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.
It was a cloudy day in London, but we decided to visit the Tower of London since we had never visited. When William the Conquerer invaded England he built a fortress in the middle of London. It is not clear exactly when work started on the Conqueror’s White Tower or precisely when it was finished but the first phase of building work was certainly underway in the 1070s. By 1100 the White Tower was complete. Nothing quite like it had ever been seen in England before. The building was immense, at 36m x 32.5m (118 x 106ft) across, and on the south side where the ground is lowest, 27.5m (90ft) tall; the Tower dominated the skyline for miles around. A series of separate building campaigns ensured that by about 1350, the Tower was transformed into the formidable fortress we see today. These building works started in the reign of Richard the Lionheart (1189-99), John (1199-1216) who often stayed at the Tower and was probably the first king to keep lions and other exotic animals there. John’s son Henry III (1216-72) and his son King Edward I (1272-1307) added a massive curtain wall on the north, east and western sides, reinforced by nine new towers and surrounded by a moat flooded by the Flemish engineer John Le Fossur (the ditch-digger) to which was added a second wall by King Edward I. The tradition of whitewashing the White Tower (from which it derives its name) began in 1240.
The Hall of Battles is longer than the Hall of Mirrors, 394 feet, and is lined with huge paintings of French victories through the ages, including oils by Delacroix and Fragonard. Its creation was the idea of Louis-Philippe I, King of the French and it replaced apartments which had been occupied in the 17th and 18th centuries. There are literally hundreds of busts and 39 paintings, I will not present them all.
The name Waltham derives from weald or wald “forest” and ham “homestead” or “enclosure”. The name of the ancient parish as a whole is Waltham Holy Cross, but the use of the name Waltham Abbey for the town seems to have originated in the 16th century. Waltham Abbey is one of those towns whose history is interwoven with that of its most important building, the Abbey itself. The riverside site of the town together with the well drained gravel terrain attracted early settlers. There are traces of prehistoric and Roman settlement in the town. Ermine Street lies only 5 km west and the causeway across the River Lea from Waltham Cross in Hertfordshire may be a Roman construction. Radiocarbon dating places a church and one grave from the 7th century.
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.