From clink to dock

This week, I am continuing my series of articles about my visit to Beziers during the recent European heritage days.  After visiting the old prison and the cellars below the cloisters, I did not have far to go to my next port of call: the former archbishop’s palace, formerly the Palais de Justice, the court house, and now in a state of limbo.

As it was still drizzling with rain, I did not take any pictures of the outside – I did not have a rain cover for my camera. 😦 .  Instead, I’ve been looking at google, and have found some very interesting shots via the street-view and aerial view of google maps.

First, an aerial view of the area around the cathedral.  The old prison is to the left and the archbishop’s palace to the right of the cathedral. The little blue Palais de Justice marker indicates the main building and just below it are the gardens, arranged on two terraces and indicated by a green marker.

Construction of the present building started in the 13th century after the cathedral and palace were destroyed.  The palace was rebuilt again in the 17th century in the French manner: a main building flanked by two identical wings around a courtyard.  The picture below shows the entrance to the courtyard, which dates from the 18th century:

The archbishop’s palace became property of the state during the French Revolution.  I’ve not been able to find out what happened to the building from then until 1945, when it became a courthouse.  Here is an aerial view of the courtyard:

And this is what the building looks like from the opposite side:

Inside, the building has undergone many transformations over the centuries.  To enter the former palace/courthouse, I climbed a large stone staircase in the courtyard.  From a little hallway I went into a large room which took up the whole centre of the building.  The walls were decorated with beautiful plasterwork.  The ceiling was a la francaise, with large beams topped at a right angle with smaller beams that were placed closely together.

From this room, a door gave access to the courtroom.  The benches and desks were all still in place, and some people took selfies sitting in the judge’s chair!

Behind the courtroom was a room for the judges to retire to for their deliberations. Two of the walls were lined with very tall bookcases – now empty.  The ladder was still in place though and the parquet floor was beautiful.

In one corner of the room, a little door gave access to a tiny room, more of a short corridor really.  The building which that room was in protruded from the back of the main building, and from the window I managed to get a nice picture of the garden on the terrace below.

The door at the end of this ‘corridor’ room led to an even tinier room, with a window overlooking the river.  If you look closely at the aerial shot earlier in this article, you’ll be able to identify that window!

From the deliberating room, a door next to one of the bookcases led into a dark, bookcase lined passage, and from the passage I entered the courtroom once more.  The bookcase was still full of books!!   Perhaps they were no longer needed when the court transferred to the new courthouse?

This is all I was allowed to see of the former archbishop’s palace.  The building belongs to the town of Beziers, and plans are afoot to transform it into a museum, where all the collections will be on show together.  Currently, the collections are displayed at several different museums in the town.  When the new museum is finished, there will be approx. 3000 square metres of exhibition space – still not enough to display everything, apparently!

After that visit I was ready for a spot of lunch!!  To be continued…

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Underground treasures

Here is the continuation of the story of my visit to Beziers during this year’s European heritage days.  After visiting to the former prison (see article here), I went to the cathedral, which was right next door.  Behind the cathedral is the cloister, which was part of the archbishop’s palace complex, and there was the promise of a guided visit to show what lay beneath the cloister.

I was intrigued from the moment I had read the programme of the day’s events, and this visit was high on my list of priorities!  The weather was not great and it had started to rain when I entered the cathedral, so I was very glad that I could wait under cover for the start of the guided visit.  It also gave me a chance to have a good look around and to take some photographs!! 🙂

The evacuation plan of the cloister showed that it was not perfectly square as I had imagined it to be!

The cloister dates from the 14th century and was never completed – a first floor should have been built on top of the arcades.

The gothic vaulting has many sculpted decorations – some have survived remarkably well!

At some time in the past, the cloister served to exhibit a collection of stone fragments from antiquity.  Here’s what looked like at that time:

There’s something very romantic to black and white photographs, don’t you think?

The most beautiful pieces have since been transferred to the Musee Bitterois.  This is what it looks like today:

When the appointed time came for our visit, the guide took our group through a small door and down some stair.  I’d walked down those stairs before – they lead to the gardens on the terrace below the archbishop’s palace!

We skipped going to the archbishop’s garden, and instead walked down some more stairs, and then through a heavy wooden door.  Behind that door was a gallery of the same size as the cloister above, but with a barrel vaulted ceiling!!  This was the ‘cellar’ of the south gallery of the cloister.

The archaeology department of Beziers town discovered the underground galleries by chance in the 1950s.  They had been completely filled up with rubble and dirt, probably during the 19th century and perhaps before.

During the 1970s, the south gallery was entirely excavated, and work started on the west gallery.  The idea was that all four galleries would be excavated, and that the space would be turned into a lapidary museum, housing the stone collection that was on display in the cloister, as well as the stones which were found in the rubble during the excavations.

