Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Les Lavoirs

I seem to spend a lot of time writing about religious architecture, but churches and abbeys aren’t the only interesting buildings here in France. In fact, it’s the small, often-overlooked structures that intrigue me the most. Take for instance, lavoirs, those communal buildings where women gathered every week to do the family laundry. They're no longer used, yet it seems like every French village still has one, and a surprisingly large number of these wash houses have been preserved and restored.

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Abbey of St. Michael de Cuxa

Unlike the Priory of Serrabone, which is perched high on a hillside, the Abbey of Saint Michel de Cuxa sits in a valley at the base of Mount Canigou, one of the highest peaks in the Pyrenees. Currently home to a small group of Benedictine monks, St Michael’s fist sheltered a monastic community in 879.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Knocking on Heaven’s Door

It's been so long since my last post that I bet you thought archi-trouve was gone for good. The truth is that we've been traveling almost non-stop this year and there hasn't been much time to write. But today, when I realized that it had been over two months since my last post, I decided that was long enough. Earlier this month we spent some time in the Pyrenees Mountains, so the next two or three blogs will be dedicated to some of the things we saw in southern France and northern Spain.

The Pyrenees is a wild region with small villages clinging precariously to mountain slopes and oppressive fortifications from the long struggle between France and Spain.  Despite the rocky, in places almost lunar, landscapes, the area has been inhabited since prehistoric times. Today, life in these remote mountain villages can be inconvenient, but in the Middle Ages it must have been unbearable: cold, barren and isolated.

So what better place to put a monastery? If your professed intention was to get away from it all, to remove yourself from worldly temptation and to work hard for the Lord, no place could have been more fitting than the Pyrenees. And sure enough, on our recent visit we found that everywhere we looked, on nearly every peak, no matter how isolated, there was a church, chapel, hermitage, monastery or abbey.  Of these, one of the most noteworthy is the Priory of Sainte Marie de Serrabone.

Thursday, May 15, 2014

An Oriental Palace

Because we talk about the Alhambra, in singular form, it sounds as if it’s one building. But the Alhambra was actually a royal city, a fortified complex of palaces, mosques, schools, workshops and farms capable of supporting 40,000 people. Not surprisingly, given its turbulent history, the fortress that we see today bears only a passing resemblance to the Nasrid’s medieval stronghold.

Like the Great Mosque of Cordoba, the Alhambra was significantly altered after Spanish troops conquered Granada in 1492, beginning with the Christian purification rites that stripped away the Islamic religious symbols. Thirty years later, several original buildings were demolished to make way for Charles V's enormous Renaissance palace, which now sits so ponderously amidst the remaining Moorish architecture. In subsequent centuries, earthquakes, neglect and occupying troops took an additional toll. Finally, in the mid-19th century, after the Alhambra's delights were once again brought  to the world’s attention, a number of imaginative “restorations” destroyed what several centuries of neglect hadn't. 
The Alhambra (on the left) with Granada visible in the distance.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

The Middle of Paradise

"Leave me in Granada in the middle of paradise where my soul wells with poetry:
Leave me until my time comes and I may intone a fitting song..."
José Zorrilla

For the next couple of weeks archi-trouve will be moving to Granada to report on the Alhambra - that masterpiece of Andalusian architecture.  But before jumping into architectural descriptions, I’d like to explain a little more about the Moors’ uneasy conquest of the Iberian Peninsula.  (And for those of you who have hated history since the 7th grade, I've included several pretty pictures of the Alhambra.)

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Grand Mosque of Cordoba

We recently spent two weeks exploring Andalusia, the area in the south of Spain that was occupied by Islamic Moors for about 800 years. Now, I went to Alhambra High School, and was a junior varsity cheerleader for the mighty Moors. And despite the soul-searing disappointment of never becoming a VARSITY cheerleader, I remained fascinated by the Moors and their conquest of Andalusia.  But it wasn't until I started reading up for our trip that I learned the full extent of their contributions to European civilization. (Goooooooo Moors!)

Many historians have argued that Spain reached its high point, both politically and culturally, under the Moors. During their occupation, which spanned from approximately 700 to 1500, dozens of important mosques and universities were constructed, along with schools and libraries that were open to the public. Music and poetry were highly regarded, and mathematics, medicine, astronomy and physics were studied.  Granada, Seville and Cordoba grew into large cities with diverse Muslim, Jewish and Christian populations who practiced their religions freely. In short, "while Europe was languishing in the depths of the Middle Ages, a far superior culture was thriving in Andalusia."*

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

La Maison d'Adam

Anyone who reads this blog regularly (Hi, Mom!) knows that I have a weakness for colombage buildings. I’ve already written a couple of posts on the subject, one explaining the different types of colombage construction and another on the hidden messages that can be read in the structure. For my third post on the subject I’d like to introduce you to La Maison d’Adam, one of my favorite colombage buildings.

