Travel back in time

Here’s where we left off last week, just outside the church of Saint Eulalie in Cruzy!

P1040677The guided visit inside was already underway, and when I joined the guide was explaining that the church had been built and added to over the centuries.  He explained that the difference in the stone work in the wall on the north side of the nave was due to the fact that the church roof had been raised at one time or another – the stone blocks are of a different colour and size.  Originally the church would have had no side chapels, and the roof would have been a good deal lower than it is today.  During the period called the “Wars of Religion” (1562-1598), Cruzy changed sides several times and was frequently besieged by the opposite side.  The church became a veritable fortress, either during that period or immediately before.  I haven’t seen many churches with machicolations and crenelated battlements – have you?  But that’s precisely what can be found in Cruzy.

P1040686There are machicolations on all the bays, where stones or other things could be dropped down from. The side chapels, of which you can see the windows above, were added much later, as the machicolations wouldn’t really make sense, one wouldn’t drop stones on one’s roof?  Our guide also dispelled the myth about boiling oil or water being poured from up high.  The only access to the roof was via a narrow stone staircase, and you wouldn’t want to have to carry boiling oil up that, or light a fire on the roof to heat it. So by the end of the Wars of Religion the outside of the church had been fortified as much as possible.  The inside would have had a different aspect to what it looks like today, with the nave being unbroken by the side chapels.  It would have been a very impressive space, 21 metres wide and 23 metres high (it might be higher, I didn’t write that measurement down, sorry!).

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One interesting fact about this church is that there is no wood used in its construction – absolutely everything, including the roof structure and covering is made of stone!  Either side of the apse are chapels.  The one on the right is done out with a baroque altar, full of gold leaf and carved detail.  The one on the left was re-done in the 19th century, in what the people of the time thought more in tune with the style of the church – lots of Carrara marble and some gothic ornaments, but to my mind very cold and not all that pretty.

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For the heritage weekend, some of the old vestments had been put on display.  I’m always fascinated by the embroidery.  It must have taken weeks if not months to stitch that beautiful ornament!

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One of the side chapels on the south side of the nave is dedicated to St Roch, the saint who is supposed to protect against the plague.  He always shows a bit of leg and is always accompanied by a dog!

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The chapel on the north side has a nice font made of marble from the quarries in Caunes Minervois.  The high altar is made with three types of marble: red from Caunes Minervois, white from Carrara, and grey/blue from Saint Pons (sorry, no picture of that altar, but if you look closely at the one of the apse further up you might just be able to make out the different colours?).

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Our guide next showed us the old sacristy, a room on the north side of the apse, which is no longer in use.  The lock on the door into the old sacristy was made of wood!  The escutcheon plate on the outside belonged to an older lock, which no longer existed.

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Here are a few more little details of the interior:

Our guide next took us round the outside of the church, to explain a few interesting details.  The west wall, closing off the nave, is not really attached to the church, and there are stones sticking out of the nave walls, as if the builders had intended to continue the building.

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The tower on the north side is almost entirely solid up to where the roof of the church starts.  Until to that point the only space inside is for the spiral staircase.  There are a few arrow-slits on the way up for light and defense but that’s it.  Farther up you have space where the bells live, and where the church clock ticks away.

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The main door into the church had probably been at the west end of the church originally, but was moved at a later date.  The door is ancient and the stonework around it very delicate.

The church of Saint Eulalie also holds a few mysteries!  There are two rooms on top of the old sacristy, which are not accessible from anywhere!  They were only discovered during repairs to the roof.  What were they used for and how?  And there is small tower, octagonal at the base and round on top, which appears buried in the masonry – what purpose did that serve?  In time (and given some money to carry out work) the local historians may get to the bottom of those mysteries…

A short walk brought our group to the entrance to the museum, and that’s where the next part of our guided visit started.  To give you an idea of the village, below is an aerial view of modern-day Cruzy (found at http://www.mappy.com).  I’ve drawn a (wobbly) line around the ancient core of the village, which would have been fortified by a thick and sturdy wall.

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First our guide showed us an ancient mediaeval part of the village.  Through a low archway, down a slope, we ended up in a blind alleyway.  This would have been the only access to several houses built against the defensive ramparts, which had no windows on, or access from (of course) the outside wall.  The tiny walled up window would have been one of the original windows. These houses would have been very dark indeed!  Have a look at the map above, you’ll find several of those alleyways still in existence!

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We then walked across Place Roger Salengro, past some beautiful mullioned windows…

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…and down Rue de la Place, past what was once the house of a noble family, dating from the 16th and 17th century.  Unfortunately, you can tell that it has seen better days!

Once we reached the Allee du Portanel, our guide showed us where the ramparts had been re-used.  Openings had been cut into thick stone walls, and on the side of the building you can still see the thickness of the defensive wall!

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Next to that building is what remains of a communal staircase, which would have served several buildings.   Unfortunately a big van was parked in front of it, so I could only get a shot of the window.