The west gallery was only partly excavated – work stopped in 1978 and was never resumed!

Our guide was an archaeologist who works for the town of Beziers.  The archaeology department is of course understaffed and underfunded – no surprises there! The available resources are fully occupied with doing preventative archaeology on the many building sites in the town!

Part of the western gallery was once a refectory for the monastery which was attached to the cathedral.  I’m not sure if it was part of the building which preceeded to the current cathedral – that was burnt down in 1209 during the cathar crusades!  If I understood correctly, the wall against which the ladder was leaning was the outside wall of the refectory.

Two diagrams showed the lay of the land:

The wooden ceiling in the western gallery was installed in preparation for the museum space.  The tubes for the wiring of the ceiling lights are all in place too!!

The stonework from the various building periods is remarkably well preserved.

So there you have it!  When you next visit the cloister in Beziers, you’ll know what lies beneath your feet!!

After that fascinating visit, I continued on my way to explore other interesting sites in Beziers!  I’ll write more soon about my discoveries!

In the clink!

Last Saturday I went to prison!  Yes, you read that right – I went to prison, in Beziers!!

If you’re starting to get concerned, remember that in my last post I mentioned that I was planning to explore some of Beziers’s lesser known places during the European heritage days! 🙂

The weather was grim.  Heavy rain had been forecast for the weekend, but I decided to go out anyhow!  Dressed in a showerproof jacket, and umbrella in hand I explored.  What I was able to visit was amazing and exceeded all my expectations!!  I managed to pack in a lot, so this is the first of a series of blog posts on the places I visited during my day in Beziers.

And yes, I went to prison in Beziers – the old prison, which is next to the cathedral, and which was closed down ten years ago!!

As you approach Beziers from across the river, the old prison is very visible as it sits at the top of the hill, with the cathedral next door.  But because it’s built with the same kind of stone as the cathedral, and because it has a crenelated tower on one side, it looks from afar as though all the buildings belong together.  Not altogether far-fetched – on the site of the prison were buildings which at one point belonged to the archbishopric of Beziers, housing clerics until the French Revolution.  These buildings were demolished to make way for the prison!

Building work started in 1850 and lasted until 1857.  The building site was on the side of a very steep hill, so it could not have been easy to build.  Only in 1867 did the prisoners and staff move in.  The prison closed down in 2009, when a new facility opened on the outskirts of Beziers.  Here is an aerial shot from google maps which shows the T-shaped building of the old prison, with another building just north of it.

A curtain wall encloses the yard in front of the prison – to the right of the entrance, visitors would have been waiting on visiting days; the yard on the left had a large gate which allowed vehicle access to the outside world.  It was also where the guillotine was located!  The last execution took place in Beziers in 1949!!

The door we entered through had a kind of cat-flap in it!  Might cats have been allowed in without a pass, as long as they helped keep the rodent population in check??

Just Inside the building was the reception area, where prisoners would be “processed” before being taken to their cells.  It was rather cramped for our group of 20, so taking pictures was not possible.  The room in the picture below was for prison visits.  One wall had been decorated to make the families of the prisoners feel more at ease.  I wonder how that would have worked, since they would have been sitting with their backs to that wall.

This is where people would have been able to talk but not touch!  Comfort was not of prime consideration!!

Through another set of doors and we were in the prison proper.  Three floors of cells were arranged around a central light well.

In case you are wondering, the netting is there to stop people from jumping down!

Each cell had a vaulted ceiling and measured about 10 – 12 square metres.  There were 56 cells, each housing two to three (and at times even four) prisoners.  Nothing has been done to the prison since the last prisoners left in 2009 – what you see in the pictures is what it was like when the inmates would have last been there!

The cells had toilets and wash basins, some of them also had showers, but all of them had minimum privacy!  The prisoners would have been in their cells most of the day, but there were some physical activities:  on the lowest level of the prison there were four wedge-shaped yards, each with high walls and covered with steel netting – there was no escaping.  Can you magine the boredom of walking around the edge of this yard day after day??

There was also a gym:

and a library:

Some of the prisoners were allowed to work in the kitchen – the kitchen knives were counted after each session!!

Those who mis-behaved could be locked up in very small spaces!

Wooden stairs connected the three levels.  I was very glad when we made our way back up!
As we left the prison we walked along a corridor in the building in front of the prison proper – the view from a window along the corridor showed the drop outside the windows of the cells!

Of course, there was some barbed wire too!!

We left via the garage and the gate by which the prisoner transport vans would have passed.  I was very glad to be outside again!!

This was probably the last time that the prison will be open to the public in its current state.  The building has been sold and planning is underway for it to be turned into a luxury hotel!  Pass the champagne, darling! 🙂

Watch out for next week’s post, which will continue my story of my visit to Beziers!

