Wednesday, June 16, 2011
(Continued from previous blog entry, "Angers Cheer, Foreign Language Laundry, and Still Bugged.")
Once I decided to delay more research into locating an ophthalmologist until after some sightseeing, I returned to the Promenade du Bout du Monde and arrived at the Chateau late morning. Standing across the draw bridge on the other side of the dry moat from the fortress, I was struck by how imposing it was. People walked along the sidewalks as if there was nothing important here and as though they did not realize they were dwarfed by an immense structure. But the chateau was also beautiful with its pepper pot towers in dark slate and limestone and its dry moat now filled with gardens. The well-manicured shrubbery and the red and white clay paths that surrounded them were bright contrasts to the dark medieval walls. It was like nothing I had seen before.
The Chateau d'Angers was built in the 9th century and added onto in the 13th century by the counts of Anjou. These counts were descended from Carolingian rulers. (Under the Carolingians, Angers had became the capital of the province of Anjou.) The chateau was both a private residence and a fortified castle. In the 16th Century, its “pepper pot” towers were cut down from 140 feet to about 65 feet. Some historical sources say the towers were shortened to make use of the newly introduced artillery piece, the cannon. I assume that means that the artillery were placed on the top of the towers at the lower height, which gave those defending the castle a better angle at which to mow down armies attacking it. Travel France Online supports this idea. According to their website, the towers were lowered during the Wars of Religion in order to provide a better view for the defendants. Most references agree that Henry III of France used the materials from the shortened towers to build streets and buildings in Angers. The Tour du Moulin (Mill Tower) is the only tower which remains at the original elevation. It used to house a windmill, which is probably why it was left at full height.
Today the chateau houses the Apocalypse Tapestry commissioned by Louis I of Anjou in the 14th century. The tapestry was one of things that drew me to the site, but not the driving force for my visit. I was most interested in its connections to Eleanor of Aquitaine through her second husband, Henry Plantagenet, who, with Eleanor, began the Angevin Dynasty.
Before he became Henry II of England and husband to Eleanor, Henry Plantagenet was Count of Anjou. The title of count passed to him in 1152 when his father, Geoffrey Plantagenet, died. The Plantagenets came from a long line of Anjou counts descending from the female side of the Carolingian line when the male line ended with no heir. Geoffrey Plantagenet was the fifth generation of this line, and may have obtained the nickname “plantagenet” because of his habit of wearing a sprig of the broom shrub (in France known as the planta genista) in his hat. Encyclopedia Britannica believes that the reference to the broom plant was more likely because of Geoffrey's habit of planting brooms to improve his hunting covers. (Incidentally, they also say that the "Plantagenet" tag was never a surname in the Angevin dynasty, and that none of his descendants used that name until about 250 years after his death. Even the term "Angevin" was added later. However, because the tag is so popular among history texts, for the purposes of this blog I will continue to refer to Henry II of England as Henry Plantagenet.)
Henry was born in Le Mans but probably lived with his mother Matilda of Normandy until the age of seven when he moved to Anjou for his early education. He was then sent to England to be further educated and to help boost his mother's claim to the throne of England through her father, Henry I. Henry finished his education back in Anjou, but returned to England with mercenaries when he was fourteen. Henry led two unsuccessful forays into England to try to reclaim the crown, and returned to Anjou in 1149. He was named Duke of Normandy shortly thereafter and then Count of Anjou. As Count of Anjou, Henry went on to rule England and an empire that stretched from the Pyrenees to Ireland. The seat of Henry's court and his empire was the Chateau d'Angers.
Although Angevin rule continued in England, the Plantagenet Angevin empire disappeared from France in the early 13th century when Philip II (son of Eleanor's first husband, Louis VII) seized Normandy and Anjou. At this point, Anjou became a dukedom and part of the Kingdom of France. It was considered the “Key to the Kingdom” because it bordered Brittany, which was still independent. For this reason, the Chateau was reinforced in 1228 by Blanche of Castile, queen regent to her son Louis IX, "the Saint." That's when those high walls and pepper pot towers appeared.
