Thursday, March 14, 2013


Saturday, June 11, 2011

We were originally meant to stay overnight in Angers but in order to cut travel time on our last day we were directed to the city of Orléans. 

We passed this unique and complex Europe Bridge spanning the Loire on the western edge of Orléans. Designed by architect Santiago Calatrava, the bridge opened in 2000 to much positive acclaim.

Photo by Nicole Benkert
Orléans was once Genabum, capital of the Carnute Tribe. It is another city with Gallic-Roman origins. Most notably, it was here that the victory of Jeanne d'Arc changed the destiny of France. I doubt Eleanor ever spent much time in Orléans as it was not part of her or Henry's domains. However, in 1152 she and Louis VII met with French prelates in near-by Beaugency, up-river from Orléans, where their marriage was annulled on grounds of consanguinity in the 4th degree.

This was our hotel, the former Hôtel Moderne built by Louis Duthoit in Art Nouveau style. I later read that the large archway of the facade was perhaps added as an homage to a famous Parisian apartment entrance built circa 1899-1900 on Avenue Rapp by architect J. Lavirotte. It definitely evoked a Parisian feel. 

Inside we found this wee elevator. Our large group gave this thing a work-out, and it did not disappoint.  

The hotel was right on the edge of a pedestrian mall. The facing street, Rue de la République, is closed to all traffic except the trams. It was a busy Saturday night when we rolled into town. I immediately set off to explore, with no expectations or destination in mind...and no map.

Photo by Nicole Benkert

A short walk led me to Place du Matroi, where Rue Bannier, Rue de la Republique, and Rue Royale converge. The square today is lovely and it was flooded with late day sunlight. But it has a dark history, for throughout history prisoners were sentenced and executed on this spot. More benignly, this square has also been used as a wheat marketplace. It was integrated into the town during the construction of the second city wall in the 14th century, some remnants of which are still visible in the car park below the square. 

In the square's center is an equestrian statue of Jeanne d'Arc, Orléans' favorite daughter, created by the sculptor Foyatier and dedicated in 1855. The inscription at the front reads "A Jean d'Arc la ville d'Orleans avec le concours de la France entiere"

It quite dominates the square. That's in contrast to the statue of Jeanne d'Arc that lives in New Orleans, Louisiana, seen to the right. Forgive me a related tangent...the New Orleans "Joannie on a Pony" statue was a gift from the people of France in 1958 and is a replica of one at Place des Pyramids in Paris. New Orleans couldn't afford the $35,000 to erect the gift so it sat in storage for eight years. The statue was eventually placed in front of the International Trade Market at the foot of Canal Street, but when Harrah's Casino was built in 1999 the statue had to be moved to (the aptly named) Place de France on Decatur Street next to the French Market. It's rather tucked into the middle of nowhere there now.

Anyway, back to France and 2011.

To the left of the statue in the square was a carousel!

And not just any carousel, but a double-decker "Jules Verne Carrousel Palace." There are apparently others like this in Paris and Carcassone, but far be it from me to turn up my nose at this one for not being one-of-a-kind. Of course, I rode it, as did several other members of our tour group who chanced upon the square at the same time I did.

After strolling around for a while, I headed back to the hotel, passing Paroisse Saint Paterne on Rue Bannier just before I turned the corner. The current church was built between 1876 and 1894 but churches have existed on this spot since the 10th century. It was named for the founding saint of Brittany, who became the first bishop of Vannes in 465. 

As I passed by, bells began pealing madly, signaling the end of Pentecost Vigil Services. Having just been Confirmed, scores of youngsters came out in their white robes and posed for photos with their families.  It was a lovely sight.  Roman Catholics believe that the Holy Spirit confirmed the Apostles on Pentecost, giving them the traditional seven gifts of wisdom, understanding, counsel, courage, knowledge, piety, and fear of the Lord. In Eleanor's day, the time span between infant Baptism by the local priest and the “confirmation” by the Bishop was ideally a matter of weeks, though travel time for the Bishop had to figure into the equation. Theologian St. Thomas Aquinas wrote in the 13th century about the strengthening of character that the Sacrament of Confirmation bestowed, and eventually Confirmation came to be considered the Sacrament of maturity, with those receiving it being regarded as old enough to live active, responsible Christian lives as soldiers of Christ.

I'm not sure the 12 and 13 year olds I saw celebrating that day were aware of the historical significance of the ritual they had just experienced, but they seemed very happy!

Tee, Linda and I had crepes and pear cidre at La Chandeleur, an artisan creperie at Place de la République in the shadow of the cathedral. Linda was a dear to humor my longing for crepes even though she was craving soup!

Source: Google Earth

It was nearly 10:00 at night when we passed this Petit Casino at 15 Rue Jeanne d'Arc, along the way to the Cathedral. Its vivid colors were enticing to anyone who needed to stock up on a few more tomatoes or melons before midnight. I restrained myself.

Here is Orléans Cathedral as seen from Rue Jeanne d'Arc, a road built in 1840 to open access to the cathedral. As so often happens, building of this thoroughfare reconfigured the city. Six other streets, three squares and many buildings disappeared. The street was extended after the Second World War to Place du Général de Gaulle.

Dedicated to the Holy Cross, the first cathedral on this site dates to the 7th century. It was replaced by a Romanesque church (which Eleanor would have known had she visited here), but that one collapsed in 1278 and was replaced in 1329. After being pillaged by Huguenots in the 1560s, the cathedral was restored under Henri IV in the 17th century. 

Photo by Sherill Roberts

Photo by John Phillips

Photo by John Phillips

This is Le Beffroi, Place de la République. Located in the heart of the medieval city, l'Hôtel des Créneaux was the first city hall of Orléans. The city fathers added this 131 foot high belfry in 1445 and eight years later the tower was raised even higher to accommodate a clock and bells.

We spent some more time walking about the city and came upon L'Hôtel Groslot at Place de l’Etape, a beautiful example of what was described as regional Troubadour Gothic architecture. 

It was built in 1550 by Jerome Groslot, then Bailiff of Orléans and head of a wealthy family of tanners. Hôtel Groslot became Orléans' Hôtel de Ville after the Revolution. Wings were added and the building was renovated between 1850-4. It is open during the day for tours and is considered one of Orléans' architectural treasures. 

While my first love is the medieval era, I am fond of some specific periods of Renaissance history and get excited when I come across things associated with them. This was one of those times, for I knew that Francois II, son of Henri II and Catherine d'Medici, had died at L'Hôtel Groslot when an ear infection abscessed. His death changed the course of history. We know his widow as Mary, Queen of Scots, and she spent her requisite 40 day period of mourning seclusion in Orléans. It's reasonable to assume she may have stayed here at L'Hôtel Groslot. Of course, she eventually returned to her native Scotland where things didn't end so well for her. 

This is La Caisse d'Epargne, 10 Rue d'Escures.  All banks should look like this!

We passed several other beautiful Renaissance-era buildings along Rue D'Escures, but the sun soon set and so we headed back to the hotel for the night.

Photo by John Phillips, who snuck out whilst the rest of us were sleeping.

Bonne nuit, Jeanne!

Our next and final stop: Chartres.

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Please let me know what you think! As Eleanor once wrote: "So that this day may be firm and persevere unchanging in perpetuity, we have commended it to writing. Your comments thereof are welcome and may be affixed forthwith."