Heritage of rememberance

I recently participated in a guided visit of the Cimetiere Vieux, the old cemetery in Beziers.  I’ve always been fascinated by the cemeteries in France, they have a very different look to the cemeteries of other countries that I have visited.

The old cemetery in Beziers was established following an imperial decree of 1804, which stipulated that cemeteries must be located outside the walls of a town.  Before that, burial grounds were located next to the churches, and people would also have been buried inside the churches (in crypts or under the floor) – it probably all became a little too crowded!

The town planners of Beziers chose land north of the city walls, which formed part of the plateau on which the town was built.  The cemetery was built in two sections, the first opened in 1812, with an extension opening in 1863.  When finished, the Cimetiere Vieux covered 5 hectares – just over 12 acres.

Entrance to the Cimetiere Vieux, Beziers

Entrance to the Cimetiere Vieux, Beziers

The establishment of the cemetery coincided with a growing prosperity of the town and its citizens.  The same people who built elaborate town and country houses to display their new wealth also built elaborate tombs, often employing the same architects!    The nouveaux riches wanted to show off both in the here-and-now AND in the ever-after.  They went to great lengths to build beautiful monuments, which have been passed down the generations.

The guided visit was very interesting, although it felt a little haphazard at times.  There were nearly 100 visitors, so the crowd was split into four groups, who all started in different directions!  At the end of the visit, our guide handed out a plan of the cemetery, which showed the locations of over 130 tombs, remarkable in one way or another.

Detail of a tomb in the Cimetiere Vieux in Beziers

Shhh!  Detail from the tomb of the Guy-Lanneluc family in the Cimetiere Vieux in Beziers

There are over 3900 burial plots in the cemetery, and they were sold off as concessions en perpetuite, the burial plot being held in perpetuity.  Once a plot was bought, the owner could build the tomb to their taste and means, within certain limits.  Those who could afford to, would engage the services of fashionable architects and sculptors.

Beziers was birthplace and/or home to several well-known sculptors, whose work adorns many tombs.  Beziers’ most famous sculptor was Antonin Injalbert (1845 – 1933), whose work is exhibited at the Musee Fayet in Beziers (I’ll be writing about that museum at some point).  He was a prolific artist, and you can find a good many of his works in the cemetery:

The work of Jean Magrou (1869 – 1945), is also well represented:

Jacques Villeneuve (1865 – 1933) sculpted this reclining statue:

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The painter, sculptor and ceramicist Louis Paul (1854 – 1922) created several sepulchres.

The Cimetiere Vieux is famous for its pleureuses, its statues of weeping women:

 

Architectural styles were varied, and presumably followed the prevailing fashions of whenever they were built.

There are many more pictures I could add to this post, but I don’t want to bore you.  The best thing is for you to visit the Cimetiere Vieux and see for yourself!!  I’ll finish the post with one last picture of a statue which is my favourite out of all the ones I photographed – I think it has a wonderful style and elegance to it.  Somehow I was so taken with the statue that I failed to note who the sculptor was – that gives me a good excuse to go back to the Cimetiere Vieux, to find out!

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The Cimetiere Vieux is located on Avenue du Cimetiere Vieux, and is open daily from 8am to 6pm.  You may want to check with the tourist office in Beziers, to see if they offer any guided visits.

 

 

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Giving back

The town of Beziers holds a number of fetes and events throughout the year.  One such fete is called Les Caritats, and it takes place on May 5, Ascension day, which is a public holiday in France.  The history of Les Caritats dates back to mediaeval times.  One of the reasons behind the fete was apparently to raise money, which was then distributed among the poor.  Bread, which was blessed by the archbishop and the clergy of the town, was also distributed among the needy populace.

I went to this year’s edition of Les Caritats, to see what it was all about.  The day was sunny and warm, perfect for a fete!  A mediaeval ‘village’ had been set up on the Allees Paul Riquet, close to the municipal theatre.  The ‘camel, the totem animal of Beziers, was there too!

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When I arrived at the fete, the communal meal was already in full swing.  A lady in flowing robes was entertaining the diners with a parrot display.

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Farther down the square, a small farmyard had been set up, for the entertainment of old and young.  The animals didn’t seem to be in the slightest bothered about being on show.

The mediaeval kitchen, where children could learn to prepare dishes from the period:

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For the children, the biggest attractions were the games!  There was a great selection to choose from!

With such beautiful weather, a stroll around Beziers was a must.  I am always captivated by the wonderful facades which abound in this town!  It really must have been an amazing town to live in during its heyday in the 19th century!

If you visit Beziers, be sure to keep your eyes open for all the beauty – it can be found in unexpected places!

Cassoulet in Castelnaudary

A recent visit by friends prompted an outing to Castelnaudary, a market town between Carcassonne and Toulouse.  You might have come across the name of the town in connection with cassoulet, which is undoubtedly the region’s most famous dish.  Castelnaudary is the capital of the Lauragais region, an area which has been called the granary of the Languedoc, because of its large output of wheat, maize and other cereals.

History was made in Castelnaudary when the Canal du Midi was inaugurated here in 1681.  The town elders had the good sense to pay to have the canal come right to the town.  Pierre Paul Riquet built the Grand Bassin below the town walls, an expanse of water 7 hectares large – that’s 70,000 square metres or 17 acres!!  It is the only man-made lake of its kind on the whole Canal du Midi, and it was important for the economic development of Castelnaudary in the 17th century. Today the Grand Bassin is a pleasure port.

