Tales From The Crypt

Geneva is old.  Really old.  The Allobrogians built a fortified settlement in Geneva that was conquered by the Romans in 120 BCE.   For me, pre-Roman = old.  Located at a strategic location between Lake Geneva (Lac Leman) and the Rhone, Julius Cesar came to Geneva on his Gallic campaign in approximately  58 BCE.   From the 1st to 4th centuries, they built a large building close to where the St.-Pierre Cathedral now stands .

Under the St.-Pierre Cathedral, in the crypt is an archaeological site.  The foundations of those original buildings are still there.   You can see the layers of building.    In the photo above, you can see the original monk’s cells on the left.  Cozy.

The site is massive, with many levels.  Some of our guests missed seeing an entire part of it when they took a wrong turn.

When I went back to look for them, I stumbled upon this gentleman (or lady).  The  hole is from the excavations searching for his or her head!

With so much history piled up in one spot, they have a handy color coded system to help you determine the age of what you are seeing.  The colored sticks correspond to different time periods.  

There’s plenty of evidence of the Romans, from mosaic floors to coins to wells.

I don’t think the coins at the bottom of this cistern date from Roman times.  I tossed one in.  It couldn’t hurt.

In the 4th–5th century, as Christianity spread across the Roman Empire and the  cluster of buildings on the hill began to include places of worship.  In 443, the Burgundians (a tribe of barbarians who invaded) took over Geneva. They made Geneva one of their capitals and the city contented to develop.  The site also developed encompassing multiple uses.

By the 9th century, cluster had grown significantly and undergone fundamental changes.  Three places of worship and annexes were built in the 4th–5th centuries.  These early christian churches have been extensively excavated.  In the 7th–8th centuries, a larger cathedral was erected.  In 1000, a monumental crypt was added and the choir extended.  The bishop built a himself a residence, a palace for him to live in.  Of course he did.

 

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Arles, Better Than New

After our whirlwind tour of France’s Côte d’Azur (Cannes, Antibes, Villefranche, Nice, Eze, the Grande Corniche, St. Paul-de-Vence, and Vence), we headed back from the coast to Provence.  Arles was a cultural and religious centre during the late Roman Empire.  During the dark ages, it fell under the control of the Muslim Saracens, the Franks and even experienced Viking raids.  The turbulence didn’t last and the town regained political and economic prominence.  For centuries Arles was a major port on the Rhône.  With the advent of the railroad in the 19th century, Arles became something of a backwater while nearby Marseille (with it’s seaport) exploded. Today, Arles is gently loved and its decay is part of its charm.

Perhaps the most interesting thing about Arles is that even though it is filled with old, even ancient buildings and surrounded by history, it doesn’t stay rooted in the past.  It isn’t, nor does it want to be, a time capsule.  The ancient buildings house very current shops restaurants and exhibitions.   Arles is vibrant.  It manages to be lively and active without being stressful.  We loved its relaxed vibe.  After having been in the Cote d’Azur, it was a nice change to visit a town that had more locals than tourists.

We weren’t the only ones who fell under Arles’ spell.  Our friend, Hokie, at The Swiss Watch Blog, recommended it.  The movie Ronin was partially filmed in Arles.  It stars Jean Reno (an iconic French actor who you probably know from The Da Vinci Code, Mission: Impossible, and Hotel Rwanda) and Robert De Niro.  This caper film has wonderful cinematography an unforgettable car chase.  John Frankenheimer filmed Ronin’s shoot-out in Arles.  Vincent Van Gogh lived, painted, drank and cut off an ear here.   There are placards all over the city at sites where Arles appears in his paintings.  Who hasn’t seen the painting Cafe Terrace at Night which the cafe below?

We walked along the Rhone River from the Roman Museum into town before losing ourselves in its history and narrow alleyways.  Thanks for the recommendation Hokie.  We loved Arles.

What’s Latin For Roman? Finding Out All About Ancient Rome In Arles

A model of Roman Arles

You can’t swing a cat in Arles without hitting Roman ruins.  I badly for anyone who wants to undertake a building project there.  They must expect to uncover Roman ruins when they start digging as they are everywhere.

