Tuesday, 30 May 2017

Exploring Pons

Pons is a small picturesque town of about 4,000 people, set in Charente-Maritime (department 17) in south-western France.  The town originally developed because of its position on one of the important pilgrimage routes which followed Roman roads to Santiago de Compostela in northern Spain. Pons is on one of 4 such roads which start from Paris; however today it doesn't seem to be faring so well, with unemployment recently given at over 16%. It sits on the many-channeled and meandering Seugne river, which is used for boating and other outdoor activities.
Pilgrims negotiating a roundabout! The town makes a lot of its pilgrimage history and there are various tourist trails to explore.


One of two important churches in Pons, the first is dedicated to St Vivien and was built in the 12th century to the romanesque style, but rebuilt 300 years later using some of the original stonework. You can see that plenty of money was spent on  the impressive carved frontage, while the other sides were simpler and cheaper. It's situated just to the left of the roundabout in the first picture!


Inside we see this arty mosaic of uncertain age, depicting a pilgrim of the time making his way to some far-off religious destination, no doubt.

A front view of the old chateau, which has now been put to new use as the mairie. An original chateau was destroyed in  1179 by Richard the Lionheart as a consequence of a rebellion by some of his subjects, but was rebuilt in 1187. It survived until 1621, when Louis XIII's army destroyed it while laying siege to the town. "Several years later", it says, Cesar d'Albret, a french marshal and lord of Pons, had it all rebuilt. Lots of work for builders in those days, then!


Part of the ramparts around the chateau. You can observe the steep drop behind the chateau/mairie, allowing people who sought shelter in the chateau on the high ground to have a good view of any bad guys approaching! Next to the chateau is the donjon (castle keep) to be seen a bit later.


Times must have changed for the better in the 17th century, so presumably there were fewer bands of brigands roaming the land and little need for defences, so the aforesaid Cesar d'Albret might have said to his builders "while you're rebuilding the chateau, can you pop on a "grand escalier" (great staircase), because I need to get  men and materials as fast as possible up to the top to lay out some orchards and landscaping!!" This photo shows only part of the huge piece of work, which links the chateau level with that of the lower town far below and must also have been designed to impress his guests!


A donjon (castle keep) is a fairly standard feature of medieval chateaux (castles) and provides a high security area for the lord, chosen others, food and water in which to shelter during attacks and sieges. This donjon, 33 metres high was built along with the chateau in the 12th century and remains to this day, untouched by the sieges and wars in the intervening years! We were there at lunchtime, so as usual the place was locked up and we couldn't look round it!


Another view of the esplanade (the old chateau inner courtyard), showing the donjon, the mairie behind left, and in front, a monument to Emile Combes, an 19th century local doctor and long-time mayor.

His grand and elaborate monument leads us to believe he was held in high regard by the townspeople and reading his biography, one can see why they felt that way. Mayor of Pons for 43 years, Combes also became a French senator in 1885 and was involved in the political renewal in the country which led to laws separating the Church from the State.

The arched entrance way and entrance doors of the Hôpital des Pèlerins (Pilgrims' Hospital). The ancient cobbled street is lovely, but, yes, you guessed, it was lunch time and the place was shut!

The main entrance archway. If you look carefully at the stonework, ancient graffiti made by the pilgrims of old has been preserved in the restoration works.


A lovely little turret in an unassuming back street caught my eye. You can only wonder who put it there and why?! To see down the street maybe, but it was an expensive way to do it!


The "ruelle des arcades" (walkway of the arches) takes the walker from chateau level to a point much higher up the slope. Quite a puff! The arch is only about the height of a medieval man - 1.65 metres or 5 feet 5 inches.


The chapel of Saint Gilles is now the archaeological museum, but more importantly it is about the last vestige of the original 12th century chateau complex (apart from the donjon). The chapel is built on top of a Roman vaulted passage mentioned in ancient documents.

Very elaborate burial vaults in the old cemetery on top of the hill overlooking the chateau.

