Six miles due west of Eguzon-Chantôme (in the Berry Region) is Saint-Benoît-du-Sault, on the southern border of historic Berry. This is an ancient land, once inhabited by the powerful celtic gauloise tribe of the Bituriges. A tenth century priory and church (and later commercial center) sat atop a granite cliff. Today, it remains a medieval maze of narrow cobbled streets, perfect for picture taking. In 1988, it was declared one of the most beautiful villages of France. Now we may go on to the Limousin Region.
In 1768, kaolin, a rock rich in fine, white clay which is used for making porcelain, was discovered at Saint-Yrieix-la-Perche, near Limoges. The clay deposits are there because of the way the river changes its flow and it drops its fine silt load. This white clay enabled the French to imitate the fine Chinese Porcelain of the period. Today, Limoges is a world-famous name (e.g. Haviland, Bernardaud, Carpenet, Deshoulières, and Royal Limoges factories). Assiette à entremets de Théodore HAVILAND réalisée pour le très grand restaurant parisien "ERMITAGE-ÉLYSÉES", dans son atelier du 72 avenue E. Labussière à Limoges vers 1926. Fils de David, Il a travaillé avec Antoine BOURDELLE, alors élève de RODIN, pour l'exposition universelle de 1900. La porcelaine est légèrement flammé due à la cuisson au grand feu, sa pâte est épaisse et de grande résistance, les décors sont en décalcomanie.
Saint Gregory of Tours named St. Martial, who founded the Church of Limoges, as one of the seven bishops sent from Rome to Gaul in the middle of the third century. As usual the dates and identities are confused and in dispute. The ecclesiastics who served the crypt of St. Martial later organized themselves into a monastery in 848. They built a church beside that of Staint Pierre-du-Sépulchre (which was over the crypt). This new church, which they called St-Sauveur, was demolished in 1021 and replaced in 1028 by a larger Auvergne-style edifice. Pope Urban II came in person to reconsecrate this structure in 1095. In the thirteenth century the chapel of St. Benedict arose beside the old church of St-Pierre-du-Sépulchre. It was also called the church of the Grand Confraternity of Saint Martial. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bishopric_of_Limoges The Cathédrale Saint-Étienne, a gothic landmark, was begun in 1273 and planned on the model of the cathedral of Amiens. It took only 600 years to complete. http://www.france-for-visitors.com/limousin/limoges/the-city.html
The city proper was founded as Augustoritum by the Romans, around 10 BC, as part of the reorganization of the province by the emperor Augustus. The Roman city included an amphitheater, a theater, a forum, baths and several sanctuaries -- all set up on a city plan typical of that time. Today's main sights include the Cathedral of Limoges, Roman era Bridge of Saint Martial and modern Gare des Bénédictins (1929). The Crypt of Saint Martial (10th century), including the tomb of the bishop who evangelized the city was discovered in the 1960s. Don't miss the remains of the Gallo-Roman amphitheater, one of the largest in the ancient Gaul. The Chapelle Saint-Aurélien (14th-17th centuries) includes the relics of St. Aurelian, the second bishop of Limoges, and has medieval statues and Baroque works of art. A church called St-Pierre-du-Queyroix, was begun in the 12th century. St-Michel-des-Lions, begun in 1364, houses the relics of St. Martial and has noteworthy stained-glass windows from the 15th-16th century. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Limoges
Also of note, King Richard I of England (Richard the Lion Heart - Cœur d'Lyon) died from a crossbow bolt wound to the shoulder just south of Limoges in 1199. And, later, the city was occupied by the Black Prince (1370). The famous painter Pierre-Auguste Renoir was born at Place de la Motte (oft translated Place of The Hill), a medieval square in the city center where one can see a huge trompe l'oeil (means "fool the eye") on its walls in the style of of Renoir. Pierre-Auguste began to learn his trade at age 14 by painting on porcelain. In 2009 the city hosted the Tour de France, when on stage 10 it was the starting point for the ride north.
