Angers, Angers – Neuf mois d’arret!

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I had a personal crisis come up, so I didn’t write today. So, to help myself “unblock,” I wrote a chapter on the history of Angers. I got the information on history and culture from Eurotravelling.net, and have done my best to paraphrase. Hey – it’s 1170 words – you can’t refuse that!

Ch. 8 – Angers, Angers – Neuf mois d’arret!

Before I went to Angers, I was given some historical and background information about the city that would be our home for the next nine months. Angers is the capital of Maine-et-Loire département, located in western France. It is the former capital of the province of Anjou and is situated along the Maine River, just above where it joins with the Loire River. It is northeast of Nantes and convenient to the Atlantic Coast and Brittany. It is also right in the middle of the famous Chateaux of the Loire valley.

The history pamphlets informed me that Angers had been the capital of the Andecavi – a Gallic tribe of people – who named that state of their empire Andes. Then, the town became Juliomagus under the rule of the Romans. Between the years 870 and 1204, Angers became the seat of the powerful counts of Anjou and the historic capital of the province of Anjou. During the rule of the Plantagenets many magnificent monuments were constructed. The Hôpital Saint-Jean still stands and is the most striking of these buildings. It now houses an archaeological museum.

The most memorable feature of the city of Angers is its medieval castle, which overlooks the Maine river. The court of Le Roi Réné d’Anjou, who was known as Rene the Good, resided in that castle. The history research that I did said that Roi Rene was the regent of Sicily and Jerusalem. A man of letters and a benefactor of the local community, he was fond of fetes and tournaments. These were held often at the castle. Religious wars later led to the decline of the castle and Henry III ordered it to be demolished in 1585. When Henry IV became king, he ordered that the destruction come to a halt, as it was still a useful stronghold. The enormous chateau has seen its share of war. It was fully restored as a historical monument in 1950.

Angers is also known for its famous tapestries, which tell the story of the Apocalypse. The story goes that, in 1373, Charles V (the King of France at that time), lent his brother Louis I, then the Duke of Anjou, an old manuscript. This manuscript was in French and fully illustrated and described a vision of that Apocalypse. This inspired the Duke to commission large tapestries to be made using this story of the Apocalypse. The Tapestry is 140 meters long and it is the biggest in the world. It took only seven years to weave it. Nicholas Bataille did the weaving and Hennequin de Bruges did the painting or dying. It illustrates the Apocalypse according to Saint John in six sections and 75 scenes, with alternate blue and red backgrounds.

Angers was famous for its tapestries – not only ancient tapestries, but modern tapestries as well. Jean Lurçat was born in Angers, and he designed a series of tapestries called Le Chant du Monde (Song of the World). These were vividly colored tapestries on black background, and were displayed at the Musee Jean Lurçat. I was really excited about that, because I loved bright colors.

Despite the damage of past wars – particularly World War II – Angers still had a lot of medieval architecture. The Cathedral of Saint-Maurice was built during the 12th and 13th centuries and still had its original stained glass. The Barrault House was built in the 15th century and housed the public library, an art museum, and the complete works of the sculptor Pierre-Jean-David d’Angers, who was born in the city. The Saint-Aubin Abbey was built in the 11th century – it had Roman arcades and the city prefecture was set up there. In fact, the Universite Catholique de L’Ouest, which I was going to attend, used to be the medieval Universitas Andegavensis. It had been abandoned, but was later refounded in 1876.

The cathedral of St. Maurice, a majestic structure near the Chateau, towered over a tall set of stone steps. The cathedral was built without side aisles and it exhibited the characteristic type of Angevin or Plantagenet architecture (I believe that Henri and kin were the Plantagenets). During the Middle Ages, Angers was a flourishing monastic city with six great monasteries: St. Aubin founded by King Childebert I; St. Serge by Clovis II; St. Julien, St. Nicholas and Ronceray, founded by Count Foulques Nerra, and All Saints, an admirable structure of the 12th century. It was said that, in 1219, Pope Callixtus II went in person to Angers to assist at the second consecration of the church attached to the abbey of Ronceray. The Diocese of Angers includes Fontevrault, an abbey that was founded at the end of the eleventh century by Robert d’Arbrissel. Unfortunately, the abbey did not survive the Revolution. The remains of the cloister and the old abbey church contain the tombs of the four Plantagenet kings.

I was very impressed at how “old” everything was. I was aware that most Americans experience this feeling when traveling to Europe, but I had never been very interested in history. I was much more interested in what Angers had to offer in modern amenities, I believe. I was given some tourist information on the city before I left, and the rest, I found out when I got there.

I knew that Angers was known for its wine and the famous Cointreau liqueur. It also is a business and trade centre and it has glassworks and printing plants. There are also factories that make electronic and photographic equipment, textiles, food, paper products, and tiles. On its outskirts are the largest slate quarries in France – slate and it’s exploitation was very important there. One of the characteristics of the town is its white limestone architecture with blue-black slate roofs. There is even a regional candy know as the quernons d’ardoise – a Cointreau-laced toffee square, coated in white chocolate that is colored blue. They look like little slat tiles.

There was much recommended sightseeing in the area, with the Loire valley, the abbeys of Solesmes or Fontevrard and the Château d’Angers with its renowned tapestries of the apocalypse. Nearby was the Lion d’Angers national horse breeding facility and the Cointreau distillery. At the distillery, tours were given and a museum related the history of the famous liqueur. You could go and look around and see the distillation hall with its majestic stills, and enjoy the pleasure of the free tasting.

Ahhhh! Horses and free booze – what more could you want. I had recently begun horseback riding lessons, and I fully intended to find a place to ride in France. Also, speaking of booze… We were told not to miss the Loire wine route – and could even sign up for a class on the wines of Anjou and all of France! I had heard that there were store-rooms and cellars arranged for wine-tasting, and that the wine-growers were expecting you to sample a whole range of wines… So much to do, so little wine… I meant time.

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