The architectural heritage in the Loire Valley's historic towns is notable, especially its châteaux, such as the Château d'Amboise, Château de Chambord, Château de Chinon, Château du Rivau, Château d'Ussé, Château de Villandry and Chenonceau. The châteaux, numbering more than three hundred, represent a nation of builders starting with the necessary castle fortifications in the 10th century to the splendor of those built half a millennium later. When the French kings began constructing their huge châteaux here, the nobility, not wanting or even daring to be far from the seat of power, followed suit. Their presence in the lush, fertile valley began attracting the very best landscape designers and architects. The Loire Valley is an area steeped in history and because of its riches, one that has been fought over and influenced by a variety of adversaries from the Romans to Atila the Hun. The formation of the region as we know it today began after its conquest by Julius Caesar in 52 BC. It is however, Emperor Augustus who is credited with bringing peace and stability to the Loire Valley. This stability saw the growth of towns such as Orleans (Genabum), Tours (Caesarodunum), Le Mans (Noviodunum), Angers (Juliomagus), Bourges (Avaricum) and Chartres (Autricum). The Roman's greatest influence however might be considered to be the introduction of the first grape vines to the region, as shown in the wine AOC map shown above.
This post on Dieppe is my last on the Alabaster Coast (Côte d'Albâtre) in Normandy. Sheltered between two high cliffs, Dieppe stretches on either side of the river Arques as it empties into the Atlantic. Seaside and tourist resort of the Alabaster coast valued by the English and Parisians, the town has conserved very few architectural souvenirs of its golden age. Dieppe is sometimes called the Viking town. It traces its history as a human settlement and port back to the arrival of the Vikings on this coast at the beginning of the tenth century AD. Of course, there were other people living in these parts before then, and the Romans passed this way before the Vikings. But the Romans did not leave such important traces of their occupation here as they did elsewhere. The Vikings, from Scandinavia, settled in and around Dieppe because of the hospitable harbour they found for their ships at the river estuary that cuts through a forbidding line of cliffs. The name Dieppe derives from the Viking term “djepp”, meaning “deep”.
I have been writing posts about the towns along the white cliffs of the Alabaster Coast (Côte d'Albâtre) and I thought I would provide a little overview and some practical information on how to get there from Paris. The Pays de Caux is a plateau of Upper Cretaceous chalk, like that which forms the North and South Downs in southern England. It forms a rough triangle from Rouen and Le Havre on the Seine, to the south, to Dieppe in the north. The name caux is Norman for calcium carbonate or chalk and the white cliffs of the Alabaster Coast are the result of sea erosion of the plateau on the edges. The area is covered with large farms and dotted with mostly small but beautiful towns.
As part of my series of posts on the Paix de Caux in Normandy and the Côte d'Albâtre (Alabaster Coast), I thought I would present our pictures of the small town of Veules les Roses. From the creation of the county of Rouen and of the Duchy of Normandy in 911, the Vikings settled a great number of people in the Paix de Caux and left an enduring legacy in the Cauchois Norman dialect but also in the ethnic makeup of the Cauchois Normans. Cauchois is a notable dialect of the Norman language and the Pays de Caux is one of the remaining strongholds of the Norman language outside the Cotentin. Nestling since the 4th century in the hollow of a valley opening on to the sea, Veules Les Roses will seduce you with the charms of its seashore, its rich heritage and its wooded setting crossed by the smallest river in France, the Veules, only three quarters of a mile long. Before 1897 the town was called Veules en Caux, the mayor of the time changed the name to a more evocative Veules Les Roses.
As I said in a previous post, we decided to visit the northern coast of Normandy for a few days to get away from the heat in Paris. Fécamp started out at the mouth of a depression, where the Ganzeville and Valmont rivers meet and flow into the sea. It was the capital of the duchy of Normandy until the Norman Conquest of England in 1066, when William of Normandy, who inherited the English crown from his cousin Edward the Confessor, sailed across the channel with a full fleet to defeat Harold, the pretender to the throne, at the Battle of Hastings. This is part of the same Côte d'Albâtre (Alabaster Coast) as Étretat. The section around Fécamp also goes by the poetic name of le Pays des Hautes Falaises (high cliff country) conjuring up the flavor of salty air and the shrieks of circling gulls.
