Sunday, May 14, 2017

Friday, May 12 - Le Mans is more than a road race

Le Mans was not very high on my must-see list, but Dave thought it sounded interesting so off we went today to the city famed for its 24 hour car race. Weather-wise, we expected afternoon rain, thunderstorms actually, so we headed for the old town first to do the walking tour.
Old town Le Mans
After what seemed endless driving through the streets of Le Mans (and no, not on the race track), and waiting for endless stoplights, we found parking just below the old town. We arrived in a very modern Place des Jacobins
Place des Jacobins, Le Mans
 and learned the reason for the ever slowing traffic moving into the old town area: it's market day.

We parked under the place in a large underground lot which told you how many places were available and on what level. Quite useful. On exiting the parking lot, we were surrounded on 2 sides by large buildings - a movie theatre/cultural center and a shopping center, each several stories high and very modern in architecture.

On the square in front of these building was a large market selling clothing, furniture, shoes, curtain and table linen fabrics and whatever else one might need to dress a house.
Place des Jacobins with St. Julian cathedral in the back - market day on the place - clothes, furniture, flowers, etc
Across the street on another square that opens under the enormous St Julian cathedral were the food vendors. 4 aisles of them, all busily supplying the food needs of Le Mans families.
Dale in front of the fish stall

Aisles of every sort of comestible you could want to serve

Of greatest importance for me was a bathroom - usually one finds them near large public parking areas. There was one by our structure, but its sign said "Actuellement fermé" (closed at this time). Off to the shopping plaza across the street where just off the courtyard, as you might expect, there was a very nice bathroom.

Ok, back to our quest for the day. From the Place des Jacobins, there is a great view of the choir of St. Julian with its Gothic flying buttresses and absidal chapels.
St. Julian Cathedral - Gothic choir and absidal chapels
notice the bifurcating flying buttresses
St. Julian was the first bishop of Le Mans in the 4th century. A feature of this church not found in others with flying buttresses are the "bifurcating" buttresses (can you even say that in polite company?) If you look closely at the photo above, you can see that each flying buttress splits into two flying buttresses giving the buttresses a Y shape that makes for a dense amount of stone but a graceful exterior.

Up some steps to the level of the cathedral and old town which spread out along the flat top of a large promontory.

Dale, Janis and Lynn half-way up to cathedral level
Then, WOW! This has to be the best preserved old town around. We are surrounded by 15th century buildings with half timbered fronts and slate tiled roofs.

We first explore the interior of the cathedral which has some construction going on outside
South portal of St Julian, under renovation
and when we enter by the south transept, we see that it's great organ is covered in scaffolding and workmen restoring something.
there is a 3 story organ under all this scaffolding inside the south portal/south transept
There are so many photos to share of the inside. It is massive in scale with beautiful windows, chapels, sculptures, Twenty windows date from the 12th century although all but one have been moved from their original locations. The west window over the entrance to the nave is dated 1155 and tells the story of St. Julian.
St Julian window, 1155

Center of St Julian window, 1155
 Most of the windows in the upper parts of the choir are original 13th century. The nave is 12th century and the Gothic choir was completed in 1254. The transepts were reworked in the 14th and 15th centuries to better connect the Romanesque nave to the Gothic choir.

the ambulatory of the Gothic choir

The high altar from the back of the double ambulatory, looking towards the Romanesque nave

This window of the ascension is dated to 1120. It looks modern in many ways.

The Romanesque nave looking toward the altar - it's waaaaay down there

One is immediately impressed with the height of the pillars. You can't help but look up as you make your way through the cathedral. How'd they do that? in the  1100s - amazing.
North transept

ambulatory of the nave - note the rounded arches and thick pillars for support

another view of the north transept

the high altar

Turning right, we enter the ambulatory of the choir which is as wide as the nave of some churches we've seen. Sumptuous chapels radiate off the ambulatory whose center is a highly decorated altar area. The sacristy is richly paneled in carved wood panels and still exudes a feeling of light and airiness.
looking into the sacristy

carved wood panels

Another chapel has recently restored ceiling murals depicting 47 angels playing various musical instruments, including a 14th century precursor to the piano called an échequier.
ceiling murals in Lady Chapel

Angel playing the eschecquier

Stepping outside the front of the church and down a few steps, there is a menhir built into the side wall of the cathedral. Known as the St. Julian Stone (Pierre St. Julian), this stone was moved here in 1778 from the dolmen which was destroyed. One is supposed to put his/her thumb into a particular thumb-sized hole for good luck.
Dale is some lucky guy - he has his finger in the thumb hole of the menhir

Romanesque front of the cathedral. The window is the St. Julian stained glass from 1155.

The square around the church has the episcopal buildings and is still the bishopric today.
Bishopric buildings 

engraved on the episcopal buildings: "The rights of God never die"

The old town stretches out to the south of the church. Narrow cobblestone streets (rather difficult to walk on) separate stone and half-timbered buildings.

Carving on the house above
another carving from the same house

Maison des deux amis - 2 friends holding a coat of arms

Maison des deux amis (house of the 2 friends)

Courtyard beside one of the old houses
Our Michelin Green Guide tour points out some of the buildings which are interesting for their history, or architecture, or their carving.

roses are just beginning to bloom around here

The first narrow street opens out onto a square that goes the width of the promontory. Looking down on either side one sees a street several stories below that travels under this square. 15th century buildings extend to either side.
road going under the square of the old town

Other side of the square

I stopped here on a shady bench while the others continued on to explore the rest of the old town.
You would never know there's a busy road going underneath this park

We were expecting rain, thunderstorms to be precise, and within 30 minutes the sun disappeared and rumbles of thunder warned of impending rain.
Our meeting place was the church in case of rain, so I scurried back to the churh in my fastest slow walk with the first drops of rain.

Without the sun the church is dark, gloomy and cold in its massiveness. Dark enough that knitting was impossible. But within a few minutes the others had arrived, Dave, the only one without a raincoat, was rather dampish, Of course, they had been caught by the rain at the farthest away point of the walking tour and Dave was determined to see the Gallo-Roman walls that enclosed the city even before medieval times.
cool designs in these gallo-roman walls

going through a gallo-roman arch

not sure what these are, but they're cool arches and they're old

After a few minutes, the rain subsided and we walked back to the car where we had a rather inelegant "tail gate" lunch in the depths of the parking garage. Oh well, not all lunches can be in indescribably beautiful places.

With rain scheduled to continue, the afternoon activity is the museum for the 24 hours of Le Mans. This museum houses not just automobile history related to the famous Le Mans race, but also the history of the automobile in France.

Home again in an hour and 15 minutes, for aperos and grilled pork tenderloin dinner. Another hidden gem of the western Loire valley discovered.

No comments:

Post a Comment