Ghost sign - Antar is a former French petroleum company, founded by Pechelbronn SA in  Alsace in 1927, but its origins go back to 1745 when oil wells were drilled in the vicinity. Never knew there was oil in France! Antar has been gobbled up by larger companies, but the name lives on in 'Antargaz' which is a current bottled LPG product. Interesting company history!

The other large church in the centre of Pons is Eglise Saint Martin, and it fills one side of a shady and quiet tree-lined square. A Turkish kebab shop sits rather uneasily on another side!

Beautiful stained glass window in that church. It seems to be illustrating the "miracle of a pine tree".


Also see my daily diary HERE



and My Life Before Charente (updated  25 September 2016) I will get back to this eventually! 

35 comments:

  1. A fabulous post Diane, all your photos are spectacular. It is such a pretty and very interesting town. Loved reading about its history and thank you so much for sharing it. You would have to be very fit to get up those steps :)

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    1. Many thnaks Denise. It is a wonderful town but there are so many of them in France and each has its own unique touch. Glad you enjoyed the post. Take care Diane

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  2. Hello Diane, I won't comment on this post although it's fantastic. I was brought here from the LV post and want to say how every single image I saw and read about there was beautiful. I loved the Grand Hotel; the Luxor replica; Venice and Paris (there's even a smallish Eiffel Tower in Bloemfontein, South Africa!) and I loved the Statue of Liberty and that it was used on the commemorative stamp! Where did you visit in Natal? Was it the North Coast/ Zululand? I can imagine how you enjoyed Botswana too. We've traveled around and through there on several occasions on our motorbike. Thank you for your renewed visits and kind comments on my blog nowadays. Have a great day. Jo

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    1. Thanks very much Jo, we had a great holiday in the USA mostly meeting up with ex Rhodesians who made our stay very special and of coursing meeting Gaelyn was also very special.
      I am going to eventually do a post on our South African holiday but time is never on my side during summer, too many fruit trees and vegetables to contend with and bottle, dehydrate and freeze!!!
      We went from Mafikeng up through Botswana to Chobe then to the Vic falls through Zambia and a short trip over the bridge to Zimbabwe. We then went to the South Coast at Leisure Bay to stay with Joan from blog South African Photos, then back to ex Rhodies in Pietermaritzburg who took us to Empangeni, Imfolozi, Huhluwe, Mkuze and Somkhanda Game Reserve. Finally back to friend in JHB.
      Have a great day, Diane

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  3. Hello Diane,
    What a beautiful city!
    The archway is magnificent so is ths chateau/mairie!
    It looks though as if only part of it has been rebuilt.
    Indeed what a job to build these edifices but also to destroy them! LOL!
    I also like the pilgrim mosaic :)
    Warm hugs and enjoy your day!

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    1. Hi Noushka, Another beautiful town in France, there are so many of them but each with its own quirky history. It must have been an interesting place with all the pilgrims stopping over there in the olden days.
      We have at last had some rain and I planted seeds just at the right time :-)
      Have a fab day and take care. Warm hugs Diane

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  4. As always, Diane, I've really enjoyed your description of this town and ita history, all brought to life with your wonderful photos. If I ever return to France your blog posts will have played a major part in drawing me back there - Thank you!

    With my very best wishes for a wonderful June - - - Richard

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    1. Thank you so much for the kind comment Richard, I hope one day you will return and we may meet up. I am hardly likely to ever meet you in the UK as it is always a quick rush to see FIL. We have no desire to stay there longer than necessary!!!
      Hope you also have a fabulous June and see lots of little owls. Best wishes and cheers Diane

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  5. Pons really is beautiful and oozing charm and history.

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    1. Thanks Kim, typical French town, but some have a little more interesting history than others :-) Have a great weekend Diane

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  6. I love the statues of the pilgrims in the median! This looks like such a pretty little town. It's always sad when unemployment becomes rampant in pretty areas like that.

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    1. It is quite a spectacular arrival to the town seeing the pilgrims on their walk across the centre island. It is a pretty town, and as ever in France, steeped in history. Hope all is well Diane

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  7. Diane what beautiful are always ypurs pictures and love all the sites you visit !
    Thanks by sharing! Have a great weekend!

