The historians tell us that in the 12C , it had a certain autonomy with a costume, of liberties and taxes, more so in the 13C with a chapter dated 1248 under the protection of the King or Count, and the Bishop.  The immigration was strong here and the Italian family La Rovère, related to Pope Julius II were very good writers like Mateo Bandello, and one of these novels written probably at Bazens residents of the Bishops of Agen that inspired the Shakespearean play of Romeo and Juliet. Agen, a Catholic city and rival of Nérac, reformist was taken several time and looted by the Protestants troops during this period ; and kept for a time queen Marguerite de Valois aka Queen Margot.

The French revolution and the industrial revolution following took a heavy toll on the city . It suffered again during WWI and WWII. You can see on the Place de la Préfecture a monument to the fallen done in bronce. In WWII ,Agen was occupied from 1942 by the Nazis and took HQ at Toussaint for their general headquarters; even if Agen was a second line town where many wounded were care for especially at the buildings of the middle school or collège Chaumié , and the high school or Lycée Palissy.

For the things to see in my opinion , briefly stated are the must see:

The Cathedral Saint-Caprais , (see post) built in the 12C on the spot of an episcopal basilica built in the 6C, looted by the Normans in 853 later restored. It was initially a Collegiale Church and raise to Cathedral in 1802. The Church of Notre Dame des Jacobins aka Notre Dame d’Agen has the only remaining section of the convent of the Dominicans later called the Jacobins built in the 13C It was built in the form of a rectangular boat with two nerfs and on top an octagonal  clocktower. Some of the major events of the city were held here such in 1279 when the Agen was given to England by Philippe III son of the king of France Louis IX; in 1585 Marguerite de Navarre, dishonor by her brother Henri III of France arrived in Agen  for the seat of the protestant league and installed a fortress in the convent of the Jacobins; in 1789, the church was the meeting place of the three orders of the senatorial of Agen to ease the transfer into the General Estates. At the French revolution the convent of Jacobins was closed and later demolished and the church was save as a stables, eventually returning to the Catholic rite in 1807. The church was later restored and change to be an exposition hall for temporary arts exhibitions of fine arts.

The museum of fine arts or beaux-arts founded in 1876 is house in four wonderful mansions of the Renaissance style open to interior courtyards. It one of the museum with the best collections in the southwest of France offering paintings, sculptures and furniture as well as faiences from the Middle ages to the 20C. The St Stephen Cathedral or Cathédrale Saint Etienne of Agen is a vast basilica started in the 13C and never quite finished , however the interior is very rich decorated,right out it has still the tower or Tour de l’Escuragno. The wonderful covered market of Agen was built in 1882 on the site of the old Cathedral of St Stephen and open to the public in 1884. It was modelled after the Baltard halles of Paris done in stone and metal. The tour des Pénitents, aka as the old Church of Saint Hilaire was a Church from the 12C today in ruins. The Ducourneau theater is of italian style done in 1906 and the first stone was posed by the President of the French Republic Armand Falliéres who was from the Lot et Garonne; the theatre was the first one built in reinforced concrete.

The Tour du Chapelet is near the Saint Caprais Cathedral and is the last remains of the second wall of Agen built in the 13C and the tower added to the convent of Chapelet in the 16C  to serve as belltower. The convent was demolished during the French revolution  and the tower served as a prison from 1815. The wonderful walkpath or passarelle of Agen is a suspended bridge built in the 19C to cross the Garonne river on foot linking the town of Passage with Agen.  The bridge or pont d’Agen was ordered built by Napoléon Ier visiting Agen in 1808; worked started in 1812 and finished in 1827. The magnificent and a must see bridge canal or Pont-canal d’Agen allows a lateral canal along the Garonne river ; built between  1839 and 1843. It has 23 arches and a length of 550 meters (about 891 feet) , making it the second longest bridge canal in France.  

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The city of Agen on its heritagehttps://www.agen.fr/nous-connaitre/lidentite-agenaise-155.html

The Agen tourist officehttps://en.destination-agen.com/

The Lot et Garonne dept 47 tourist office on Agenhttps://www.tourisme-lotetgaronne.com/agenais/

The Nouvelle Aquitaine region tourist board on Agenhttps://www.nouvelle-aquitaine-tourisme.com/en/news/agen-our-4-favourite-spots

There you go folks,a brief but good me think presentation of a lovely historical town of France and not many tourist yet oh well read the story and you will be there too. Hope you enjoy the introduction to Agen, and see my other posts on the town.

And remember, happy travels, good health and many cheers to all!!!

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