Saturday, October 24, 2015

Madrid popurrí

Iglesia de los Jeronimos

One of the many benefits of having Ken's mom visit: Her participation in an international Pickle Ball tournament provides the perfect excuse to visit Madrid. Here are some miscellaneous memories of another one of our favorite Spanish cities.

Almost there: Madrid's skyline from the car

Broadcast tower in Madrid

Prado Museum Cason del Buen Retiro building

The Fuente de Neptuno in the Plaza de Canovas del Castillo in Madrid

A welcoming sign on Madrid's city hall.Although it looks old and flashy,
the Palacio de Comunicaciones was built in the 20th century.
Originally a post office, it became the seat of city mayor in 2007.
Notice the welcome sign.

Ken always likes to help tidy up.

Getting chummy with Charlie at Plaza Mayor

Optical illusion mural betwtween two buildings in Madrid

Inside the Reina Sofia museum

Arlene and Ken at Casa Benigna, where we had an amazing
lunch. If you go, make a reservation, then knock on the door
when you arrive. And give our regards to Norberto.
Patella at Casa Benigna in Madrid
La Violetera by sculptor Santiago de Santiago
in Parque de las Vistillas

Fountain in Parque de las Vistillas

Pope John Paul II statue at Catedral de La Almudena

Outside the gates of Palacio Real de Madrid

We enjoy an unexpected concert at Palacio Real de Madrid
One of the most famous paintings in Museo Thyssen-
Bornemisza is this 1488 portrait of Giovanna Tornabuoni
by Domenico Ghirlandaio.

Inside Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza

In case you missed it, you can read my post about Madrid's beautiful Parque del Buen Retiro here.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Once a mere marsh: Castelmoron-sur-Lot

A view of Château Solar, Castelmoron's town hall, from the bridge
on the river Lot

On a damp and marshy bend in the Lot river, about 30 km northwest of Agen, the site known as "Mauron" was first settled many centuries ago. The village itself was named for a castle located across the river in the 13th century: Castelmoron.
View from the bridge over the Lot in Castelmoron

Looking up the Lot in Castelmoron

Autumn colors in Castelmoron-sur-Lot

In 1685, with the Edict of Nantes, a number of Protestants left Castelmoron, among them Mathieu Maury. His decendents were notable colonial Americans. Mathieu's son James Maury was an Anglican cleric and educator whose students included Thomas Jefferson. 

Very old graves in Castelmoron-sur-Lot

Meanwhile, back in Castelmoron, trade along the river Lot was thriving in the 1700s. The village made it through the French Revolution with little damage, although one Castelmoronnais, Jacques Bujac, was guillotined in Bordeaux for his Girondist sympathies. Another native son, Pierre Alexandre Marauld Dupon, was a famous pirate hero known as "Agen Corsaire."

What appears to be an ancient kitchen on the banks of the Lot
in Castelmoron

The mid- and late-19th century was a time of great change in Castelmoron. A suspension bridge was constructed over the Lot. The old 13th century church was demolished and the "new" Catholic church we see today was built. Also still standing is the old Protestant temple. In 1871, the old château was bought by the widow of Felix Solar, (journalist and entrepreneur who eventually was convicted of fraud and left for Italy to avoid jail and debts). The widow Solar remodeled the chateau in Moorish detail according to the wishes of her late husband. Today, "Chateau Solar" is the town hall.

Église Sainte Hilaire in Castelmoron-sur-Lot

Doorway of the Protestant church in Castelmoron-sur-Lot

Water feature at Castelmoron's Hôtel de Ville

Today, the mid-sized village (pop. 1,770) is a surprisingly pleasant place to spend an hour or so any time of year, but it is especially hopping in the summer months when the banks of the Lot become a sandy beach offering opportunities to swim, boat and fish. On the day of my visit, when autumn colors were emerging and a sudden rain shower cut short our walk along the Lot, summer seems a long, long time away.

A pigeon atop a roof in Castelmoron-sur-Lot seems to be enjoying
its view of fall colors

Narrow village street in Castelmoron-sur-Lot

Covered passageway in Castelmoron-sur-Lot

Fountain in Castelmoron-sur-Lot

A note about this blog post: For the history of Castelmoron-sur-Lot, I (reluctantly) relied upon Wikipedia. Whenever possible, I have attempted to verify accuracy with second sources. I apologize if this post contains any errors.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Two bastides and an abbey in SE Gironde

If you find yourself near the end of the Dropt valley at the southeast edge of the Gironde department, not far from Duras, you may want to make brief stops in Pellegrue, Monségur, and an abbey in between.


On a recent quiet Sunday, we head to this small village (pop. 1,029). We park near at the war memorial and walk about two blocks past traditional stone houses to Église Saint-André, a 12th-century Romanesque church. Notable is the doorway comprised of four arches, and a belltower on the the north side.

In the course of development of the church square, archaeologists found remains of a Gallo-Roman settlement, a Merovingian necropolis with monolithic limestone sarcophagi, and graves from the 11th century. They also discovered walls of a Benedictine priory and part of a medieval castle.

On our way downhill toward the town center, we pass a modern fountain, Font de Godemine, located in an ancient square.

The bastide is surrounded by the traditional covered arcades, and a large 19th-century iron market hall sits in the center. Wednesday is market day in Pellegrue.

Pellegrue’s war memorial

Église Saint-André de Pellegrue

Arched doorway of Église Saint-André de Pellegrue

Font de Godemine in Pellegrue

Pellegrue’s 19th-century covered market

The clock belltower on Pellegrue’s tourism office

Abbaey de Saint-Ferme

Wednesday would be a particularly good day to visit this area, because it’s also the day that guided visits are offered at the Abbaye de Sainte-Ferme, located about 10 minutes away on D16 toward Monségur.

Situated on the road to Compostelle, the abbey was founded by a Benedictine order of monks in the 12th century.

The large imposing Romanesque abbey, which has not been occupied by monks since 1770, contains carved capitals sculpted by les maîtres de Sainte-Ferme — the masters of Sainte Ferme — and an 18th-century fresco portraying justice.

Abbaye de Saint-Ferme is open for guided tours from 2:30-6 p.m. on Wednesdays, but visitors can enter the church and courtyard at any time. 

Abbaye de Saint-Ferme

Exterior detail of Abbaye de Saint-Ferme

Entering the courtyard at Abbaye de Saint-Ferme

Courtyard of Abbaye de Saint-Ferme

Interior of the church at Abbaye de Saint-Ferme


After our stop at Saint-Ferme, we continue down the road to our next bastide: Monségur. Here, the town square is dominated by a big 19th-century iron-and-glass covered market, even larger than the one we saw an hour earlier in Pellegrue. (Friday is market day in Monségur.) The population here (1,600 in 2011) supports a nice variety of businesses and even a movie theater.

The name Monségur means “hill of safety.” Like many bastides, the town was founded by a charter granted by Eleanor of Provence, wife of Henry III of England/Duc d’Aquitaine during the English occupation of the area.

We take our obligatory peek inside the village church, Église Notre-Dame and then stop by the Tour du Gouverneur. The former governor’s residence contains pillars inscribed “ebrehim” and “brehim” — the meaning of these words is a mystery.

Each July since 1988 the town has hosted Swing de Monśegur, a three-day swing jazz festival, which draws fans from all over France. Look for me there next summer.

Monségur’s large iron-and-glass covered market

Covered arcade in Monségur

Église Notre-Dame de Monségur

Detail above the door at Église Notre-Dame de Monségur

Colorful interior of Église Notre-Dame de Monségur

Tour de Gouverneur à Monségur