A Languedoc Road Trip – Béziers to Adge

A Languedoc Road Trip – Béziers to Adge

A majestic Romanesque cathedral perched on a bluff, high above the long stretch of arches of a medieval bridge spanning a tranquil river – this is what most visitors to southwestern France are likely to remember of Beziers. This low-keyed town of 75,000, located just a few kilometers inland from the Mediterranean shore rarely rates more than a passing glance from tourists. Yet, founded in 36 BC as a Roman colony, Beziers quickly developed into an important staging post and trading center along the Via Domitia, the major trade route which traversed the coastal plain of Languedoc on its way from Rome to southern Spain.

From Roman Colony to Cathar Stronghold

Little remains of the original Roman amphitheater.

Unfortunately, with most of the stones from its early amphitheater repurposed as early as the 3rd century AD to construct the city walls, architectural remains of the Roman era are scarce. Nonetheless, an extensive collection of Roman artefacts discovered locally, including statuary, inscribed stones, glassware and amphorae can be seen at the Musée du Bitterois. The museum also traces the history of the city from the middle ages to contemporary times. However, the best way to explore the history of Beziers is to take a couple of hours to wander the cobbled streets of the old town.

The St. Nazaire Cathedral has retained its Romanesque facade.

Perched high above the river Orb in the heart of the medieval town, the St. Nazaire Cathedral is the foremost site of Beziers, both for its panoramic view of the plain below and for the tragic history steeped within its ancient stones. The grand Romanesque cathedral built in the 10th century was badly damaged and its interior completely destroyed in 1209 during the infamous seizure of the city by Catholic crusaders at the behest of Pope Innocent III.

Bezier-Cathedral St Nazaire

The cathedral’s interior was rebuilt iin Gothic style.

At that time, Béziers was a major stronghold of Catharism, a breakaway movement that opposed the entire structure of the Roman Catholic Church and the corruption of the clergy. This alternative, more ascetic Christian religion had become widespread in southwestern France, then under the control of local princes. Unsurprisingly, the Pope called for a crusade to eliminate the Cathars – with the tacit understanding of the French King Phillipe II. On July 21, 1209, an army consisting of knights (mainly from northern France) with their retinue and mercenaries overran the fortified city where some twenty thousand men, women and children, local Catholics and Cathars alike, had taken refuge. The Crusaders indiscriminately slaughtered the population and ransacked the city before setting the cathedral set ablaze.

A Gothic rose window was added at the far end of the nave.

Although most of the exterior walls remained, the interior was entirely destroyed except for the chancel with its Romanesque carved capitals. Repairs began on the remains of the building in 1215 and continued until the 15th century, giving the interior a Gothic appearance, including a 10-meter (33 foot) rose window at the far end of the nave. A few notable frescoes of the same period remain, protected for posterity by having been whitewashed after the Wars of Religion in the late 16th century.

A Mural Chronicle

A mural memorializes the Vintners Revolt of 1907.

More recently, following the lead of Lyon and other French cities, Beziers has turned 14 of its blank walls into building-size murals that chronicle major milestones of its history. Most notable is the Vintners Revolt of 1907, ignited when government regulators allowed the import of low quality (and low-priced) wines from North Africa, driving local growers into penury. The National Assembly sent a military force to suppress the rebellion. But confronted by over 160 000 protesters, this time the solders refused to draw their weapons on the crowd. Thus prompting law-makers to reverse their import decision.  Another mural memorializes a local engineer, Jean Marie Cordier, who in 1827 developed a steam device to pump water from the River Orb to supply the residents of the old town.

A Masterpiece of 17th Century Engineering

The terraced concourse offers panoramic views of the countryside and the Fonseranes Locks.

At the side of the cathedral, a terraced concourse offers magnificent views that include the 13th century Pont-Vieux (Old Bridge), and the amazing 17th century engineering masterpiece of the Écluses de Fonseranes (Fonseranes Locks), a flight of 9 staircase locks marking the eastern end of the Canal du Midi. The 240 kilometer (150 mile) long canal connects the Garonne to the West – and from there city of Bordeaux and the Atlantic Ocean – to the Etang de Thau on the Mediterranean. Although many elements have since been updated, the canal as a whole is considered one of the greatest construction works of its era, and is still in use today.

Underwater Treasures

The late Hellenistic bronze Ephèbe is believe to be Alexander the Great.

It’s midday by the time we leave Beziers and its tumultuous past for Cap d’Adge, some 25 kilometers (15 miles) east on the Mediterranean shore.  Once a settlement at the mouth of the river Hérault, originally founded by the Phoenicians in the 6th century BC, the area is little more than an over-built resort destination today, with one striking exception: it is home to the only underwater archeological museum in France. Open in 1987, the museum consists of a series of modern galleries surrounding a traditional farm house overlooking the harbor. Its collection is a treasure-trove of pieces recovered from the millennia of shipwrecks that clutter the seabed, including a number of important antique bronzes statues.

Ultimately, the museum owes it very existence to one single piece now known as l’Ephèbe d’Adge, a late Hellenistic period bronze of a young man, believed to be Alexander the Great. Recovered in 1964 from in the alluvial sands at the mouth of the Herault, it is the only work of its kind ever found in French waters. It was joined in 2001 by two Early Imperial Roman bronzes, of a royal child and of Eros. From the details of his attire – royal mantle, scepter and jewelry, the child is thought to be one of Cleopatra’s sons, either Caesarion (son of Julius Ceasar) or Ptolemy (son of Mark Anthony).

The collection includes a number of remarkable bronze household objects, from the 1st and 2nd centuries BC.

