Thursday, August 02, 2012

In the royal necropolis

Wednesday morning

Well here I am in Amsterdam central station, being stared at by a tramp. It’s twenty to seven in the morning and I’ve already been up for about an hour and a half. I do have a packet of Rolos, so all is not lost. The overnight bus was fiercely uncomfortable, despite the fact that, despite assurances from the bus driver that it was sold out, it was actually half full and I didn’t have anyone sitting next to me. I suspect a lot of people also got the buyer’s remorse after foolishly committing to an overnight bus trip. I tried sort of awkwardly lying down on the two seats for most of the way, which resulted in my legs either hanging into the aisle or trying to curl up in a ball and almost falling off the seat. I didn’t get a lot of sleep. Plus we stopped for 45 minutes at 2 in the morning, somewhere in Belgium. They didn’t put that in the ad.

Anyway, I’m just hanging out writing this because I can’t go to my hostel before 8 am (and even then, I won’t be able to check in till 2 or something like that) and nothing’s open at this time. The bus arrived about half an hour early, which is usually good news except when you’re just standing around in a carpark in the suburbs of Amsterdam at 5.15 am.

That’s enough complaining for the moment. Yesterday I took the train up to Paris and headed north of the city to the Basilica St. Denis, which I’ve been wanting to visit for a while now. It has a very long history as a royal burial place, and still has a ton of tombs - the bodies, however, got dug up and stuck in mass graves at one time or another, so there's just a jumble of bones and bits left. I got in for free, thanks to my handy unemployed card, and caught up with a guided tour in French that had just started. The tour was interesting, but there was quite a big group, and sometimes I found it difficult to hear/follow her. Plus it went on for nearly 2 hours, which was just too much French, too much information, and too much standing around.

I’m not sure how much I remember of what she said. There was a lot of talk of Merovingians, Carolingians and Capetians, with a dash of Bourbon thrown in at the end. Essentially, it’s a Capetian place, with a set of 16 original tombs ordered by one of the kings who I forget for the bodies of former royals which he had brought here in order to emphasise his royalty and kinship with these kings, since the first Capetian king was actually elected and of a different line than his predecessors. This mostly set a fashion for the kings who came afterwards, with St. Denis seen as a protector of the royal family. Later on, the basilica got too full and the Bourbons stopped having elaborate tombs built, instead just stacking their coffins up in the basement. Perhaps that’s why they didn’t last.

I came out of the basilica to warm, bright sunshine, and headed back in to the city to meet up with Mary Kay of Out and About in Paris, and Ann, the Australian I met last time I was in Paris. We went for a drink and two hours flew by as we chatted about this and that. Finally, we were all thinking of heading off when someone suggested we drop by L’As du Falafel, a legendary falafel joint that is meant to be the best in Paris (or the world, if you believe their sign, or, alternatively, Lenny Kravitz). It was indeed very yummy and very filling! This little excursion left me in a bit of a rush getting to the bus – I had to go pick up my suitcase at the Gare d’Austerlitz, but I should have left it at the Gare de Lyon, because I burnt quite a lot of time going between the two in order to pick it up and then go back to catch a metro to Bercy, where the bus left from. In the end it was fine though, I got there exactly half an hour before the 11 pm departure, as instructed.

Detail of one of the doorway arches

Front of the basilica

The crypt of the Bourbons, including Marie-Antoinette and Louis XVI, who were buried somewhere else and dug up and brought here later. The tombstones are from the 1970s

This sign amused me - in August in Paris, even the priests are on holiday (no 8.30 Sunday Mass till September)

A view from behind the altar

Detail from the wooden door

This is Charles V I think. He ordered his tomb when he was about 25, but depicted himself as an older man. He wanted to put it in the basilica as a sign of his legitimacy as a French King

The wife of the last guy. This isn't the original tomb that would have been here, but an 'entrails' tomb that was somewhere else. You can tell because of the thing she's holding on her chest. It was apparently quite common to have three tombs - body, heart and entrails. The original tomb went missing at some point in the Revolution or something, so this one was drafted in

Apparently there's very little of the original stained glass left - and a lot of that has been away for restoration for years, but it's still pretty

Stained-glass werewolf

There were some lovely Renaissance choir stalls with portraits of beautiful women - the Sibyls I think

This is the oldest tomb, Childebert or something

King Clovis

The tomb of Dagobert, who ruled in the early 600s

You can sort of see that on the bottom row his soul's being taken to hell by devils (hell was in Sicily, apparently), and in the middle row the saints, including St. Denis, come and take him out of the boat and to heaven

François I's creepy naked body. I sort of sneaked into the tomb itself to take this

Queen Fredegonde, or something like that. I wondered why she had no face

More creepy naked royals - Henri II and Catherine de Medicis

The tombs of some royal children

Henry and Catherine from another angle

Tomb of Anne de Bretagne and Louis XII

An image of St. Denis projected on to the spot where his tomb is supposed to have been


  1. What? You post lots of photos of lovely stained glass windows and the tombs of kings and queens and nary a picture of THE falafel. Lenny Kravitz would be so disappointed! ;)

    Sorry to hear that your bus trip wasn't a pleasant experience. As you said, there's nothing like arriving in a city hours before anything is open. I hope that your return trip is much better.

    St Denis looks like a very worthwhile destination. I regret that I didn't go with you.

    Be safe and enjoy the rest of your time in Amsterdam!

    1. Sorry! My pictures of the shop didn't turn out very well, and we were too busy munching to take a picture of the actual falafel!

      Return trip was better, thankfully. Hope your travels are also going well.


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