They pop up on random streets and sections of viaducts decorate the middle of traffic circles!

Around 200 B.C., the Romans extended their empire into what is now southern France.  At the time, it was inhabited by the Celtic Gauls who resisted Roman domination.  Rome wanted control of the region to ensure the continuity and security of their supply lines to Spain.

In 56 B.C. Julius Caesar’s legions kicked the crap out of the Celtic Gauls.  Romans took control of the territory.   As a result, some of the most significant Roman towns outside of Italy are in the south of France.  We saw the Pont du Gard, the amphitheater and triumphal arch in Orange a month earlier when we visited with family.

The Roman Empire was huge.  We’ve seen Roman ruins in Portugal, England, Germany, and they are all over  Switzerland.  Geneva was a Roman town; there are at least two sites with ruins within a mile of our flat.  As a result, we are in danger of giving you Ruin Fatigue (a real illness) from tramping around so many of them.  The Roman ruins in Arles are some of the world’s best (a UNESCO World Heritage site) and we felt as though they were still a must-see.  We were right.  He says that they were the bomb.com.  Please bear with us.  I swear, we won’t post about them again for awhile.

Roman Museum in Arles (Musee de L’Arles Antique), is filled with models and artifacts from Provence’s Roman era.  This modern museum displays ancient artifacts from Arles.

lead bars

One of the most famous items in the museum is a copy of Venus of Arles.  Found in 1651 by workmen who were digging a well, it is a Roman copy of Greek statue (possibly the Venus of Capua).   Louis XIV liked it and snagged the lovely lady to decorate Versailles.   Post-revolution, it belongs to the Louvre.

Louis XIV thinks I’m hot!

While the objects were cool, the best part of the museum was how they put the items in context and explained the region’s role in ancient Rome.  From showing how the covering went on the amphitheater to explaining how viaducts worked.  It was Ancient Rome 101.

The amphitheater is the largest Roman building in Gaul.  Compared to the collesium in Rome, it is tiny.  Nevertheless, we’ve been to professional sporting events in much smaller venues.  They still hold bullfights there!

After seeing bullfights in Lisbon a few years back. We felt badly and rooted for the bull. Seeing what the animal went through made us wary of seeing another. Sorry. There won’t be any bullfight coverage.

During the 
middle ages, the arena was used as a fortress; people lived inside using its giant walls for protection.  There were 212 
houses and 2 churches inside!  Those were cleared out 
when restoration began in the 1800s.

My dad complains that thousands of people watch sporting events, but the opera can’t draw the same crowds or support.  The amphitheater seats 20,000.  The Theatre Antique (the theater) seats a mere 12,000.  Apparently sports were drawing larger crowds than the arts as far back as the Roman Empire.

Pont Du Gard

Pont du Gard is an imposing viaduct built by the Romans.  Frankly, at over 2000 years old it’s amazing that it is still standing.  The engineering behind it is even more astonishing.  We’d heard that it was pretty cool from Hokie over at The Swiss Watch Blog.  When Magglio, the Luger and Sneaky Pete visited, we made a trip to check it out.

In 19 B.C., Roman emperor, Marcus Vipsanius Agrippa (Augustus’ son-in-law) built it.  The Pont du Gard carried water across the Gard river valley, 25 km (15.5 miles) west of Avignon.

It wasn’t an isolated piece of infrastructure.  It was part of a larger nearly 50 km (31 mi) aqueduct.  The system brought water from springs near Uzès to Nîmes (known in Roman times as Nemausus) with a slight grade.  Its 34 cm/km (1/3000) grade its entire 50 km.  Walking around, you can see other parts of this system.

It took between 800 and 1000 men about three years to build.  When it was completed, it transported 20,000 cubic meters (44 million gallons) of water daily.  Constructed without the use of mortar (bearing masonry), its stones are held together by iron clamps.  Some of the stones weigh 6 tons.  They were moved into place using a complex system winch system.  You can still see the remains of the supports for the complex scaffolding.

Not a Peugeot or a Citroen but a Mazda

As the Roman Empire declined, they began to worry more about the barbarians at the gates than maintenance of their infrastructure. Deposits filled up a majority of the channel space. It was unusable by the 9th century.  Once it wasn’t useful for delivering water, people took what they could from it, taking stones for other purposes.  It was also used as a footbridge across the river.