In addition to other remarkable Hellenic and Roman bronzes objects, the museum also hosts antique marine transport amphorae and household goods, as well a number to cannons and other weapons of the French Royal Navy spanning several centuries. Overall, the rich underwater discoveries of the past 50 years reflect the commercial history of the area through the centuries, and make the Ephèbe Museum well worth a stop in Adge.

From here we continue 150 kilometers (90 miles)  down  the coastal branch of the Via Domitia to Collioure, another Phoenician settlement turned fishing village and 17th century military fortress. The town, however owes its contemporary fame to Fauvist painters Henri Matisse and André Derain. Although the small historic town and waterfront make are exceptionally picturesque, we found the mapped walk through the old town, punctuated by reproductions of the famous Fauvist works, right on the spot where they were painted to be a highpoint of our visit.

The museum hosts a large collection of marine transport amphorae recovered from ancient shipwrecks.

 

Good to Know

Visiting –Musee du Bitterois, Caserne Saint-Jacques – Rampe du 96° Régiment d’Infanterie, 34500 Béziers. Opening hours vary throughout the week/year. For latest informations, contact: e-mail, or tel: +33 (0) 4 67 36 81 61. Musée de l’Ephèbe, Mas de la Clape, 34300 Le Cap d’Adge. Open from January through June, Monday through Friday from 10:00 am to 12:00 noon and 2:00 pm to 6:00 pm and weekends from 9:00 am to 12:00 noon and 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm. July and August, open every day from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm. Contact:  e-mail, tel: +33 (0)4 67 94 69 60.

 

Location, location, location!

Beziers

Adge

A Languedoc road trip – Hidden Treasures Along the Via Domitia

A Languedoc road trip – Hidden Treasures Along the Via Domitia

Leaving behind the monumental Roman vestiges of the southern French city of Nîmes, we head down the coastal plain of the western Mediterranean. Here, with the coastline a string of lagoons and saltmarshes, the main road is some 25 kilometers (15 miles) inland, following the route of the ancient Via Domitia, the first Roman road built in Gaul, to link Rome to its province of Hispania.

The Villa was a large viticuture facility for over six centuries.

Although a modern roadway now covers the original works in many places, sections of the original paved roadbed, mileposts and bridges have survived. They can occasionally be spotted close to the highway as we drive through a verdant landscape of agricultural land and vineyards. But more than these passing landmarks, the Via Domitia also left us the remains of Roman Villas. These were both rural residences and large-scale farming domains that benefited from the proximity to the road to export their products. One of them, a mere one-hour drive away from Nîmes, is our first destination of the day.

The Roman Villa of Loupian

Over the past five decades, a three-hectare (eight-acre) excavation site south of the village of Loupian has revealed the ruins of one such villas and told the story of an estate that was active for more than 600 years.

The entire ground floor of the excavated villa is covered with intricately decorated mosaics.

Originally a hillside farmstead overlooking the Bassin de Thau, the largest of the area’s lagoons, a short distance south of the Via Domitia, the Villa of Loupian rapidly prospered. By the time of the High Empire (1st and 2nd centuries A.D.) it had become a large patrician residence with its own thermal springs and an abundance of Gallo-Roman mosaics. Its main agricultural activity was viticulture, for which a vast storage facility capable of holding 1500 hectoliters (40, 000 U.S. gallons) of wine was constructed. This period also marked the development of pottery workshops producing amphorae for the transportation of wine, and the creation of a small shipping port on the north side of the Bassin de Thau.

Pottery workshops produced amphorae used to transport wine,

In the 5th century, the villa was completely rebuilt. The owner’s home became a small mansion, the floor of the thirteen ground floor rooms covered with highly decorated mosaics. Relatively well preserved, these are particularly intriguing in that they show influences of two geographically separated and culturally diverse countries as Gaul and Syria. There is no other known villa anywhere in which the such remarkable combination of styles has been found.

The Abbey of Valmagne

The chapter house opens onto a cloister with a tall fountain nestled within a domed pergola.

It’s a mere ten-minute drive through a countryside streaked with vineyards from Loupian to the Abbey of Valmagne. Founded in the 12th century, and built of peach-colored local limestone, this grand Cistercian abbey is one of the loveliest in the country, as well as one of the oldest vineyards in Languedoc. The church, begun in 1257 and inspired by the great gothic cathedrals of northern France, is an imposing 83-meter (272-foot) long and 24-meter (79-foot) high. Its adjoining chapter house opens onto a vast square cloister surrounding a light-filled garden and a remarkable octagonal fountain enclosed within a domed pergola.

The abbey has retained its medieval atmosphere.

In its heydays, it was one of the richest abbeys in southern France, before it suffered the effects of the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453), followed by the Religious Wars (1559-1598). But it was the French Revolution (1789) that finally sealed its demise as a religious institution. Rebellious peasants ransacked the abbey and destroyed all its stain-glass windows.

 

 

 

The Cathedral of the Vineyards

The nave became a wine cellar during the French Revolution.

It did escape further destruction, however, by being confiscated as a national property and subsequently sold to a local vintner in 1791. The new owner converted the magnificent gothic church into a wine cellar. He installed the huge storage casks that still sit in the apse and side chapels, earning the church its moniker of “Cathedral of the Vineyards.” Upon this original owner’s death in 1838, Valmagne and its vineyards were acquired by Count Henri-Amédée-Mercure de Turenne. It has remained in possession of his descendants ever since, each generation consistently working to restore the abbey to its original splendor.

 

The Vigneron Restaurant

The restaurant sits at the edge of the vineyards.

One of the old farm buildings adjoining the abbey is also getting a new life as an attractive rustic restaurant offering authentic local cuisine based on the vegetables and aromatic plants from the abbey’s organic kitchen gardens, complemented by meats and cheeses from nearby producers.

