Vienne

Church Chairs in the Cathédrale Saint-Maurice de Vienne.

Church Chairs in the Cathédrale Saint-Maurice de Vienne.

In preparation for my May Rome adventure, and because it is only a 50 minute train ride, I went to Vienne this Wednesday with Australian assistant Jacinta. Like my current French hometown Valence, Vienne is on banks of the Rhône River in the Rhône-Alpes region. Vienne gets most of its tourism for its Roman monuments, which were built after Vienne became a Roman colony in 47 BC. There weren’t many other tourists on the rather rainy day we picked to visit, leaving some of the sites eerily empty.

Someone had carved out the faces on these at the Cathédrale Saint-Maurice de Vienne. A lot of the statues and carvings had been decapitated.

Someone had carved out the faces on these at the Cathédrale Saint-Maurice de Vienne. A lot of the statues and carvings had been decapitated.

The city has a very handy self-guided walking tour that goes through town, starting at the tourism office. There were yellow arrows painted all over the ground with bronze tree markers leading the way. There were even designated stopping areas to gaze on a particular building from the appropriate angle. We did veer off the path a few times, but overall it was a great way to see the city without getting lost. We first walked past some ruins from the Roman town that had been incorporated into an ugly shopping center and then went by the Eglise Saint-Pierre. It’s more of a museum than a church now, but is significant as being one of the oldest medieval churches standing in the country. Our path then took us to the Cathédrale Saint-Maurice, a stunning Flamboyant Gothic church.

Abandoned glove in the Cathedrale that may or may not have been used to press down those five broken piano keys.

Abandoned glove in the Cathédrale Saint-Maurice de Vienne that may or may not have been used to press down those five broken piano keys.

The Cathédrale Saint-Maurice was completely empty and a little bit creepy. Most of the statues and even some of the carvings on the walls had been decapitated or had their faces dug out. I assume this happened during the French Revolution, but I couldn’t find any information. There were also odd things sitting around, like this dusty glove on a broken piano. Bizarre as some of it was, I enjoyed the unsettling vibe the church gave off. I know it’s awful to say, but after seeing so many Gothic cathedrals in France they all start to run together. But I don’t think I’ll forget the faceless Saints and angels of the Cathédrale Saint-Maurice.

Temple dAuguste et de Livie.

Temple d'Auguste et de Livie.

A short distance from the cathedral was the Temple d’Auguste et de Livie, a Roman temple originally dedicated to the cult of Augustus. It managed to survive over two thousand years of history by being transformed in a Christian church and then a temple of reason during the French Revolution. It was later a museum and a library and today seems to be used as a centerpiece for the square that was built up around it. I was disappointed there was no way to walk through it, but it was still spectacular to come around a corner and suddenly see such a well-preserved Roman temple.

Spiky-teethed characters on the side of L’abbaye Saint-André-le-Bas.

Spiky-teethed characters on the side of L’abbaye Saint-André-le-Bas.

We circled L’abbaye Saint-André-le-Bas and walked across the river to an archaeological site where there are excavated remains of the Roman civilization. You had to pay to actually get in, but we were able to see a lot from the fence. After that we had fougasses for lunch. They’re a specialty of the south of France and are basically soft bread with a filling inside. Kind of like a sophisticated hot pocket, except bigger and with better ingredients.

A crying statue in the Chapelle Notre Dame de Pipet.

A crying statue in the Chapelle Notre Dame de Pipet.

We next went by the Roman theater and then up the hill behind it to the the Chapelle Notre Dame de Pipet. It was a bit of a steep climb, but the view of the valley and the city was worth it. Unfortunately, at this point it started to rain, but I’d brought an umbrella from my broken umbrella collection so we stayed relatively dry. It’s so windy in Valence that I’ve given up on buying new umbrellas because I know they’ll just get turned inside out. I should be used to high winds after living in Oklahoma for most of my life, but I still haven’t mastered the art of umbrellas in stormy weather.

The last part of our walk took us past more Roman ruins and we continued south to the Pyramide du Cirque Romain, which is the only thing remaining from the Roman circus. There is a legend that it is the tomb of Pontius Pilate, but that’s never been confirmed. Today it’s at the center of a traffic circle, around the corner from a kebab shop with a miniature Pyramide outside.

I’m going to Marseille tomorrow! The weather looks rainy, but at least I’m avoiding the apocalyptic snow that seems to be charging through Oklahoma. Be safe people back home!

3 thoughts on “Vienne

  1. Cecilia says:

    The gothic cathedral seems awesome; the discarded glove atop the broken piano made me think of The Phantom of the Opera for some reason.

    I don’t know if it’ll actually snow this weekend, but it’s certainly raining now. I wandered around Borders for like 15 minutes, and when I came out, there was already frozen slush on my car. Crazy weather!

  2. Elizabeth says:

    appropriately ominous glove/piano photo! the crying statue is also v. unsettling. i am also interested in these “fougasses” they sound delicious.

  3. Allie says:

    Maybe there is a Phantom of Vienne? If not, that might be a good title for a mystery novel.

    I had a fougasse today in Marseille with mushrooms and cheese. DELICIOUS!

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