It has been hot in Paris so we decided to visit the Normandy coast. Étretat is best known for its cliffs, including three natural arches and the pointed “needle”. Although the 80-mile stretch of sheer cliffs between Dieppe and Etretat, in upper Normandy, is mirrored by those of the English coast of Dover, pointing to their shared geological origin, no other section of the French shoreline resembles the unique breathtaking seascape of La Côte d'Albâtre, the Alabaster Coast. These cliffs and the associated resort beach attracted artists including Eugène Boudin, Gustave Courbet and Claude Monet, and were featured prominently in the 1909 Arsène Lupin novel “The Hollow Needle” by Maurice Leblanc. It is a charming seaside village with beautiful sea vistas, hiking trails and a beach, rocks in the French tradition. The rocks on the beach actually come from the white cliffs which are composed of flint. The beach stones (called rollers) have become rounded and smooth from centuries of ocean action and protect the town, it is prohibited to remove them. Two of the three famous arches are seen from the town, the Porte d'Aval, and the Porte d'Amont. The Manneporte is the third and the biggest one, and cannot be seen from the town.
Born in 1852, Annette Poulard was just twenty when the Mont-Saint- Michel, set free from its imprisonment and declared Historic Monument by the State, opened its doors once more to the outside world and to life. So it was quite natural then for Annette and Victor to open their inn in 1888 to accommodate pilgrims and food-lovers rushing there to taste the cooking of the one who by now had been nick-named “Mère Poulard”.
I had a few photos from Rouen that did not fit elsewhere and I thought I would include them in a separate post. First there is this incredible clock that stretches across the main street of the central zone. The Gros-Horloge or Great Clock cannot be dissociated from the surrounding buildings, since their history is so intimately linked.
Since its construction in the late 14th century, the Gothic belfry has housed the town's bells and clock, the latter being a simple mechanism meant to sound the bells on the hour, half-hour and quarter-hour.
In 1409, a clock face was installed on the archway over a gate in the ancient Roman walls. The current archway and clock faces (one on each side), were rebuilt between 1527-1529. On the two Renaissance clock faces, a single hand indicates the hour. Under the number VI, a divinity associated with the day of the week appears at noon on a chariot. Above the clock face, a globe indicates the phase of the moon (in our picture we have a full moon). Many depictions of sheep show the importance of the wool trade in Rouen and the Paschal Lamb, which has been part of Rouen's coat of arms since the 14th century, is represented on the underside of the arch.
Normandy is a region of France with historical ties to the Gauls, Romans, Vikings and England. Belgian and Celts, known as Gauls, invaded Normandy in successive waves from the 4th century BC to the 3rd century BC. Much of our knowledge about this group comes from Julius Caesar’s de Bello Gallico. Under the reorganization of the empire by Diocletian, Rouen became the chief city of the divided province of Gallia Lugdunensis II and reached the apogee of its Roman development, with an amphitheatre and thermae of which the foundations remain. In 57 BC the Gauls united under Vercingetorix in an attempt to resist the onslaught of Caesar’s army. After their defeat at Alesia, the people of Normandy continued to fight until 51 BC, the year Caesar completed his conquest of Gaul.
The technique of half-timbering came from this period in Celtic huts. As shown above from a building in Rouen, they would first frame the house with the best timber and then use odd lengths to fill in. This created a lattice of panels which were then filled with a non-loadbearing material or “nogging” of brick, clay or plaster, the frame was often exposed on the outside of the building. This is essentially the same system we use today and these houses can be seen throughout England and Normandy.
Roman villas and baths were built and heated by means of the Roman hypocaust, a false floor was created, supported by pillars and hot air was forced from a furnace (see picture at right) beneath the floor and up terra cotta pipes in the walls, thus providing central heating for the building. This was expensive to maintain and required lots of fuel. Central heating was not seen again in Europe for almost two millennia.
The Church of St. Ouen is the fourth church built on this site, the earliest built in 558 by Clotaire II, then king of France. The current Gothic church was begun in 1318 and completed in 1549. Saint Ouen was born in 609 and appointed bishop of Roen in 641 by Clovis II, he died in 683. The cathedral is famous for both its architecture and its large, unaltered Cavaillé–Coll organ, which Charles-Marie Widor described as “a Michelangelo of an organ”. Built on a similar scale to nearby Rouen Cathedral, it is, along with church of Saint Maclou, one of the principal Gothic monuments of Rouen. The church is currently empty, so we had unfettered access to the cathedral.
The Benedictine Abbaye St-Ouen was founded in the 7th century, but the present church is mostly late Gothic. The nave of the abbey church dates from the 15th century, its choir from the 14th (with 18th-century railings), and its stained glass from the 14th to the 16th centuries.