Our meal is paired with some of the elegant wines of the estate (also certified as organic since 1999). These can likewise be sampled and purchased in the stately tasting room with its soaring vaulted ceiling and grand medieval fireplace. The modern estate consists of 70 hectares of vineyard, more than half of it was classified since 1985 with the coveted “Appellation d’Origine Controlée” (a.k.a, AOC). With one more destination on our itinerary for the day, we regretfully forgo  the wine tasting.

A Medieval Gem – Pezenas

Pézénas is an exceptionally well preserved medieval town.

Twenty minutes later, we reach Pézénas, a lively small town of about 9,000 that was the seat of of the Governors of Languedoc in the 16th and 17th centuries. Here, visitors have a rare opportunity to experience a complete city as it was in the middles ages. Many of the Renaissance buildings along its narrow alleys remain intact, as does its ancient ghetto complete with walls and gates. This small medieval gem is one of the first cities in France to have been declared a secteur sauvegardé (protected area) in 1965 by the Ministry of Culture, with more than 30 of its buildings classified as historical monuments.

The Hôtel de Lacoste has maintained its superb Gothic galleries.

A number of artists and craftsmen have made it their home, often with a workshop or gallery open to the street, adding a creative flair to the rough cobbled streets lined with notable mansions. Among those, the Hôtel de Lacoste, built in the early 16th century, stand out for its central courtyard surrounded by a grand square staircase and exceptional second floor Gothic arched galleries. Another magnificent 17th century residence is the Hôtel d’Alfonce. Over time, it was home to a succession of town notables who contributed their own additions to the property. Behind an unassuming façade, four wings are distributed around two courtyards and a garden. In the covered loggia gallery of the entrance courtyard, five monolithic twisted columns support the sloping roof. The rear wing features three levels of arched galleries opening onto the second courtyard and the garden.

The rear courtyard of the Hôtel d’Alfonce opens onto a garden.

We end up on the town square dominated by the consular house where the States of Languedoc held their meetings.  Behind an 18th century façade enhanced with remarkable ironworks, the body of the building dates back to the mid-16th century. Today it houses the House of Crafts, a venue for temporary exhibitions by local artists.

While there are a number of welcoming boutique hotels and guest houses in Pézénas, we opt to continue on to the nearby city Beziers for the night, to be on site for the next morning ‘s visit on our itinerary.

 

In the Villa of Loupian, some of the mosaics designs show intriguing Syrian influences,

Good to Know

  • VisitingThe Loupian Roman Villa is open daily from 10:am to 12 noon and 2:00 pm to 5:00 pm, with variable extended closing time during the summer season. It is closed through December and January, on May 1st, May 8th  and November 1st. The site is enclosed into a 1,000 square meter (10,750 square foot) building that protects the remains of the villa and its mosaics. It includes a small museum that shows artifacts found by the excavations and traces the history of the site. Contact:  tel.  +33 4 67 18 68 18. The Valmagne Abbey, Route de Montagnac, 34560 Villeveyrac, is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm, from April 15th to September 30th , and 2:00 pm to 6:00 pm for the remainder of the year. It is closed on Monday, except July through September. The restaurant is open daily for lunch April 15th through September 30th and weekends only for the remainder of the year. Contact: tel. +33 (0) 4 67 78 06 09. The Pézénas Tourist Office, Place des Etats du Languedoc, 34120, Pézénas, offers a complimentary map for a walking tour of the most notable sites of the city. Contact:  tel.  +33 (0) 4 67 98 36 40.

Location, location, location!

Loupian Roman Villa

Abbey of Valmagne

Pézénas

A Languedoc Road Trip – Nîmes, France

A Languedoc Road Trip – Nîmes, France

To most would-be travelers, the mere mention of “the South of France” conjures up images of Provence with its much photographed back-country hilltop villages, lavender fields and colorful weekly markets. Then there are the sundrenched beaches of the Côte d’Azur (a.k.a. French Riviera) that reach all the way to the Italian border. But this wildly popular, traffic-clogged southeastern corner the country is only half of the South of France story. West of the Rhone Valley, from Nîmes to the Spanish border, the ancient province of  Languedoc  with its rugged landscapes dotted with prehistoric sites, Romanesque abbeys and medieval villages beckons to an exciting road trip back in time.

Follow the Via Domitia

The Roman Tour Magne (Great Tower) is built on the site of an earlier Celtic lookout.

Some 25 kilometers (15 miles) inland from the western Mediterranean coast, the modern A-9 highway follows the route the ancient Via Domitia, the first Roman road built in Gaul, to link Rome to Hispania. Actually, by the time proconsul Gnaeus Domitius Ahenobarbus came around to pave it and give it his name, the road was already ancient. Old enough that it may have been followed by Hannibal and his famous elephants on their way to the Alps in 218 B.C..

The Amphitheater in now a venue for bullfights.

While the legendary Carthaginian conqueror left no concrete signs of his passage, the Roman left us spectacular proofs of theirs. Starting with Nîmes, often hailed as the most Roman city outside of Italy for its spectacular and remarkably well preserved monuments dating back to the Roman Empire. Although the hill that overlooks the city had been the site of the Celtic settlement of Nemausus since the 2nd or 3rd century B.C., it didn’t develop into Nîmes until it became a Roman colony sometimes around 28 B.C., and Augustus made it a regional capital. Before long the city was home to some 50,000 people and the usual Roman construction boom was underway.

The Amphitheater

The vast interior passages of the Amphitheater are designed to accommodate crowds of spectators.