Bruce and I first saw Adam’s house in about 2002 on our first trip to Angers, and it made a lasting impression on both of us. I remembered it because, despite the age of the house,  it retains dozens of beautiful carvings; Bruce remembered it because one of the carvings is quite risqué.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Rocks in My Head

We recently spent a long weekend in Angers, a lovely small city in the Loire Valley that we thought might be an interesting place to live*.  While planning for the trip I took a look at the Michelin map to figure out the most interesting route. Now, you have to understand that the Michelin maps are much more than simple road maps. In addition to showing all the highways and byways of France, they point out such interesting sites as silos, (Silos? Bruce and I are still discussing the reasoning behind this.) bridges, chateaux, factories, abbeys, war memorials, spas, ruins, picnic grounds and dolmens. You’ve got to love a map that includes dolmens.

What, you might be asking, are dolmens? Simply put, they're rooms or chambers made out of huge flat rocks. They’re found in nearly every European country and as far east as China and Korea. Built during the Neolithic period, the oldest dolmens in Western Europe are about 7000 years old. Archaeologists aren’t exactly sure who built them or why. Most are oriented on an east-west axis and therefore have some connection with the rising and setting sun. Human bones and artifacts such as pottery shards have been found inside some chambers, leading one school of scholars to believe that the dolmens served a funerary purpose. Others believe that this is not the case; the bones often date to  later periods, indicating that the chambers were re-used as tombs, long after their initial construction. In the case of the Loire Valley dolmens, no bones have been found at all. It’s these mysteries surrounding the dolmens that make them interesting to so many people, myself included.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Color My World, Part 2.

I’ve become so accustomed to the dingy grey interiors of most European churches that I'm always surprised by the amount of color that was actually used in the Middle Ages. I’m not talking about the frescoes that decorate grand churches and small chapels; those fall under the heading of “ART,” a subject I don’t feel qualified to discuss. Instead, I’m talking about painted architecture: walls, columns, moldings, ceilings, vaults and statues. Any architectural element was a candidate for color.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Color My World

Before moving to France I ran my own historic preservation business. To make ends meet I took lots of different jobs: historic research, building investigations, conditions’ assessments and lighting design. To be honest, anything that got me into an old building made me happy, so I enjoyed all of these tasks. But nothing was more fun than a paint analysis project. To be part of the process in which a building casts off its ghostly white shroud to regain its original appearance is really a treat.

Wednesday, February 19, 2014

War and Remembrance: Oradour-sur-Glane

People often ask us why we moved to France. And for me the answer is, "Because of the history."  Here, no matter where you go, the past is always present. Every village has both a church from the Middle Ages and a monument to les enfants lost in World War I. In many areas the historic record stretches further back to include Roman ruins or even prehistoric cave dwellings that are more than 20,000 years old.

And of course the evidence of World War II is inescapable. From small roadside markers to immense submarine bases, the Second World War is tangible; here, you can literally reach out and touch it. And nowhere is the memory of the war more palpable, more graphic or more horrifying than in the small french town of Oradour-sur-Glane. 

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Fortified Mills: The Final Four

To wrap up this series on fortified mills, I’d like to show you four more examples, each of which is architecturally unique or historically significant in its own way. If you have a favorite, I’d love to hear from you.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Fortified Mills, Part 2: In which we meet a Count

The watermill of La Salle is one of the least well-known, yet most impressive, of the fortified mills in the Entre-Deux-Mers region. But as spectacular as it is architecturally, La Salle holds a special place in my heart because of what happened when Bruce and I stumbled on it last summer.

In early August we were trying to track down some of the fortified mills that I had read about. Just outside of Cleyrac, as Bruce turned off the road onto a small dirt path we both saw the sign saying “Privé”. He, being a law-abiding citizen and former policeman, was all for turning around, but I nagged and hectored him into continuing “just a little bit further.” In this way we argued our way farther and farther from the main road; once we passed through an enormous stone gate it was clear, even to me, that we were on private property. As there was absolutely no place to turn around, we had no choice but to continue.

Monday, January 20, 2014

It's not just the wine that's fortified...

Happy 2014 to all of you! 

We're back in Bordeaux after visiting the States for a few weeks and I’m ready to start the second year of archi-trouve. I’ve decided to try a couple of things differently this year. To make archi-trouve more useful for those who might want to visit some of these sites I've decided to include a map with each blog post. (I'll do that just as soon as I figure out how.)  

Also, I’m hoping to write shorter posts and will try to get something out every week. And finally, over the next few weeks I’ll put together a glossary so that if there’s an unfamiliar architectural term in the text you can look it up right on the site. In the meantime, I'll define unusual words at the bottom of each post. And, as always, I'd love to hear from you. Questions? Comments? It's all welcome. 

Now, with the housekeeping out of the way, let’s get to this week’s subject: fortified mills!