Before I get carried away with the history of the town, I’ll just state that we had come to Castelnaudary to eat cassoulet.  We found a space to park the car on Place de la Republique, and went straight to the tourist office, which is located in one corner of that same square.  The staff there were very friendly and helpful, supplying us with maps and brochures.  They also encouraged us to take the historical walk through the town.  I had looked up a number of restaurants before we set off for Castelnaudary, and asked for their advice as to where we could eat the best cassoulet.  Very diplomatically they confirmed that the two restaurants I had short-listed served very good cassoulet 🙂

It was still early enough, so we went on the walk to discover the town.  Our first stop was on Place de Verdun.  We couldn’t miss the market halls, which occupied centre stage on the square.

To one side of the market halls was a tall building, with an incredibly ornate facade.  The brochure explained that this used to be the Grand Bazar, an offshoot of one of the first large department stores in Paris, the Bazar de l’Hotel de Ville.  The Castelnaudary store was built in 1874, and whoever designed the facade certainly had fun!!

Our walk took us past many splendid buildings, witnesses of the riches which Castelnaudary had in a bygone age.  Of course there were also door knockers – wouldn’t you know that I just couldn’t resist them? 🙂

The mansion below is called the Hotel Latapie, and it is one of the most beautiful 17th century houses in town.  Today it is a listed building, and it belongs to the municipality.  The postman obligingly shifted his van so I could get a better picture of the amazing door. 🙂

More beautiful buildings followed:

We reached a spot where we had a good view towards the Grand Bassin:

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Once we had wended our way down the hill and around a few corners, we finally stood at the water’s edge:

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We walked along the water to the Pont Vieux, the old bridge, passing a charming cottage, and the remains of an old mill.  When we got to the bridge we got a good view of the Petit Bassin on the other side of the bridge.

A lot more architectural detail on the way to one of the restaurants on my list.  I hope I am not boring you, I just love all those wonderful buildings!

The restaurant, La Belle Epoque, looked nice enough, with tablecloths and napkins – almost too classy for a cassoulet restaurant.  What made us decide against it?  There were hardly any guests inside, and from the outside it looked a little too starchy.  Perhaps we were totally wrong.  I will give it a try on my next visit, and I’ll let you know what it was like, I promise!

So we headed back towards the Place de la Republique.  La Maison du Cassoulet, the other restaurant on my short-list is just to one side of it, right next door to the town hall.

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The restaurant was busy, the decor pretty modern and the seats comfortable.

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The place mats had a recipe for cassoulet printed on them – perhaps the one they use in the restaurant?  The waiter was kind of intimidating, so I didn’t bother to ask.

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We all opted for the cassoulet menu, which was simple:  cassoulet plus a light salad for main course, and a choice of desserts;  no starter!  Just after we had ordered we saw that the people at the table next door had some delicious looking French fries served to them.  We asked our waiter if we could have a portion.  What a faux pas!! There was no way he was going to let us have fries!  Did we know that there were beans in the cassoulet?  Did we not know that cassoulet certainly did not need fries as an accompaniment?  Head shaking in disbelief, eyes rolling – I told you he was kind of intimidating…  Maybe it was too early in the season, and he wasn’t yet used to tourists asking for strange things. 🙂

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However, the cassoulet more than made up for our disappointment over the fries.  The beans were beautifully flavoured and perfectly tender, without falling to pieces.  I recently read an article where the writer could taste “a bouquet of forests, meadows and succulent meats” in her very first bite of cassoulet.  The meats in my cassoulet were certainly succulent, but forests and meadows?  Seriously?

The serving was a perfect size. It contained a piece of preserved duck, two kinds of sausage, and a piece of pork, along with the beans.  We all managed to finish our portion, and have a little, although it was very little, room for dessert.  Mine was a “de-constructed” banoffee pie.  Wickedly delicious!!

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La Maison du Cassoulet does have its own website here, as well as branches in Carcassonne, Toulouse and Saint-Lary Soulan.  I Imagine that it can be busy in the summer months, so a reservation is probably a good idea.

Oh, I almost forgot – on the way out I spotted this:

If you want to have your cassoulet AND eat it (at home), you can buy the tins and a dish to cook it in!

Frozen in time

At the beginning of November last year, I visited the Fete de la Chataigne in Olargues.  Whilst walking around the village, to see what was happening where, I discovered a gem of a place:  the Taillanderie Galibert or the Galibert Forge!

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I had walked down this street many times before, and admired the ancient, timeworn doors and shop fronts, but nothing had hinted at what lay hidden behind some of these shutters.

Outside the door stood an old bicycle and a few pieces of old equipment, as well as a storyboard.  My curiosity was piqued when I saw the open doors – I couldn’t resist having a look!

To step inside is to step back in time – to a time when mobile phones and internet were totally unknown, and when colour TV was still in its infancy!  The Galibert forge closed its doors in the 1970s.  After the last blacksmith died, the workshop was shut up and left as it was – since then almost nothing has been sold or removed.  The house still belongs to one of the descendants, and it was one of the grandsons of the last blacksmith who was demonstrating the machinery and giving the visitors some insights.  Here is the video I took of the machinery in action (e-mail subscribers, please visit the blog site to view the video):

This grandson created an association last year, with the aim of bringing his grandfather’s workshop back to life.  It will be open for educational visits (school classes) and prearranged groups, and to the general public on special days, such as the Fete de la Chataigne.

Have a look at this Aladdin’s Cave of amazing stuff:

All the machinery is driven by a belt and pulley transmission – every health and safety inspector’s nightmare!  But the electric motor still works, and so do the machines – they were built to last!!

It’s a fascinating visit – well worth the trip to Olargues.  For details of opening hours please contact the Tourist office in Olargues: avenue de la gare, 34390 Olargues, Tel +33 (0)4 67 23 02 21, e-mail olargues@ot-caroux.fr