I took a deep breath and crossed the moat via the 14th-century drawbridge and entered the chateau. Several towers stood on either side of me along the great, thick wall of the fortress. Through the gate and into the courtyard were gardens expanding south and east along the interior walls. Most of the chateau buildings had been destroyed in WWII by US bombs and the French people's response was to plant gardens: Upper gardens, lower gardens, and an herb garden covering the earthworks along the ramparts. To my right was the museum. It contains the 15th-century chapel of John the Baptist, the royal lodge or residence (Logis Royal), and the 1954 wing of the museum, which now houses The Apocalypse Tapestries. Recently discovered under the chateau are ruins of a roman bath that were used in the time of the dukes as well. Next to those ruins is a neolithic burial mound discovered when the tapestry wing was added.
I explored the chapel first. I was amazed at the colors still evident along the walls and ceilings of this 700-year-old building. Most vivid were the paintings remaining where sculptures were removed when it became a prison during the Hundred Years War. The chapel is considered a sainte chapelle because it enshrined a holy relic: a splinter of the fragment of the True Cross which had been acquired by Louis IX.
The dukes of Anjou had their own entrance to the church through a mini-chapel in an alcove to the side of the nave. This church and residence were built much after Henry Plantagenet was long dead. During Henry's time, the rulers of Anjou were Counts. After successive counts lost and regained land, the kingdom of France took over the region. The lords of Anjou were by then mostly related to the king. They swore allegiance to the crown and took the title of duke. In this way they retained the king's support. My impression is that the dukes were much more snooty than the counts. (Could it be that they were all directly in line to the throne of France?) They wished to make a clear delineation between themselves and the peasants with their separate chapel. No mixing with the commoners here!
The royal residence was being worked on, so I went on to the modern wing and to the Apocalypse Tapestry. The wing was built in 1954 on the site of the kitchen, staff quarters, Chapel of St. Laud (the first chapel), and various outbuildings--all built in the 11th through 12th centuries. I have to give it to the town of Angers: Their presentation of the tapestry was breathtaking. I felt the same way about the Bayeux Tapestry in Normandy. The town had placed the oldest French tapestry to have survived into modern day, complete with fraying edges and pieces missing, under undulating glowing glass in a deeply dark passageway. I got the impression of waves; of an unfolding story told in ripples of lines. And the images were breathtaking. I was not familiar with the Apocalypse manuscript, but the images showed clear destruction: angels and demons breaking through into the world, and anguished leaders and common folk falling... The tapestry was commissioned by Louis I, Duke of Anjou, and was completed in 1382 after 5-7 years of work. That is very fast for the technology of the 14th century. It is made entirely of wool, is 328 feet (100 meters) long, and is almost 15 feet (4.5 meters) high. The tapestry was lost and mistreated in the late 18th century, but was recovered and restored in the 19th century. Most of it is now hanging in this beautiful and modern hall. The tapestry was cartooned or modeled by the artist Jean de Bruges (aka Jean Bondol) who probably was inspired by illuminated manuscripts about the Apocalypse. It was then woven by Nicholas Bataille, a successful French tapestry-weaver and dealer. Apparently, this was unusual: a tapestry was typically commissioned by a buyer without a specific design. The tapestry depicts the story of the Apocalypse from the Book of Revelation by Saint John the Divine, a text from the 1st century CE. But the artist was heavily influenced by the politics of the day. The tapestry was produced in the middle of the Hundred Years War, a series of battles between the Catholics and Huguenots which raged from 1337 to 1453. It illustrates aspects of war: pillages, plague, and famine. Death and dying was all around. The idea originally may have been to hang the tapestry outside on wooden supports so that an audience could enjoy it while sitting in a central viewing stand as if at a jousting contest. The Apocalypse was a popular story in the 14th century, likened to ancient Frankish heroic tales. The display of the tapestry would have helped to bolster the status of Louis's dynasty, which was involved in the war with England. However, historians are unsure how Louis originally displayed the tapestry. His progenitor, Rene' of Anjou, gave the tapestry to the Cathedral of Anjou in 1488, and that is where it remained for a time, perhaps until the French Revolution.
