Sunday, May 3, 2015

Friday, May 1, 2015 - Fénelon & Les Eyzies Musée de la Préhistoire

Today is a national holiday, making for a long weekend for the French. It's "Fête de Travail" French Labor Day, a celebration of workers' rights. We've been told it's the day when all those "pins" (decorated pine trees) are put up in work places to honor the owners and at mairies (city halls) to honor the elected officials. We'll see next time we're out if there are new pine trees.

This was the Google France logo this morning
Of course that means that almost NOTHING is open by way of commerce - no grocery store, no gas station, no business. The exception is certain tourist attractions and lots of restaurants. It's important to check before heading off to make sure that the place is open. We put croissants in the freezer yesterday and made sure we had food for dinner.

Since today is rainy at times, we pick Fénelon and the Museum of PreHistory in Les Eyzies. Fénelon offers both inside and outside viewing and the PreHistory museum is of course all inside.

Fénelon is about a half hour from here along the Dordogne. It's a pretty drive even if drizzly.  The castle is privately owned, but has parts open to the public. The most famous Fénelon was François de Salignac de la Motte Fénelon, archbishop of Cambrai. More commonly known simply as the writer Fénelon, he was a tutor at the court of Louis XIV. His writings questioned absolute monarchy and defended human rights. This cost him his post at the court and confined him to his archbishopric from which he continued to write urging a responsibility to humankind over nation building.

Fénelon presents a good look at a medieval fortified castle with three sets of protective walls. Raincoats are needed, but we can't resist taking an hour to explore the outer ramparts and views of the castle. It's well sign-posted and we've been given a brochure in English that essentially translates each of the French signs.

Lookout tower on the second wall that overlooked the main gate
view looking out from inside the lookout tower.
Anyone entering would be exposed and easily overcome.

Inside the castle grounds

Are we having fun now? 

Yes we are!  Dave and Lynn in the doorway of the chapel

Inside the castle, there are rooms set up to give a sense of the way people lived in the 17th century when the medieval keep had been turned into comfortable living quarters. Photos aren't allowed in the interior rooms, but you can see photos and information here.

We stop home for lunch before heading for Les Eyzies. It's here that we realize that the French are out in force to celebrate the long holiday weekend. There are cars and people everywhere since this town presents a good rainy day alternative to other touring.

Les Eyzies nestles under the overhang of a huge cliff in a part of the Vézere river valley known as the Valley of Man.
Les Eyzies

Houses built right under the cliff
It is here that one finds a huge concentration of prehistoric caves and dwellings, their related artwork and remnants of their lives.

An old guy

The museum is in a new building and well-laid out. For me, the most interesting are the videos along the side of the first floor gallery that show how tools were made and used. There are endless glass cases of various flints used as tools which is overkill for me. But there are also wonderfully information cards in English for each case explaining what we're seeing and why it was important and how it fit into that period of early man's life.  I may not have looked at many of the examples in the cases, but I read all the cards and learned a lot. For a more photos and an archeological perspective, check out this website.

The second floor has examples of burials and some artwork, but we're near the time when the museum is closing, so we have to skip lots to find the highlights.
Prehistoric frieze carving of horses

We close the museum at 5:30 with docents chasing us out and asking us to clear the gallery so they can lock up.

It may have rained today, but we found some really cools stuff to see anyway!

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