Wednesday, July 04, 2012

A lush in Loches

It's hot hot hot here! As per usual, rain and storms forecast for the rest of the week though, so enjoy it while we can!

Didn't get up to much on the weekend after going out on Weds and Thurs, most notably headed out to a pub on Sunday with Aussie Philippa to watch the final of Euro 2012. I didn't really have a preference between Spain and Italy, so I decided to pick a side based on who had the best-looking players. Neither impressed me too much, but Spain won by a nose and the fact that I knew they had Fernando Torres in reserve.

A girly blond man? Of course I like him! Philippa also evidently approved given that when he came on she woohoo'd loud enough over the general pub noise for people to turn round and stare at us, ha ha!

Spain, of course, was a good pick since they trounced Italy 4-0. Despite coming from football-loving stock, I don't follow it that closely, but it is good fun when there's a major tournament on, especially if you can go watch it in a pub and soak up the atmosphere (almost everyone seemed to be going for Spain, so there was much excitement, plus a near-riot when the TV crapped out temporarily just as they scored their second goal. I felt very sorry for the bartenders).

Moving on to Monday, I decided to take a daytrip to Loches, to take advantage of the nice weather and to get myself out of the house, since I was expecting an email (which still hasn't arrived, grrr) and didn't want to be sitting around pressing refresh on my gmail all day long. The trip took about an hour, by "train" (it's secretly actually a bus, but you book it via the national rail company). Pro tip: you get a discount at the citadel if you show them your ticket. I don't think I've ever been in that direction (south-east of Tours) before, so it was somewhat interesting to look up from my book from time to time and watch the uber-flat fields roll by before they gave way, just before Loches, to gentle, green rolling wooded hills which reminded me a bit of the Waikato (aka The Shire to you furriners).

I had taken a cursory look at the Loches website before setting out, but didn't really know what to expect other than a chateau. Turns out that the old bit is more like a walled citadel than just a chateau. The bit you pay to see is made up of the "royal lodge", the more palacy bit (although definitely not as fancy as somewhere like Chenonceau), which dates from around the 14th century and, at the other end of the citadel, the "keep", which dates back, in the oldest parts, to around the year 1000 and was a fortress followed by a state prison (until 1926!). I know I've been in Europe for quite a long time now, but I still find it pretty exciting stepping into buildings which are a thousand years old! 

Before I went into either, I checked out the Collegiate Church of St Ours, which dates from the 11th-12th centuries. It features a lovely stone doorway decorated with various beasts and monsters and the tomb of Agnès Sorel (of whom, more later).

The doorway of St Ours, which retains vestiges of the original polychromatic painting

Details of the arch

Next to the church, I was taken by the sight of this statue in the garden of a nearby house:
My initial thought was "hmm, that reminds me of the statue of Peter the Great at the Peter and Paul Fortress, St Petersburg." Lo and behold, I went back through my blog archives and found that it is, in fact, exactly the same:

(Bad) photo credit: Me, Jan 2007.

Google wasn't very forthcoming on this, perhaps because I couldn't be bothered googling each of the numerous variant spellings of his name, but I gather that it's the house of the artist himself, Mikhail Shemyakin. Cool!

I then headed into the Royal Lodge.

Moi, royal lodge

Doggies look out over Loches from the stairway of the lodge

The Agnès Sorel tower, the oldest part of the loge (c. 1250)

 I wouldn't say that it's the most exciting chateau I've ever been in, but there are nice views of the city, another of the many Joan of Arc-related sites that dot this region (I think she came here to nag the Dauphin into fighting for his crown, although I don't quite know how that fits into the narrative, since I know she first met up with him down the road in Chinon) and an interesting narrative about Agnès Sorel, she of the tomb in the church next door.

Agnès painted as the Madonna by Jehan Fouquet, local boy.

The exhibition focused on recent medical/archaeological investigations into the death of Agnès, the first "official mistress" in France (partner, I think, of the ex-Dauphin bothered by Joan of Arc). She died at only 25 years old, or thereabouts, shortly after giving birth to a fourth daughter of the King's, who died at or shortly after birth. At the time, they basically said she died of an upset tummy, but speculation raged pretty much straight away on whether or not she was murdered. The forensic examination of her remains determined that she had a nasty-sounding but apparently common worm infestation and that she died of mercury poisoning, however the case is still open as to whether it could have been a deliberate poisoning or a side effect of medical treatment. Mercury was used both to treat parasitical infections and during childbirth, however the dose found in her hair was around 10,000 times the therapeutic dose.

