Sunday, 3 July 2011

Roasted Quail and Cloisters

Villeneuve was just across the river from Avignon, but what a contrast!  Avignon was crawling with tourists while Villeneuve was quiet and sleepy.  We arrived just as the market was closing and when I saw the roasted quail on the rotisserie spit of the farmer's truck, all plans for a leisurely sit down lunch went out the car window.  Without a map and the tourist office closed for lunch (yes, that seems to be the practice throughout the south - makes total sense!), we wandered around in the midday sun looking for a place to dig into our find and also someone to ask for directions to the cloisters we came here to see.  We noticed this impressive portal and walked in to find ourselves at our destination!

How incongruous that we had our lunch of roasted quail in the courtyard of what used to be a Carthusian monastery in the 11th century, later to become a palace for Cardinal Etienne Aubert in the 14th century in the time of the French popes.  The monks must be rolling in their graves!

This beautiful portal took us into what was left of the church, below.

And here are the amazing cloisters...

There was an interesting incident associated with this courtyard below.  An American pilot parachuted into this courtyard during the second world war but was unable to disengage himself when his parachute was caught on the chimney.  He was rescued by the guardian of the Chartreuse and hidden from the Germans in one of the buildings in the cloisters before he was escorted back to his unit by the French resistance.                                                          

Chapel seen through the hole
This is the 18th century washhouse where the monks did their laundry.  What is interesting are the rooms next to and above the washhouse and the chapel above it.  The rooms were used by monks as a place for confinement and isolation.  They could be "sentenced" for violation of monastic values, including the use of alchemy and commerce with women.  They could go there to examine their conscience and faith in isolation but they would still participate in the church service through their dormer windows and small "peepholes" in the chapel wall.   

The magnificent fort in Villeneuve at top of the hill, the chapel underneath the battlements where prayers for success in battle were offered and the panoramic view of Avignon across the Rhone.

From Villeneuve, we took a detour to look at the tallest aqueduct in the Roman world at the Pont du Gard.  It was an impressive three-storeyed structure and the museum at the site provided an elaborate history and mechanical details on Roman engineering.  There was an interesting video with aerial views of how water was transported via this intricate system of aqueducts.   Well-worth a visit.

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