And lastly, if you are still wondering about the title of this post, “clink” is a colloquial term, referring to a jail or prison.  It comes from the Clink prison in London – Wikipedia has all the information here.

It’s time!

This post is long overdue!!  I had wanted to start writing again at the end of August, but with one thing and another it didn’t happen quite as planned.  🙂

It’s been a long and busy summer, and with the weather still balmy it feels as though summer is not over yet!  All kinds of things have happened in Saint-Chinian since I wrote my last blog post: night markets, flea markets, concerts, open air cinema, the music festival, guided visits and …

The garden has also kept me busy — the warm summer weather meant that things did grow very well indeed! But in order for the plants to grow that well, the garden needed to be watered – very regularly!  It was all worth it though – the produce was wonderful: tomatoes, courgettes, aubergines, beans, cucumbers, melons, onions, okra, raspberries, strawberries, chilli peppers, potatoes and pears!!  I’m sure there’s stuff I’ve forgotten to list! Apples, kiwis and winter squash are yet to be picked.  Part of that bountiful harvest was canned and put in my store cupboard for the winter months, but most of it was eaten right away or given to friends and neighbours.  The orangeglow watermelon in the picture below weighed a whopping 7.2 kg!!  I felt immensely proud for having grown that from seed! 🙂

The orangeglow melon formed the base for the salad in the picture below: watermelon, tomato, red onion and feta – apart from the feta cheese, all the ingredients came from my garden!

Another favourite dish this summer was a salad made with thinly sliced raw courgettes, dressed with olive oil and lemon juice and sprinkled with freshly grated parmesan.  The recipe came from the telegraph website – give it a try if you can find small courgettes!

A friend introduced me to the Glory Bowl salad from Whitewater Cooks – it’s a layered salad that starts with cooked rice, topped with grated carrot, grated beetroot, fresh spinach, fried tofu cubes and toasted almonds.  The dressing that goes with this salad is fantastic!  I’ve made it a good many times since, with some variations in the ingredients:

Another favourite this summer was Thomasina Miers’ Roast Aubergine Salad with chickpeas, tomatoes and summer herbs.  Roasting the aubergines with pomegranate molasses turns them into a delicious vegetable in their own right!

Combined with the other ingredients, the aubergines make a most wonderful salad – unlike any I’ve eaten before!  My dressing looked a little grey as I used black sesame paste, but it was delicious all the same!

The fig harvest was not as abundant as last year, but there were still enough to make a delicious compote of figs with lemon and ginger!

The pear trees were heavily laden this year – a lot of them are slowly ripening in my fridge, the remainder are still on the trees!  There’s nothing nicer than a perfectly ripe and juicy pear!!

Late summer plums made an appearance in one of the farm shops I went to recently – they were perfect for a plum tart!!

I leave it at that for now – just one more thing:  If you are in France (or in Europe for that matter), don’t forget that this weekend is European Heritage Weekend – there will be many places to visit!!  I’ll be exploring some of Beziers’ lesser known places and will report back soon!!

Saint Aphrodise revisited

Two weeks ago, I hinted that I would write about my recent visit to the church of Saint Aphrodise in Beziers.  Back in 2013 I was lucky enough to be able to visit that church.  Work to save the building from falling down was scheduled to start shortly after my visit, and it was going to be closed to the public for some time.  You can read about my previous visit of the church in this article.

For the 2017 European Heritage days, the Friends of Saint Aphrodise were once more offering guided visits of the building.  This was the first time since the renovation work had started in 2013!  Work was completed earlier this year, and much was changed during the intervening years!

The facade of the nave has been restored and the little square in front of it has been made more accessible.  However, both of the doors were locked when I visited.

The gates on Rue du Puits de la Courte, by which I had previously entered the church, were also firmly locked!  I kept on walking and finally got to Place Saint Aphrodise, where I had tried in vain to enter the church so many times before my very first visit.  This time the gate was open – third time lucky!!

The gate allows access into a corridor which passes through a house, and the alleyway on the other side of the house leads to a door into the nave of the church.  The nave was the part of the church which was in danger of collapsing, and which has now been consolidated and reinforced.

According to our guide, the nave of the original building would have only had one central aisle.  The chapels, i.e. the parts outside the main aisle, were added later,  Trouble started when stone vaulting was added in the 18th century.  The weight of the stone was just too much for the building, which had been designed to support a simple wooden roof.  In the picture above, you can see the metal rods which were inserted to tie the columns together.  A lot more of this kind of ironwork is in the attic and not visible.

The nave had been completely closed off on my last visit – even the opening to the choir had been blocked – so it was wonderful to see this space at last.  The renovation works had concentrated on making the structure of the nave safe, without carrying out any renovations on the interior – there’s plenty left to be done!  If you look carefully at the picture above, you’ll see barriers closing the choir off – that is now out of bounds.  However, our guide led us in there for a good look.  🙂

The baldachin over the high altar is 18th century, the paintings on the walls are 19th century, as are the stained glass windows.  Wealthy donors sponsored the windows, and in return their names were added to the windows!