In the 18th century, the aqueduct was restored.  Even by this time, it was tourist attraction. Additional restorations were done under the reign of Napoleon III in the mid-19th century.  The workers carved their names in the stonework.  These aren’t the only graffiti.  The original Roman workers also carved their names.  French masons over the years have also left their markings.   It looks like way more work than a can of spray paint, but clearly lasts much longer.  I am not suggesting tagging monuments, only noting that graffiti has been around since before the birth of Christ and impressed that we can still see it.

The Pont du Gard is an amazing piece of engineering and a UNESCO World Heritage Site.  It is so impressive that it is easy to overlook its beautiful surroundings.  Enjoy the three-tiered series of stone arches, just don’t forget to enjoy the rest of the view.  It is a great place to take a dip, picnic or fly a kite.

You were warned

 

Thank You Rome, We Love Switzerland’s Fountains

The Ides of March, (no, not the film) the fifteenth of March, is today.  It is the day on which, in 44 B.C., a group of conspirators led by Brutus (et tu Brutue?) and Cassius stabbed Julius Caesar to death in the Roman Senate.  It got me thinking about Rome’s legacy here in Switzerland.  While evidence of Switzerland’s time under Roman rule is everywhere,  I have a favorite part of their legacy, fountains.

Rome came.  Rome built fountains.  Rome fell.  The fountains remained.  Who doesn’t like a fountain?  When people could figure out how to do it again, they tried making fountains like those cool old Roman ones.  They did it in Switzerland, but all over Europe.  Right on.

When we hike in the summer, we can pretty much be sure that we will be able to get water from a fountain.  The cows have to drink way up there, so you know they are going to have water.  The caveat to this, and don’t mess this up or you will end up like us paying $12 a bottle, is that there are no fountains when you are up high enough.  If cows can’t graze up there, they are going to build it.  Period.

The water of this fountain once stood in the sea before it evaporated. It traveled in the clouds, and fell as rain before running again towards the sea. This is the water cycle has fragile balance. Respect it.

At almost every fountain, the water  is drinkable.  In Switzerland, if the water isn’t safe to drink, it will be marked with a sign that reads “Eau Non-Potable” or and “X” over a cup.

You can stick your head under the fountain, like you would at a water fountain, or collect it in a bottle.  I love not having to plan my water stops or carry water with me on long runs; the fountains are everywhere.

Eau Potable means the water is safe to drink

Sometimes, flowers decorate the fountains.  This always make a great photo opportunity.

Other times, the fountains themselves are decorative and/or commerative.

Zermatt's Beaver Fountain

A fountain in memory of alpine guide Ulrich Inderbinen who summited the Matterhorn over 370 times, with his last ascent at the age of 90!

Swiss Languages, What is Romansh?

In yesterday’s post, I mentioned that Switzerland has four national languages: Swiss German, French, Italian and Romansh.  Swiss German speakers make up 63.6% of the population, French speakers make up 20.4%, Italian speakers make up 6.5% and Romansh 0.5%.*  In fact, Switzerland’s diversity, particularly it’s diverse languages, is one of the primary ways it differentiates itself from its more homogeneous neighbors.

Romansh is only spoken in a few valleys in the southeastern alps, but is one of four national Swiss languages. It is a national language, but not an official language.  Therefore, it not used in Parliament, government and the army.  Also, laws do not have to be translated into Romansh.
When the Romans conquered the area in about 15 B.C.E., they latinized the area. Today’s inhabitants of the area speak Romansh, a descendant of Latin.
The area is very remote and isolated. As a result, five different versions of the language exist.   Notice the lack of roads (due to the Alps) in the southeast, where Romansh is spoken.
These are some of the largest, most easily accessible and well-known areas.  You can see how transportation and contact with the outside world might have been (and still be) difficult.
It is a unique phenomenon to have so many dialects in such a small area. In fact, Romansh is spelled many different ways including: Romansch, Rumants(c)h, Romanche, Romansh, Rumantsch, Rumantsch, and Romontsch. To help keep it alive, a standard written form was developed in the 80’s.
Check out the Romansh keyboard.  Despite my frustration with them, French keyboards are starting to look a lot easier.
*Those who add will note that this does not total 100%.  Other language speakers make up around 9%.  Expats, like us, are a good example.