Built in the latter part of the 1st century A.D. the Nîmes Amphitheater is a remarkable example of the level of sophistication achieved by Roman engineers in the design and construction of this type of complex monumental buildings. Started shortly after the colossal Rome Coliseum, the Amphitheater is a perfectly symmetrical oval with a footprint of 133 meters (436 feet) by 101 meters (331 feet) and an exterior height of 21 meters (69 feet). The façade consists of two levels of 60 superimposed arches topped by a cornice. In Roman times, it could hold 24,000 spectators spread over 34 rows of terraces divided into four separate areas. Each was accessed via a web of short stairwells and passages designed leading to a main gallery. This alleviated the risk of bottlenecks as the crowds flowed in and out. While massive, this amphitheater is far from the largest of the ones that remain of the Roman world, but it is the best preserved of them all.

For several decades now, following extensive restorations, the venue is once again used for musical events as well as bullfights.

La Maison Carrée

The colonnade of La Maison Carrée borders the vestibule.

A few minutes’ walk from the Amphitheater, the Maison Carrée (Square House) was built between 20 and 12 B.C. Dedicated to Caius and Lucius Caesar, the heirs of Emperor Augustus, its architecture and decoration were inspired by the temple of Apollo and Mars Ultor in Rome. At the time, it dominated the Forum (the administrative and economic heart of the city). The facade is surrounded by Corinthian columns, six in the front and eleven on each side. Inside, the sanctuary would have housed the divinities – in this case Augustus and heirs.

Over the centuries, the building remained in use, serving successively as consular house, ecclesiastic residence, stable, seat of the departmental statehouse and finally the local archive before it was painstakingly restored in 2006-2008. Today its small interior includes a projection room continuously showing a film tracing the evolution of Nîmes from Celtic settlement to Roman city.

Le Jardin de la Fontaine

A formal 18th century French garden sits on the site of an ancient sacred spring.

The Temple of Diana is believed  to have once been a library.

One of the first public parks in Europe, the Jardin de la Fontaine was created in the mid-18th century in the classical French style of the time, at the site of an ancient sacred spring honoring Nimes the Celtic goddess Nemausus. The work carried out to dig the vast pond and construct the monumental stairway uncovered vestiges of a Roman temple devoted to Augustus, with a whole ensemble including baths and a theatre.

Set in the far left corner against a densely wooded backdrop, the garden also holds the remains of a gracefully vaulted Roman edifice known as the Temple of Diana, although nothing indicates that it was ever a temple, nor that it was dedicated to Diana. Rather, while its purpose remains unclear, it is supposed it may have been a library.

The upper part of the garden is dominated by the Tour Magne (or Great Tower). Standing at the highest point in the city, it is the only remnant of the ancient Augustan fortifications. It is a steep climb up the hill, but the reward is a superb view over the city and surrounding countryside.

 

Le Musée de la Romanité

After holding  pride of place in the city for two millennia, the Amphitheater must now share the limelight with its new neighbor, the spectacular recentely opened Musée de la Romanité

The rear of the Musée de la Romanité opens onto a vast  archeological garden.

Designed by Franco-Brazilian architect Elizabeth de Portzamparc and inaugurated in June 2018, this new Museum of Roman Times bridges the past and the present with its ultra modern design and expansive green spaces. Within its rippling façade made of nearly 7000 shimmering glass tiles intended to evoke the folds of a Roman toga, visitors are immersed into the 25 centuries of history of the city. Of the museum’s rich archeological collection of some 25,000 artefacts, the curators have selected 5,000 pieces to be displayed in their own context for the current “permanent” exhibit, which includes a domus (Roman home), and two exceptionally well preserved room-size mosaics, known as Achilles and Penthus, They were discovered during nearby excavations in 2006-2007, their discovery becoming a major motivating factor in the creation of the museum.

The archeological garden at the rear of the museum is structured in three strata corresponding to the major periods of Nimes: Gallic, Roman and Medieval.

The Roman home features a display of household pottery unhearthed during local excavations.

 

Good to Know

  • Getting there – Nîmes is located approximately 725 kilometers (450 miles) south of Paris, and 125 kilometers (78 miles) north of Marseille. By train:there are multiple TGV (high speed train) daily connections between Paris and Nîmes (3 hours travel time), and regular intercity links with Marseille and most main cities in southern France. By car: Nîmes is easily accessible through the French highway system, via Autoroutes A9 or A54.
  • Staying –For this first stop of our Languedoc road trip, we stayed at Antichambre 11 Rue Bigot, 30900 Nîmes, a lovely three-bedrooms boutique guesthouse ideally located within easy walking distance for all the sites of interest. The ultra-comfortable, well appointed rooms open onto a private courtyard. Free Wifi and a gargantuan breakfast are included. Caution – do book well ahead as this tiny charmer fills fast. Contact : Tel.+33 (0) 4 66 64 13 43, e-mail.
  • Visiting –  The Amphitheatre, Maison Carrée and Tour Magne are open daily. However, opening hours vary with the seasons. Details can be found on their website.The Jardin de la Fontaine, Avenue Jean Jaures, Nîmes, is open daily from 7:30 am to 10:00 pm from April through August and 7:30 am to 6:30 pm for the remainder of the year. The Musée de la Romanité 16, boulevard des Arènes, Nîmes, is open Wednesday through Monday, 10:00 am to 7:00 pm from April through August and 10:00 am to 6:00 pm for the remainder of the year. Closed Tuesday, December 25th and January 1st.

A Few Souvenirs

Location, location, location!

Nimes

Masterpieces from the Guggenheim Foundation – in Aix-en-Provence, France

Masterpieces from the Guggenheim Foundation – in Aix-en-Provence, France

What happens when an exquisite Aix-en-Provence Baroque mansion and one of the leading Modern Art foundations in the world join forces to present a prestigious collection of late 19th and early 20th century European avant-garde art? A exceptional exhibition at the Hôtel de Caumont-Art Center: Masterpieces from the Guggenheim Foundation – From Manet to Picasso: The Thannhauser Collection.