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The next picture shows an interesting building.  In olden days ownership of houses was not quite as clear-cut as today, so people might own a room in next door’s building.  The facade gives you a good idea of the complicated ownership on this building!

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We continued our walk, with lots of more interesting snippets of information along the way.  The buildings on the side of the road opposite to the ramparts are mostly 18th century, built when the village started to grow outside the ramparts.  I loved the decorations on this particular facade.  And the swallow’s nest is supposed to bring good luck!

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Back towards the church and past another beautiful Renaissance facade.

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And just two last little pictures, before we finish for today.  I’m sure that gargoyle is smiling at us!!

No stone unturned

Last weekend, the whole of Europe was once again on the heritage trail, celebrating history by opening museums free of charge and putting on special events.  I decided to visit Cruzy and go on a long overdue visit of the museum there.  Amongst people who hunt for dinosaur bones, Cruzy is well-known for its twice annual excavations on sites around the village, at Easter and in July.  The museum exhibits the finds from those digs, which started in 1996, as well as a number of other items:  four of the banners carried during a mass protest in Montpellier during the wine grower’s revolt in 1907; part of the contents of a well (we’ll get to that in a moment); the finds from archaeological excavations of Neolithic sites in the village; and a collection of minerals and stones.

P1040708The museum is in the former village hall, and very spacious.  Opening times are Tuesday to Sunday from 2 to 6pm.

First of all the well: this was accidentally discovered in 1975 in the square outside the church, when a car more or less disappeared into a hole – well not quite, but you get the picture!  Initial explorations showed that the well was almost entirely full up with debris, including the stones from the well head.

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The archaeologists emptied the well to a depth of 11.2 m and found over a ton and a half of pottery, along with animal bones, glass, and metal objects.  It appears that the well had been filled in between the middle of the 17th century and the beginning of the 18th century.  And most of the contents were pots, everyday pottery of all sizes and shapes.  Between the 16th and 18th century there were 36 potters in Cruzy, and it seems that they threw their seconds or unsold stuff into the well – interesting for us, as some of those pots are very beautiful.

There are still boxes and boxes of broken pots in storage, just waiting for someone to piece them together – a bit like a jigsaw puzzle!

Of the Neolithic finds, a flint blade caught my eye, although I’m not sure that my camera caught it that well.  There was also a beautifully carved stone fragment.

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The banners from the 1907 wine grower’s revolt were originally painted for a group from Limoux for the demonstration in Montpellier and there is a photograph to show that.

The banners were later altered, and ended up in someone’s attic in Cruzy, where they were eventually discovered.  Restored and in sealed glass cases they are now on permanent display at the museum.  I’m not going to write about the wine grower’s revolt, but you can find a lot of information about it on Wikipedia.  The banners are interesting pieces of history, showing the despair of the people at the time.  At the demonstration in Montpellier on June 9, 1907 there were an estimated 600,000 to 800,000 demonstrators – consider the modes of transport at the time and you’ll realise just how important the issue was for the population of Languedoc.

Of course there are also lots of old bones and fossils, and here’s a little selection for you, including some dinosaur eggs:

As we were more or less finished with the museum, one of the guides told us that his colleague would take us to their laboratoire, where they store and prepare the finds.  How exciting, I thought!  The laboratoire is located in an old winery, which had been bought by the village, and the museum has been given a much-needed large space there, with purpose-built shelving to store all the finds.  Part of the space has been turned into a high-tech workshop, where the fossils are prepared.

Our guide explained that fossils are usually stabilised with a plaster cast before being extracted from the earth, to avoid them breaking up in the process.  Any remaining earth/stone is then painstakingly removed, using all manner of utensils including drill bits much like a dentist would use!

As if all that had not been enough for one afternoon, I then headed back to the church of Saint Eulalie, where a guided visit was underway.  And no sooner had that visit ended than our guide started the next guided visit of the old village.  But I think I’ll just leave you with this teaser and keep that story for next week :-)!

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The Moliere connection

A recent lunch date took me to Pezenas, and since I got there way too early I went for a walk, and took pictures :-).  Finding things to photograph in Pezenas is not difficult, but I did kind of restrict my output by using a telephoto lens on my camera, which meant that I was going to have to concentrate on details.  And details abound in Pezenas.  Take the balcony railings: it is as though someone had gone through an ironmonger’s catalogue and ordered one of each.  The variety is simply amazing!

The pictures above are only a fraction of what there is.  And then there is the stonework – exquisite and in most cases beautifully restored!

Pezenas came to prominence in the Middle Ages, when the town hosted the important Languedoc fairs, which attracted buyers and vendors from all over the Mediterranean basin.  Later the town hosted the assembly of the Languedoc states, a gathering of noblemen and bishops, for the purpose of setting taxes.

Many of the buildings in the ancient centre of the town have been renovated and some of their magnificent courtyards are open to the public.