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    1. It is not difficult in France to find beautiful places to visit with much history. Thanks for the comment and keep well Gloria. Diane

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  8. I'm afraid the roof would fall in on my head in the churches. But seriously, you need to eat lunch later.

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    1. We always seem to visit at the wrong time. The French 2 hours lunch time always throws us :-)
      These churches are probably safer to walk in the newly built buildings. Far better built. Diane

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  9. I always love your little adventures and the histories of the towns. Pons seems to have survived and rebuilt several times but it is a shame that unemployment is so high now. I too never knew there was oil in France…I always come away learning something new when I visit.

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    1. Karen every town we visit, and Nigel does research on, we also learn something, it never ends. Pons is a beautiful town. Hope that all is well Diane

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  10. So many wonderful photo's, Diane! Yes, back in those far away days, structures were built with so much more care and more difficult. I've noticed things in our city that seem to have been thrown up without much care.

    Thank you for this, tour.

    xoxo

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    1. You are so right Sally, buildings that are put up nowadays will never survive what these old building have done. Too easy now with machinery and all done in a rush. The hands on is so much better and the skill is way ahead of today's people. Hope you are well Diane

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  11. I always enjoy learning from your posts. I had never heard about a donjon before.

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    1. Thanks Pam. glad that there is always something of interest. Take care Diane

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  12. Great series of pictures - I'm always amazed at how these old structures still manage to be (more or less) upright!

    Cheers - Stewart M - Melbourne

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    1. Ha ha probably less rather than more. Even our 200+ year old house does not have a straight wall. Cheers Diane

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  13. This is a great post, Diane! It's amazing with the front of the first church and too bad the rest of the building didn't follow suit. The chateau must've been magnificent, with the great view to watch over all. I love that you captured the little turret and wonder what that was all about. And oil in France, who knew? Love the stain glass. Always enjoy your tours, you are very good at it! Cheers!

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    1. We also wondered about the turret but guess we will never know! Glad that you enjoy your virtual tours and it is good to know that I still have followers from way back when I started my first blog. Cheers Diane

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  14. Those stained glass windows are always the one that catches my eyes when I get into churches, they are gorgeous!

    Have a great weekend Diane.

    Rose

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    1. Some of the stained glass windows are amazing but I struggle to always get the setting right on the camera! The back light always throws me. Take care Diane

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  15. Pons is a lovely town Diane.. you do explore the most wonderful places. Gosh they really knew how to build to last back then! I must say I prefer ancient graffiti to the more modern variety 😊

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    1. I have to agree with you there, I also prefer old (proper) art to modern art! The old buildings were really built to last forever not like things built today. They withstand most thing other than war and that has caused a few ruins world wide!!! Hope you are well have a great week Diane

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  16. Hi Diane - lots to go back and see inside of ... what an amazing place - and if it's now slightly off the beaten track then a place to visit! Loved the descriptions and what a town ... fantastic buildings, cemetery, arches, church, etc etc ... wonderful - thank you ... cheers Hilary

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    1. Hi Hilary, we loved the town, so much history in every corner and a beautiful place to walk around literally smelling the roses. There were rose gardens everywhere and the perfume was strong, stunning. Take care Diane

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  17. Hi Diane! I get it and realize now it's all with the computer, or more likely the browser. I have a laptop---MacBook Pro and it's either this size (which is probably large for you and others) or very large, but on the Mac in our "computer room," my blog is humongous. And our older son says it is large on his computer. So it's apparently all about the computer used and the whether it's Firefox, Google or whatever browser. . By the way, I'm 72, and wear glasses, so I will enlarge the print, or else wear my contacts. 😉And have a great rest of the week!

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    1. Thanks Pam, that probably explains it all. So long as you are not put off reading my blog :-)) You have a great weekend as well. Diane

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  18. I wish I could see it myself one day! I am not sure if I would be a good pilgrime but it is surely worth visiting!

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