Sunday, July 29, 2012

Week in Limoges

19-28 July 2012: We took a holiday in France for a week, in the old city of Limoges - capital of the Limousin region. Its about 3 hours ride on the TGV south of Paris. There is an airport and Ryan Air at Limoges, but somehow, travelling by rail is so much less stressful. The station staff are helpful, and you can carry as much with you as you like.
It's good to see the vast number of land-based wind-farms during the ride, especially on the flat-land regions south of Paris. Gracefully turning in the breeze, but almost invisible due to being so white and slender. (couldn't photograph as they are almost invisible, and the train is moving at TGV-speed).

Urban form of Limoges - from Order to Chaos
The municipal museum of Limoges had a series of models showing the city over the centuries. We were staying in an apartment building next to the roman bridge that was the start of the original settlement. These two photos are at the same angle and scale, looking from the west. The city was larger in Roman times than in later times, until the industrial revolution brought the railways, and porcelain making transformed the economy.
   The grid plan suggests that in more stable times when military security provided safety, the city form expanded in a permeable grid based on the trading potential of the river, with the longitudinal streets (cardus) taking the easy slope down to the river and the crossways (decumanus) staying on the contour.

 In the chaos of the middle ages, with Papal wars, the Hundred Years War and other such events, the entire city resolved into two distinctive hill town settlements, surrounded by ramparts, moat and walls, with tall buildings along narrow streets. With such urgency to build defensive outer walls, the old roman town just became a quarry for stone, until it disappeared under grassland. A few streets (including the one our apartment was on) retain the old roman line. The buildings tended to be one storey of stone, and four storeys above of timber frame. Many of these still exist, although a fire in the 1860s removed many of them.
   There was a magnificent amphitheatre just west of the town, which was quarried year after year, and which still existed in the 16th century, in ruins. As the town expanded since 17th C, all trace of it disappeared, apart from a triangular park, and some street names to commemorate it.
The modern Limoges, from the same angle on Earth Google, shows how the amphitheatre is still revealed as a park, and the modern outer town area has found it useful to follow parts of the Roman plan.   What a pity that the Roman street plan could not have been retained. There are cities in northern Italy which can still identify the original cardus and decumanus. the roman city resembles the modern US city in some ways, with a permeable grid.
Dense 5 storey medieval structures. There was a fire in about 1862, but many of these survived.

 The French are more open to interesting architecture and architectural juxtapositions than the Brits. The main railway station is a magnificent piece of inter-war Arts Nouveau, with a high clock tower to commemorate rail travel, and a recent sky-bridging structure over the nearby car park is as high tech as any modern architect could wish for.

The station frontage as in this very wide angle multi-photograph is quite magnificent, and faces towards the city like a giant jaw, with a here dome above. Touchingly, like english victorian infants schools and their terracotta titles over the doors, the entrances either side of the arches are titled Arrivals and Departures, a remnant from the slower days of rail transport. Even in 1860, the railways had arrived here, as a deep underground tunnel that came from the south and ran below and between the hill towns, emerging on the north side. I wish I had photographed all of the scale models of the city's development.

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