Who were the Thannhausers?

To honor Aix’s native son, the exposition begins with The Man with Crossed Arms, Paul Cezanne. 1899, Post-Impressionist oil on canvas (Guggenheim Museum, New York).

Heinrich Thannhauser (1859-1935) and his son, Justin K. Thannhauser (1892-1976) were German gallerists and collectors, originally from Munich, where Heinrich opened his first gallery in 1909. More were to follow, opened by Justin in Lucerne, Switzerland (1919), Berlin (1927), and Paris (1937), making the Thannhausers important patrons, friends and promoters of the innovative artists who shaped Western art in the end of the 19th century and the first half of the 20th century.

As a result of persecution by the Nazis, Justin and his family, who were Jewish, emigrated from Berlin to Paris in 1937. Then, after the fall of France and the German occupation of Paris, the family settled in New York in December 1940. Justin subsequently established himself as a prominent art dealer in the United States.

 

The Palazzo Ducale, seen from San Giorgio Maggiore, Claude Monet, 1908. Impressionist oil on canvas. (Guggenheim Museum, New York, Thannhauser Collection)

After the tragic death of his two sons, Heinz, killed in combat in 1944 while serving with the U.S. Air Force, and Michel, deceased in 1952, followed by his wife Käthe in 1960, Justin decided to bequeath the major works of his prestigious collection to the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum.

Since 1965, these emblematic works have been one of the core elements of the illustrious Modern Art institution. And now, for the first time, the collection is leaving its permanent home, the famous Frank Lloyd Wright building on New York’s 5th Avenue, to travel back to Europe – returning, albeit very temporarily, a number of Provencal masterpieces to the region where they were painted more than a century ago.

Beyond the exceptional ensemble displayed throughout the intimate gallery space of the Hôtel de Caumont, the exhibition traces the history of the Thannhauser Collection and men who created, through archival documents illustrating their relationship with the artists, as well as other collectors and art dealers.

Justin and his Friends

Le Moulin de la Galette, Pablo Picasso, 1900. Post-Impressionsit oil on canvas. (Guggenheim Museum, New York, Thannhauser Collection).

Having assisted his father in the Moderne Galerie since his teens, Justin then continued his education in Berlin, Florence and Paris, where he came to know key Parisian art dealers as well as the thriving artist community. Here he developped his taste for modern art and began demonstrating his support of the new generation of vanguard painters.  

As early as 1913, the Munich gallery helds one of the first retrospective of Picasso’s oeuvre in Germany. Justin wrote the catalogue’s preface. This exhibition marked the beginning of a lasting friendship between the two men, as reflected throughout the current show, starting with Le Moulin de la Galette. This is the most important work executed by Picasso during his first stay in Paris, where the nineteen year-old artist had come to visit the 1900 Universal Exhibition. This painting reflects young Picasso’s fascination with the Bohemian atmosphere of Parisian nightlife and the influence of Henri Toulouse-Lautrec.

Lobster and Cat, Pablo Picasso, 1965. Oil on canvas. (Guggenheim Museum, New York, Thannhauser Collection).

Subsequent works illustrate the artist’s evolution to his melancholic Blue Period, followed by his Pink Period, and then to the phase when working in conjunction with Georges Braque, he develops the geometric lines, flat areas and deconstruction of forms that characterize cubism. Especially notable is Le Homard et le Chat (Lobster and Cat).

After the death of his first wife, Justin married Hilde Breitwisch in 1965. On this occasion, Picasso presented the couple with the painting. A dedication in red in the upper left corner of the canvas reads: “Pour Justin Thannhauser, votre ami, Picasso.

This uncharacteristically humorous work depicts a lively eye-to-eye conflict between the feline and the crustaceous: the bristling cat is glaring at the blue lobster, who appears determined to hold its ground on its many spindly legs. 

Champions of the Avant-Garde

Haere Mai, Paul Gauguin, 1891. Post Impressionist Primitive Symbolist oil on jute canvas. (Guggenheim Museum, New York, Thannhauser Collection).

In the years preceding Word War One, the Thannhausers support of emerging artists extended to those based in Munich as well as abroad. They provided a venue to allow Der Blaue Reiter (The Blue Rider) group, a movement founded by Kandinsky, Franz Marc, Jawlensky and others who drew inspiration from sources as diverse as French Fauvism, Art Nouveau, Bavarian popular culture and Russian folklore to develop an art that was free of figurative constrains.

 

 

Yellow Cow, Franz Marc, 1911. Expressionist oil on canvas. (Guggenheim Museum, New York, Solomon R. Guggenheim Founding Collection).

 

While most conventional critics reacted to their works by calling them “absurdities of incurable madmen,” the Thannhausers demonstrated their open-mindedness by holding their first exhibition of the group’s founders in 1911-1912, followed in 1914 by the first major exhibition in Germany focused on Paul Klee, a Swiss artist also associated with The Blue Rider.

 

 

Montains at St. Remy, Vincent Van Gogh, 1889. Post-Impressionsit oil on canvas. (Guggenheim Museum, New York, Thannhauser Collection).

 

In addition to the works from the Thannhauser Collection, the current exhibition is complemented by other pictures from the Guggenheim Museum, which although they are not part of the Thannhauser bequest, have been part of the history of of gallery or the collection and shed further light on it. Overall this spectacular exhibition offers the visitor a unique illustration of the evolution of European from Impressionism to Cubism.

 

 

If you are planning to be in Provence or even within detour distance of the area this summer, make sure to make to include Aix-en-Provence and the Hôtel de Caumont-Art Center to your itinerary. The exhibition can be seen until September 29th, 2019.