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Quirky details are there to be discovered:

Pezenas is famous for its doors,

and also for little pies called Petits Pates de Pezenas, a (to my mind) strange confection containing meat and dried fruit, savoury and sweet at the same time.  According to one legend the recipe has an English connection…

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The church has some beautiful stained glass, and an impressive pipe organ case.

PICT3453 PICT3455And the streets are busy – with things to see, with people and with charm.

Finally I got to the restaurant – Hana Sushi is run by Yumi Matsui and serves traditional Japanese food.  The small room downstairs is decorated with traditional origami, Japanese textiles and lanterns, and upstairs you can dine sitting on the floor on tatami (rice straw) mats.  There is also a terrace on the first floor, and that’s where we ate.

To start with there was edamame (green soy beans), two types of Gyoza (dumplings) and a salad made from algue/seaweed.

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IMG_8230To follow we had a selection of dishes:  Ebi Bento, which was with tempura prawns, Sushi Bento, a bowl of sushi rice with an assortment of raw fish and vegetables, and California Sushi (tuna, prawns, salmon and avocado).

It was all delicious and the food was very fresh – of course all important with raw fish!  I can’t tell you how hungry I feel writing this – I feel another trip to Pezenas coming on very soon!!

Oh, and the Moliere connection in the title??  During the mid 17th century, Moliere came to Pezenas several times with his group of actors, to perform his plays and to entertain the nobles of the Languedoc states.  It is said that many of the personages of the time found their way into Moliere’s plays.  There’s a lot more to the Moliere/Pezenas story, but that will be for another post :-)!

Out with the old…

I’m back on one of my evergreen topics:  wine.  For me that never loses its fascination.  At the moment, every wine grower is starting to get ready for the harvest, preparing their tanks, checking their presses, secateurs and all the other paraphernalia required for bringing in the grapes.  In fact, at this time of year the harvest has usually already started, but this year everything is running behind because of the cooler spring we had.

My friends at Domaine La Madura always have a bottling session or two before the harvest starts, to free up valuable tank space.  Because of the location of their cellar on Avenue Raoul Bayou, they cannot have the mobile bottling plant pull up right outside the door.  So the Mise en bouteille takes place on the river bank opposite to where their cellar is located.  Getting the wine across the river is a bit of an adventure:  Cyril, who owns Domaine La Madura with his wife Nadia, dons his biggest Wellington boots, and marches through the river with two hose pipes.  The larger one for the wine 🙂 and a regular one for drinking water.  Once they are connected to the bottling plant the fun can start – or almost!

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The palettes of empty bottles were delivered the night before, and the capsules, labels, boxes and corks are all ready to go.

As you can see, the mobile bottling plant is in a huge lorry trailer, with all the machinery fitted in ingeniously.  Before the bottling begins in earnest numerous adjustments have to be made, to ensure that every bottle turns out just perfectly filled, corked, capsuled and labelled.  The engineer in charge has a fair amount on his hands!

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But once everything is regulated and calibrated the machines are put to work.  First a pump draws the wine from the cellar across the river and into the plant’s tanks, where it is filtered and dosed with a small quantity of sulfites.  Without sulfites the wine could “turn” very quickly, either during the bottling process or soon after opening, giving it a sour, vinegary taste.

Meanwhile, a palette of empty bottles has been loaded onto the platform on one side of the lorry.  The platform can be raised, as successive layers of bottles are taken off and fed into the machine.  Before you start wondering, no they are not grabbed one by one.  There’s yet another ingenious tool, which grabs a whole row of bottles. The operator then swings it across and deposits the bottles into the machine, where they start their journey.

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IMG_8270And what a journey it is!  First the bottles get washed and dried.

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Then they get filled with wine, exactly 750ml in each bottle!

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Next comes the cork.

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The foil capsule is dropped onto the neck of the bottle

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And tightened on.

PICT0068So now the bottles are ready for their labels.  Domaine La Madura puts two labels on their bottles, one on front, giving the name of the Domaine and wine (classic or grand vin) and the year.  The label on the back of the bottles gives information about the wine such as grape varieties used in the blend.

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In the next step the bottles are boxed up and this is done entirely by swift hands!  The cardboard boxes are delivered flat packed and have to be shaped (but not taped yet).  One layer of bottles is put in, a cardboard separator is laid on top and the next layer of bottles is put in, with the bottles facing the opposite direction to those in the bottom layer.  The nimble hands can probably fill a box in the time it’s taken you to read this paragraph!

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IMG_8313Once the box is full, it is pushed through a contraption which tapes the box shut.

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And off it goes weeeheeeeee 🙂

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to be stacked with all the other boxes on a palette, ready for shipping or storage.

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IMG_8284So there you have it – the journey of the wine from cask to bottle.  I’m sure you will look differently at the next bottle of wine you open!  And in case any of you are wondering about 2011 printed on labels and cases – most wineries don’t bottle their wines as soon as they have finished fermenting, but only once they are ready for bottling.  This can mean a year or two after the grapes were harvested.  The year on the bottle always indicates the vintage, the year the grapes were harvested and turned into wine.

And just for fun, here are some “arty” shots.

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