(Etymology note: In researching the tapestry, I was surprised to come across the word cartoon/cartooned meaning "model/modeled." Turns out this definition of the word is pretty old and pretty common even today. Merriam Webster defines cartoon in this sense as "a preparatory design, drawing, or painting (as for a fresco)." The word cartoon comes from the Italian cartone or "pasteboard, which modified the word carta or "card." 12th-century French folk would have not used the word cartoon or the corresponding French word carton. That language came much later. But since the 17th century, cartoons were considered temporary drawings that were used as a rough draft of a painting or sculpture or other final work to come. Now, of course, "cartoon" has taken on additional meanings such as "drawings intended as satire, caricature, or humor"; animated shows; or "a ludicrously simplistic, unrealistic, or one-dimensional portrayal or version.")
After studying the tapestry, I walked underneath the royal residence passing the neolithic burial mound as I entered the museum gift shop. Peering down a rugged stair, I caught sight of the roman baths. You can still see the pipes that were used to heat the rooms coming up from the floor. I wondered how often medieval royalty actually made use of these roman water structures. The remains of these structures are everywhere in Europe--wherever Romans went. This leads me to believe that some medieval people were cleaner than the stereotypical medieval slob that has such hold in our modern imaginations.
I walked through the gardens. There were three: First, the hanging gardens, which were full of herbs and included flowers that were represented on the Apocalypse Tapestry; next, the gardens in front of the 12th-century castle wall and surrounded by the royal residence and roman baths; and, finally, the large formal garden on the southeast side of the enclosure. I hiked along the ramparts and took several pictures.
I walked through the field entrance on the south side with its portcullis on the outside wall. This was the original entrance way. Just inside this entrance are models of the chateau at various stages of its development. I did not linger here, but now wish I had.
It struck me as I walked through the chateau interior that most of what I saw had not existed in the time of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II. Now I understand that almost a century had rolled by between 1152 when Henry became Count of Anjou and resided in the old palace and 1230 when Blanche of Castile, mother of the future Louis IX (The Saint) built the fortress around the original chateau, compete with 140-foot tall towers. Another 100 years later, Count Louis of Anjou commissioned the Apocalypse Tapestry. 50 years after that, the chapel and royal apartments were added. 150 years after that, Catherine de Medici restored the fortress, then her son Henry III reduced the height of the towers and added artillery. You can see representations of two thousand years of human endeavor on this site, if you look closely enough. This is a monument to a fluid history, which is still in flux as restoration to the royal apartments continues and new exhibits are added.
I was now starving, Luckily, the chateau has its own cafe! Boy the French know how to do visitor centers! It was almost empty now because it was nearly mid-afternoon. I went inside and ordered a salad and a baguette, and they brought it out to me on the lawn. It was so lovely sitting there that I didn't want to leave. But I was exhausted, and I still had yet to receive a list of eye doctors in the area in case I decided I needed one. That meant I had at least one more phone call to make. Eventually I got up and made my way back to my hotel.
Journal Excerpt: Entry 06/15/11 (cont'd): Wednesday, June 15, 2011. Ophthalmologists. See page with train schedule―they are emailing me the list.
(From bottom of train schedule page)
Ophthalmologists: Case UA8805158
Travel Guard ph # 715-346-0835
Referrals by email
When I got back to my hotel, I made a collect call to Travel Guard Insurance using the international operator. After a bit of fiddling I got through and gave them my insurance ID. They took all of my information and said they would send me an email list of Ophthalmologists within a twenty mile radius. They gave me a case number. Cool. I was now official. The system worked, although it was limping a bit. I thanked them and hung up. After dinner at the hotel restaurant, I went back to my room and busied myself with posting photos. I was determined to explore more museums on the morrow, so went to bed and crashed hard. But not before making a mental note to check my email for Travel Guard's ophthalmology referrals the next morning.