 

Good to Know

  • Getting There By train: there are frequent TVG (high speed train) connections throughout the day from Paris (3 hours) and Lyon (1 hour) as well as Geneva (3 hours) and Brussels (5 hours) to Aix-en-Provence. The TGV station is located 15 kilometers (9.5 miles) southwest of town, with a shuttle running every 15 minutes between the station and the bus terminal in the center of town. By plane: MarseilleProvence airport is 25 kilometers (15.5 miles) southwest of Aix, with numerous flights from Paris, London and other major European cities. It is served by the same shuttle bus as the TVG station.
  • Visiting –Caumont Art Center, 3, rue Joseph Cabassol, 13100, Aix-en-Provence, France.Is open daily from May 1 to September 30 from 10:00 am to 7:00 pm, with late opening hours on Friday until 9:30 pm, and from 10:00 am to 6:00 pm for the remainder of the year. Contact: message@caumont-centredart.com. Tel: +33 (0) 4 42 20 70 01.
  • If you miss this landmark exhibition, don’t despair. After Aix-en-Provence, the exposition will be on view at the Royal Palace cultural center in Milan, Italy, from October 2019 to February 2020.

 

Location, location, location!

Hotel de Caumont -Art Center

Anchored to its Medieval Roots – Freiburg, Germany

Anchored to its Medieval Roots – Freiburg, Germany

Tucked into the southwestern corner of Germany at the crossroads of France and Switzerland, and with the Black Forest at the very gates of the city, Freiburg-im-Breisgau is the stuff medieval fairytales are made off.

From Market Town to Center of Learning

Franziskaner Street is lined with grand 16th century buildings.

In the late 11th century, the local ruler Berthold II von Zähringen, built a fortified castle on top of what is now known as Schlossberg (Castle Mountain) to control the local trade routes. Under his protection, the castle’s supporting cast of craftsmen and servants settled at the foot of the mountain in what is now the Altstadt (Old Town). Bolstered by the proximity of silver mines in the western Black Forest, the settlement quickly prospered. Declared a free market town  in 1120, Freiburg (or Free Town) developed into the area’s main center of trade. Then in 1457, with the founding of the Albert-Ludwigs-Universität, the city established itself as a learning center that remains prominent to this day.

Garlands of mature wistaria enhance the quaint atmosphere of the Old Town.

As is frequent with most European towns, its fortunes ebbed and flowed as it fell under the control of the Austrians, the French, the Spanish and several independent German states at various times throughout its long history. But in spite of it all, Freiburg managed to retain the unique atmosphere of an ancient Germanic town with its maze of narrow cobbled streets leading to its magnificent Gothic Minster (cathedral).

The city’s ancient architectural heritage was exactingly restored after World War Two.

Sadly, Freiburg did not escape the devastation of the Second World War. In a single bombing in November 1944, the majority of its historic center was reduced to ashes in twenty minutes, miraculously leaving the cathedral mostly untouched. But an exacting re-creation of its original plan and thoughtful reconstruction of its historic buildings have since restored the charm of the medieval market town.

 

The Iconic Symbol of the City

The delicate spire of the Minster dominates the skyline.

The main focal point of the city is its majestic cathedral, considered one of the great masterpieces of Gothic art in Germany. Although construction began around 1200, so that the transept and the towers that surmount it are actually Romanesque, the Minster or Münster, as it is known locally, evolved over three centuries as an exquisite Gothic gem. Its delicate spire of filigree stonework soaring 116 meters (318 feet) into the sky was built in the 14th and 15th centuries and has been the iconic symbol of the city ever since.

The high-altar triptych is by Hans Baldung Grien.

Inside, a number of remarkable sculptures such as an early 16th century adoration of the Christ Child by the Magi (in the transept) and a lovely 13th century Virgin flanked by two adoring angels (by the entrance to the tower) are eclipsed by the triptych altarpiece by Hans Baldung Grien, who is considered the most gifted student of Albrecht Dürer. The aisles are lined with vibrant 14th century stained-glass windows. Some panels, however, are reproductions. The originals  can be seen at eye level in the nearby Augustiner Museum.

Ever a Market Town

Only local growers can sell their products at the market.

Freiburg remains faithful to its market tradition. Every weekday morning, the square surrounding the cathedral, Minsterplatz, is still home to a popular outdoor market where local farmers and craftsmen sell their produce, flowers and handicrafts. On the side of the main portal, a set of medieval measurements remain engraved in the stone, a reminder of a time when they ensured that merchandises (e.g. lengths of cloth or loaves of bread) were of the required size. Along the north side of the church, the row of food trucks offering local sausages is one of the market’s most crowded area.

Coats of arms and statues decorate the façade of the Historisches Kaufhaus.

On the south side of the square, the 16th century gothic Historisches Kaufhaus (Historical Merchants’ Hall) is one of the most photogenic buildings in the city. Rising from its street-level arcade, its flamboyant red façade is embellished with polychrome tiled turrets. The coats of arms on the oriels and the four statues above the balcony symbolize Freiburg’s allegiance to the House of Habsburg.

From Monastery to Museum

The main hall displays a stunning collection of statues,

A short walk away from from the Minster, a former monastery of Augustinian monks has come back to life as the Augustiner Museum. A masterful redesign of the church has created a spectacular exhibit hall for the four-meter-high stone prophets from the Minster. They are one of the main attractions along with polychrome wood sculptures and panel paintings by Lucas Cranach the Elder, Matthias Grünewald and Hans Baldun Grien among others. Upper galleries allow the works to be seen from various angles, and offer a close-up view of the gargoyles and stained-glass windows from the Minster.

A City Made for Wandering

The best way, the only way actually, to appreciate the unique charm of Freiburg is to wander its picturesque narrow streets.