The investigation also did a facial reconstruction on her remains, proving that the skull found was indeed hers (it had been knocked about a bit from pillar to post during the Revolution and so forth) and that contemporary likenesses, such as the bust at bottom left, were very accurate.

The tomb of Agnès in the church of St Ours

The last thing that I was interested to learn about Agnès was that, since the King officially recognised the daughters they had together and they were subsequently able to make good marriages, she is sometimes known as the "grandmother of Europe", as almost all the royal and imperial families of Europe are descended from her. Not bad for the mistress! I'd never heard of her before, but now I'd like to learn more. There is actually an up-to-date book on her in English which you can browse online (I plan to take a look).

After the royal lodge, I headed to the other end of the citadel to visit the Keep. As mentioned, the oldest bit, the keep itself, was constructed at the beginning of the 11th century by Foulques Nerra, the scary-sounding Angevin Count whom we last met at Langeais. This keep is much better-preserved than that of Langeais. The ceiling and inner floors are missing, but the shell is still intact and you can go all the way up to the top, a scary 36 metres up.
Looking out from the Louis XI tower, with the keep on the left

The Keep

Inside the Keep. It's scary looking down to the floor (I couldn't get it all in in one photo) with only a waist-high guiderail keeping you from falling

The advantage, of course, is the great views found from the Keep and other bits of the royal citadel: 

As mentioned, this was a dungeon/prison from the 15th century to 1926. Notable prisoners included Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan (held from 1504-1508), the Bishops of Puy and Auntun and Cardinal Balue (yeah, I've never heard of him either, but apparently he's notable). You can explore some of the cells, the torture chamber, and the underground passages from which the building stone was quarried.

The best thing about this reconstruction of a wooden and iron cage used to house prisoners for months t a time is that the information pamphlet describes it as "especially comfortable".
This may be a little hard to make out - another of the rooms was covered in large, carved graffiti, mostly of men swordfighting. You can see the guy on the right in a hat with both arms held up, and to the left, a bit harder to see, is a guy in the "en garde" position with his sword stretched out.

Lastly, after I left the royal city I went down into the town to see a free exhibit, made up of two recently-authenticated Caravaggio paintings, both of which have better-known versions held elsewhere.
The Supper at Emmaus, the most famous version of which is in the National Gallery, London. I don't particularly care for this work, but I prefer this version to the London painting, in which Christ has quite an unattractive, swollen-looking face (in my opinion).

There was also a triptych by Jehan Fouquet (him again) which I saw recently at the Tours 1500 exhibition, but I didn't have my camera. I like this a lot, very vibrant and visually arresting

And to finish this interminable post with, a cute sign I came across for a pharmacy in the city:
It was great to get out and about to see a bit more of what the Loire Valley has to offer, especially with the perfect sunny-but-not-too-hot weather. I should do it more often!


  1. Fascinating post, thank you. M x

  2. We were cheering for Spain in Paris. Judging by the number of car horns that we heard after the game, we weren't the only ones!

    Just about everything, with the exception of the kebab and pizza joints, was closed when we went to Loches in April so it was interesting to see what I missed. Thanks for embedding the link for more info about Agnes. That's a fascinating story.

    1. I wonder why everything was closed in April?

  3. We watched the match here in Val on Sunday. But to be honest, my friend and I went more for the BBQ and other food type things than for the match.

    And that looks like a pretty nice visit that you did!

    1. Yeah, I talked the whole way through with my friend, but at least there were goals!

  4. It looks like the bloke on the right is vomiting on Jesus' elbow!

    1. That's a well-known station of the cross

  5. How interesting. I love a good investigation regarding foul play surrounding a death. It sounds pretty shady if her mercury dosage was that high! I call a scandal! It's always the mistress, isn't it? I wonder if she haunts the castle....

    1. I know, I knew nothing about her before, but I love these historical mysteries

  6. I wanted to watch the Spain/Italy match just for more Xabi Alonso screen time . . . swoon!!! Beards - they get me every time.

    1. Hey, he's not too bad. Not big on beards, but at least it looks well-kept!


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