 

Tourist’s Geneva – St. Pierre Cathedral

When you look at Geneva, the building that stands out is the cathedral on top of old town. It’s called St. Pierre Cathedral.  On your first clear day in Geneva, go to the top and enjoy the view.  In addition to the stellar view, the building’s history tells you a lot about the city of Geneva.
 
They’ve started excavating underneath St. Pierre Cathedral and found Roman ruins* (visit the archaeological site to learn more).  The site was continuously occupied until the current building was built in the 12th century. Back then, it was a Catholic church.  When the reformation arrived, it became a center of the Reformation.  The cathedral is best known as Calvin’s home church.  They even have his chair inside. 
 
Calvin’s chair

The Reformation brought changes to the building as well. It’s philosophy of austerity impacted the interior of the cathedral.   Ornaments were removed; colors were whitewashed.  The Calvinists didn’t believe in religious images, so statues, alters, paintings and furniture were out.  The windows are just about the only thing they keptCompare this to St. Peter‘s Cathedral in Rome and you can really see the austerity, solemnity and restraint.

To get to the top, you will climb 157 steps up to the North Tower.
Don’t get spooked out by the twisty stairs or the attic-type space, keep heading up.
Don’t stop when confronted by wire cage.
If you continue, you will be rewarded.  Aaaahhhh.  There it is, that’s the shot you came to get.
*There are Roman ruins throughout Switzerland.  I even stumble onto them during my runs (there’s a ruins of a Roman villa in the Parc des Eaux-Vives).  We saw them in St. Saphorin and Sion has Roman roots.
 

Museum Day With Mom

My mom came for a visit.  She is a huge fan of Monet and the Foundation Pierre Gianadda in Martigny has a huge Monet show.   All of the waterlilies posters in college turned me off of Monet, but I wanted to make my mom happy and drove us there.  I was really glad I went.  They had tons of paintings.   A lot of them were on loan from private Swiss collectors and are not usually publicly viewed.   Posters just don’t capture his talent with a brush.   His paintings are at a wholly differently level when you see the brushstrokes on the canvas.  Wow!  I wish I could have taken pictures for you.

The museum also had a small, but nice, permanent collection of artworks.*  I was really surprised and impressed by its car museum.  Being from the Detroit area, I have seen my fair share of car shows, museums and exhibits.  I was impressed because I have never seen so many pre-WWI vehicles all in one place (and all in immaculate condition).   I’m not a car person, but I found myself oohing and aahing over them.

The best part of the museum was its sculpture garden.  I love a sculpture garden so I might be a bit biased.**  For me, it is refreshing to be able to be outside while enjoying and interacting with art.   Plus, their sculpture garden incorporated Roman ruins.

Next, we headed over to the St. Bernard Museum.  Being dog people, we had to.  The real highlight of the museum is the dogs.***  You get to see them do all their adorable doggie things (including “hiking footballs”).  We were able to pet them and it made my day.   

When we finally dragged ourselves away from the furballs to check out the rest of the museum, we were pleasantly surprised.  We learned a lot (as a former professor, my mom loves learning) about the history of the region.  I was slightly more lowbrow, oohing and aahing over pictures of dogs, watching a movie on dog search/rescue in the Alps and checking out the St. Bernard movie posters.  Yes, they had posters from Beethoven, Beethoven’s 2nd and Beethoven’s 3rd.  They even had Stephen King’s Cujo.

On the way back to the car, we passed a Roman road (The Poenine Way) to that led to Rome.  I’m not sure if all roads really still do lead to Rome, but this one definitely did.  Sorry,  I couldn’t help myself.

*The have an exhibit with Roman artifacts (Martigny was a Roman town) and other temporary exhibits.

**It combines my love of art with my love of gardening.  A perfect combo.

***Wanting to see more dogs, we left the museum and went to Foundation Barry to try to see their dogs.  They didn’t open for the season until the following week.  If you are wanting to see the dogs and want a cheaper option, they are less than half the price.