St. George welcomes visitors at the entrance of Schwabentor.

One of the first things to catch the eye is bound to be one of the two gate towers that are all that remain from the city’s fortifications. Martinstor is the oldest, officially dating back to 1238, although research proved that the beams are even older (1202). Schwabentor is not far behind, having stood guard over the city since the year 1250. Both have had to adapt to modern times, however, and allow trams to now circulate under their arches. In case you are wondering which is which, Schwabentor is the tower with the painting of St George, the Patron Saint of Freiburg, on the side facing away from the city. Martinstor no longer features a painting but it does have an unfortunately unavoidable McDonald sign over its ancient archway.

Erasmus von Rotterdam lived here in the mid-16th century.

Haus zum Walfisch (House of the Whale) is the red mansion with the heavily decorated, late Gothic doorway on Franziskanergasse. The building’s best known resident is the humanist scholar Erasmus von Rotterdam, who lived there between 1529 and 1531 after fleeing the Reformation in Basel, Switzerland. The name of the building has no connection with its famous tenant, but it is believed to have a possible link with the biblical story of Jonah and the Whale (?).

A covered bridge connects the Old and New Town Halls,

Altes Rathaus and Neues Rathaus (Old and New Town Halls). The Freiburg Town Hall situation can be a bit confusing in that it consists of two elegant Renaissance buildings connected by a small covered bridge and facing a lovely tree-shaded square (predictably named Rathausplatz – or Town Hall Square). However, the ox-blood building on the right is the Old Town Hall. Completed in 1559, it has held the offices of the city government ever since, which by the way now include the Tourist Office. The white building on the left, completed in 1545, was used by the university for over three centuries before being purchased by the city for additional town hall space in 1891. And so it is that in Freiburg, the New Town Hall is older than the Old Town Hall.

Mind the Bächle

Sidewalk signage identifies the business conducted within.

Watch your step as you roam around the Old Town. Most of the lanes are lined with narrow, ankle deep ditches of running water known as Bächle. Dating back to the 13th century, they are filled with water diverted from the nearby Dreisam River. In the Middle Ages, they were used to provide drinking water for livestock and to battle fires. Today, in the summer, children run tiny boats in the Bächle, and local lore has it that anyone who accidentally steps in their water is destined to marry a local Freiburger.

Another thing that can’t be missed when walking around is the elaborate pavement design in front of most shops. Cut out of round stones this mosaic signage identifies the type of business to be found inside.

The Green City of the Future

The Heliothrope generates more energy than it uses.

Over the past few decades Freiburg has emerged as a European leader in sustainable urban development. One of the birthplaces of the German environmental movement, it is home to the Heliotrope, the very first “plus energy” house in the world. Designed as his own home in 1994 by Freiburg native architect, solar energy pioneer and environmental activist Rolf Disch, the Heliotrope generates more energy than it uses as it physically rotates with the sun to maximize its solar intake. It can be seen peering from a copse of trees, at the edge of the vineyards that reach the southern side of town.

The Holocaust Memorial reflecting pool and University Library.

The  nearby Quartier Vauban, also a plus energy district, is widely known to promote an environmentally conscious, family friendly life-style. In addition to the ubiquitous solar panels, it is notable for its variety of colorful paneled and vegetalized facades. Further eco-conscious developments can be seen throughout the city, including the new energy-efficient University Library building, which opened in 2015.

Note – Across the street from the library, the Holocaust Memorial black granite reflecting pool follows the outline of the foundations of the synagogue burned down during Kristallnacht, on November 9-10, 1938.

Good to Know

  • Getting there – Conveniently located at the border triangle of Germany, France, and Switzerland, Freiburg is easily accessible by train though the excellent railroad system that connects it to the most major cities in Germany and neighboring European countries, making it an easy destination for a weekend side trip. By car, the city is connected to the German autobahn system via the A5, which runs along the Rhine Valley from north to south all the way to the Swiss border.
  • Visiting –The Minster is open to the public year round, Monday through Saturday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm and Sunday from 1:00 pm to 7:00 pm. NB. The Organs:The Minster is famous for its rich musical history. Over the centuries it acquired four great pipe organs created by some of the most prestigious organ builders of their time. The four instruments are strategically placed throughout the church for optimum acoustic effect. They can be played together from the main console or as individual instruments. There are regular Tuesday night concerts throughout the summer season (tickets are sold at the door). But they can also be heard for free year-round at the Saturday morning “Orgelmusik zur Markzeit” (market time organ concert) from 11:30 am to 11:55 am. The Minster Market –The Market is open year-round, Monday through Saturday from 8:00 am to 1:00 pm. The Augustiner Museum, Augustinerplatz, 79098 Freiburg im Breusgau, is open Tuesday through Sunday from 10:00 am to 5:00 pm and closed Monday. Contact: tel. +49 (0) 761 201 2531.
  • Best Viewpoints – Although the iconic spire of the Minster is visible throughout the city, the best place to get a close-up eye-level snapshot is the terrace of the the cafeteria-restaurant at the top of the Kaufhtof  department store just around the corner from Münsterplatz. For a panoramic view over the rooftops of the city and the Black Forest hills to the horizon, take the footpath opposite Schwabentor, or hop on the cable car to the top of the Schlossberg.
  • Green City – Freiburg was the recipient of the German Sustainability award in 2012. 

Location, location, location!

Altstadt Freiburg

The rebirth of a Belle Epoque Fast Food Tradition – Bouillon Chartier Montparnasse

The rebirth of a Belle Epoque Fast Food Tradition – Bouillon Chartier Montparnasse

In 19th century France, the industrial revolution was in full swing, drawing throngs of new mouths to feed to the cities. Lyon already had its Bouchons and Lille its Estaminets. Now, Paris was getting its Bouillons, working class eateries serving humble but hearty, and most importantly, cheap fare.