Antonin Injalbert, whose summer residence I wrote about last week, was commissioned to create a statue of Christ on the cross for the high altar.  When the sculpture was delivered, it was deemed far too modern by the parishioners, so it was hidden away in a corner of the church.  After the first world war, the parish wanted to create a memorial for the parishioners who had been killed in the war, and Injalbert’s statue was used as the centrepiece for the memorial.

The two reliquary busts seemed to be in the same spot where I had seen them four years previous!

I had my telephoto lens with me on the day of my visit, so I decided to try to capture the little putti, which seemed to be proliferating about the church:

Some of the carvings in the nave are very detailed – I can’t tell if they are stone or plaster.  I imagine that they are mostly 18th century.

Some of the altars in the nave are very baroque:

The organ looks impressive.  When the renovation work was finished,  someone decided to see if the organ was still working.  It was given a good clean (several days’ work with vacuum cleaners, removing decades of dust), and then someone flicked the switch.  Almost miraculously, the organ came to life and could be played!!  It still needs a thorough overhaul and tuning, but it is in relatively good shape.  There are plans for organ concerts next year!

Here are two close-up shots of the statues on the pillars of the organ loft:

The association Les Amis de Saint Aphrodise is very active in Beziers.  The members have been involved in organising some of the guided visits I have written about, such as Time with the Swiss and Heritage of Rememberance.

I’ll finish this post with a picture of the collection box.  The postcards were 30 cents in today’s money (bear in mind that the church was abandoned a long time ago!).  The sign reads:  “God says you must earn your bread by the sweat of your brow. Not by robbing the collection box”!  The exclamation mark is mine! 🙂

 

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The sculptor’s garden

During this year’s European heritage weekend I went to visit a selection of different places – some I’d been to before, and others that I had never visited.  The garden of the Villa Antonine in Beziers was one of the latter.

I parked in the car park near the church of the Immaculate Conception (that’ll be in another blog post 🙂 ), and walked along Boulevard de Geneve to where it meets Rue Jean Valette.  Villa Antonine occupies the corner plot between these two streets.

The walk was lovely – there were so many interesting houses to be seen along the way!

Villa Antonine was built by the father of the sculptor Jean-Antoine Injalbert in 1884 as a summer residence.  At that time, it would have stood on its own, a little away from the city.  Today, the surrounding area is very much built up.  When you enter the garden, you leave all the hustle and bustle behind you, it is (normally) an oasis of calm.  Not surprisingly, on the day of my visit it was busier than usual.

Jean-Antoine Injalbert enlarged the property he inherited from his father, adding a couple of artists’ studios and installing some of his sculptures in the gardens.  The studios were open to visitors on the day I visited, with exhibitions by Christine Granier (sculptures), Loux (paintings), both of whose works can be seen in the photo below, and works by Geff Strik.

Many wonderful little details can be discovered on the buildings – most of them are Injalbert’s work!

There are two very different gardens – one which is entered from Boulevard de Geneve and which leads up to the original villa.  The layout of this garden is more formal, with flower beds edged with box-tree hedges, gravel paths, and lawns.

Against one wall is a pergola, where a wisteria shades a Neptune fountain, which is sadly not working any longer.

The other garden is behind a second building, which is at a right angle to the original villa.  This building has a slate-roofed tower by its side and a beautiful double staircase!

This garden is shaded by the fully grown trees – in Injalbert’s time it would have looked very different, with all the trees much smaller!

For the heritage weekend, two concerts had been organised in partnership with the Beziers academy of music.   I could hear the musicians rehearsing in the background while I was strolling through the garden, the music mixing with the sound of the splashing fountain.  It was too good a moment not to be captured:

The musicians were Fabio Galluci (mandolin) and Sabine Liguori-Delmas (piano).

Of course I stayed for the concert!  Before the concert started, I had time to take some more pictures.  Here’s another fountain with a very funny sculpture:

And this is a close-up of the Neptune fountain:

One of the beauties who hold up the pergola:

A lot of the sculptures in the garden were “sketches” – preparations for the final sculptures.  Injalbert’s works can be found all over the region, as well as in Paris and farther afield.  He was fairly famous in his own time, but his lasting fame has been completely overshadowed by Rodin.

Today, Villa Antonine belongs to the town of Beziers, and it is currently used by a charitable association called Les Ecluses de l’Art, whose aim is to promote contemporary art by making it accessible to a wider audience. Its purpose is to set up artistic events in order to support the creators of today and the creation of new works.  Workshops, artists-in-residence and courses all help towards that goal.

The gardens of Villa Antonine are open to the public every day – do take a stroll around the gardens and don’t forget to let me know your impressions!

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