Fast Food In An Other Era

Bouillon Chartier Montmartre.

Tucked away in a courtyard of the Faubourg Montmartre, Bouillon Chartier has attracted diners since 1896.

The first Bouillon (broth, or stew in this context) appeared in 1855 in Les Halles, the bustling wholesale food market in the center of Paris, when an ingenious butcher, Pierre Louis Duval, devised a way to dispose of his least desirable cuts of meat. He started proposing a filling dish of meaty stew to the workers who labored through the night, unloading the wagons that delivered foodstuff from the far reaches of the country. The concept caught on and began expanding to full-menu poor man’s brasseries with multiple locations across the city. By 1900, there were over two hundred Bouillons throughout Paris. They had become the fast food chains of the Belle Epoque.

The Bouillon Bandwagon

Bouillon Chartier luggage racks.

Overhead luggage racks are a reminder of the dining room’s original function as a train station.

In 1896, the brothers Camille and Edouard Chartier got on the bandwagon, opening their Bouillon Chartier in a former train station concourse of the Rue du Faubourg Montmartre on the northern side of Paris. The long Art Nouveau dining hall with its high metal columns holding the opaque glass ceiling, wall-size mirrors set in the swirling woodwork and extensive menu of affordable dishes, quickly became a popular local hang out.

Montparnasse Art Nouveau facade.

The Montparnasse venue retains its Art Nouveau facade.

Boosted by the success of this first venture, the brothers opened a second venue on the Left Bank’s Boulevard Montparnasse in 1903. Here they pulled all the stops, fully embracing the Art Nouveau craze unleashed by the Paris World Fairs of 1878, 1889 and 1900. They commissioned Parisian ceramist, stained glass designer and decorator Louis Trézel to create a trendy environment for their crowd-pleasing menu.

Alas, as fast as the Bouillons had prospered in the optimistic decades of the Belle Epoque, they faded in the aftermath of the First War War. By the 1930’s they had all but disappeared from the Paris dining scene.

The Unsinkable Bouillon Chartier

Chartier Escargots

Escargots remain a popular item on the Chartier menu.

One notable survivor is the original Chartier. Having managed to endure through both World Wars, its popularity has kept on growing ever since, although with a different clientele. These days, it’s tourists from all over the world who flock to the faded Art Nouveau dining room of the Faubourg Montmartre to experience such retro-French dishes as poireaux (leek) vinaigrette, escargots, andouillette grillée (chitterling sausage), or for the less adventurous, confit de canard (duck confit) and blanquette de veau (veal stew) at prices of a bygone era.

Montparnasse painted glass ceiling.

The Montparnasse location still boasts its delicately painted glass ceiling,

Then this past January, the denizens of the Left Bank were pleased to see that almost a century after its demise, the Bouillion Chartier Montparnasse had been resurrected. Sold in 1924, the restaurant had gone through a couple of different identities since then. However, it had managed to maintain its stunning original décor: delicately painted glass ceiling, mirrors set into the elegant curves of the woodwork and dainty garlands of morning glories climbing up the ceramic- tiled walls. The décor alone would warrant a visit.

Retro Food is New Again

Frisée aux Lardons.

Salade frisée aux lardon.

Chartier Confit.

Confit de canard et pommes grenailles

But the menu is just as authentic as the venue. With a friend who lives nearby, I popped in for mid-afternoon late lunch/early dinner on my most recent stop in Paris. We deliberately timed our visit to avoid the long line that reliably forms in front of the place at conventional meal times (sorry, no reservations. But with seating for almost 200, the line does move fast).

A cheerful young waiter wrapped in the traditional white apron writes down our order in a corner of the paper tablecloth. I start with frisée aux lardons, a salad of crisp curly endive topped with lots of sautéed bacon cubes and croutons (€4 – that’s $4.5 at current exchange rate). My friend chooses the block de foie gras, three generous slices of the famed duck liver paté served with toast points (€7.5 = $8.80). Main course is confit de canard with roasted grenaille potatoes for her (€10.60 = $12) and pied de porc grillé (grilled pig’s trotter) with french fries for me (€10.50 =  $11.75) – no apology for my seriously retro choice. My grandfather loved it and I acquired the taste at an early age. Dessert is crème au caramel for her (that’s crème brulée in the U.S. €3.00 = $3.40). The caramelized top is crusted just right. As for my baba au rhum (€4.60 = $5.00), another one of my nostalgic guilty pleasures, the sweet light brioche is sufficiently soaked in rum syrup that it might require proof of age in a U.S. restaurant. A winner in my book.

The Net of It

Baba au Rhum

Baba au rhum

Don’t go to Chartier expecting a haute cuisine extravaganza. But if you yearn for, or are curious about the comfort food once concocted by thrifty French grandmothers at a price that will not ravage your travel budget, this is definitely the place. Add two espressos and a half-liter carafe of Merlot, and our dinner for two in a priceless Belle Epoque setting barely topped fifty-five dollars U.S., including tip, which is by law included in the tab in France. The service was prompt and good humored on the day of our visit, and a quick glance around the room showed the clientele to be evenly distributed between locals and tourists. For Parisians, retro-food is trendy again, and the newly open Bouillon Chartier Montparnasse is once again one of the neighborhood go-to places – and now mine whenever I happen to be in town.

 

Good to Know

  • Bouillon Chartier Montparnasse, 59 Boulevard du Montparnasse, 75006 Paris is open daily from 11:30 am to midnight. Contact: Tel. +33 (0) 1 45 49 19 00.  No reservations.
  • Both Bouillon Chartier locations are listed historical monuments.

Location, location, location!

Bouillon Chartier Montparnasse