Just to the West of Limoges sits Aixe-sur-Vienne. May we recommend the Moulin de la Roche, one of several old mills in the area. The mill is à côté du château de la Roche in the Vallée de L’Aurence. Close by is the town of Saint Junien, which has many structures of architectural beauty. In 593, Gregory of Tours was impressed by the size of the pilgrimage to an Hungarian saint's tomb. An urban area grew around an abbey built the saint's in honor; however, this monastery was raised by Vikings in 866. By the end of the 13th century, high walls were built around the town to resist further intruders. Another impressive church (Collégiale) is here. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Saint-Junien
Further West: Ville de Rochechouart au Pays de la Météorite -- The traces of this cosmic calamity still attract the curiosity of astronomers, though the only evidence that a layman might notice is the unusual-looking breccia stone of which many of the region's older buildings are made, including the Château on the edge of town. http://www.france-for-visitors.com/limousin/limoges/rochechouart.html Until it was acquired as the Mairie in 1832, the Château had belonged to the de Rochechouart family for over 800 years. Today it houses not only the town hall, but also the very well-regarded Musée Départemental d'Art Contemporain. http://www.ville-rochechouart.fr/ A site, known as Cassinomagus in Gallo-Roman times, stood at an important crossroads on the Via Agrippa, the Roman road that connected Lyon to Saintes by way of Clermont-Ferrand and Limoges. Only the baths survive: a grand temple and theatre were recycled for their breccia stone. But the baths remain, ample testimony to the importance of the place. Back in town check out the churches: http://www.ville-rochechouart.fr/Tourisme/Monuments/Eglises/index.php. Oh by the way, the Crater is one of a series that shows a much larger rock broke apart before it crashed into earth. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rochechouart_crater
Hautefort (Autafort) lies at the border between the Limousin and Périgord (today in the Dordogne department of the Aquitaine region), due south of Saint Junien. As a result, Bertran de Born became involved in the conflicts among the sons of Henry II Plantagenêt. He was also fighting for his control of Autafort. His life is discussed HERE. Widowed for the second time about 1196, Bertran became a monk and entered the Cistercian Abbey of Dalon, to which he had made numerous grants over the years. His last datable song was written in 1198. He ceases to appear in charters after 1202, and was certainly dead by 1215, when there is a record of a payment for a candle for his tomb. His œuvre consists of about forty-seven works. Geographic list of troubadours and trobairitz
Périgueux is the préfecture or capital city of the Dordogne, southwest of Limoges. About halfway between the two is Saint-Paul-la-Roche, which is discussed on our page about Périgueux.
Travelling due East we return to the Limousin region and Brive-la-Gaillarde, on a tributary of the Vézère (upstream) called the Corrèze. For a long time it was known just as Brive (and still is). Today the longer name reflects a change from 1919 and the fact that the town was the first to liberate itself (without outside help) on August 15th 1944. Modern Brive also sits on a 2000 year old site. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brive-la-Gaillarde Upstream from Brive is Tulle, the capital of the département du Corrèze. The town extends along the narrow valley of the Corrèze, on both sides. Its streets at times ascend the hills on either side by stairway. Tulle has been the seat of a bishop since 1317. The 12th-century cathedral, once attached to the abbey of Saint Martin founded in the 7th or 8th century, left only a porch and nave. The choir and transept were destroyed during the Revolution (1793); but, a tower from the 13th century with a fine stone steeple (of the 14th century) also remains. The neighboring cloister (12th and 13th century structure) has been restored. The town was taken by the English in 1346 and again in 1369.
Further upstream (NW) into the Massif Central, in the foothills of the plateau of Millevaches, is Ussel (actually on a tributary of the Dordogne). The nearby Les Farges mine (closed in 1981) was the premier pyromorphite locality in the 1970s. There is a giant granite eagle at the Place Voltaire, which is the only remaining visible reminder of a Roman settlement that was once on the site, although there are hints in the buildings of older building blocks. An observation with a large number of witnesses took place near Ussel in the Corrèze on September 24, 1954. Part of the French Flap, the observation involves a luminous red object that rose above the horizon and dove, at high speed, toward M. Cisterne, who was driving his tractor back to the barn at 11pm at night. Some great pictures of the Corrèze area are HERE.
Just one more stop on the map -- Montluçon from Ussel -- by path of iron among the mountains. One small probleme, however exists with that plan today. Until March 2008 one could travel directly between the two places (by rail) via Evaux-les-Bains and Auzances-sur-Creuse. This was a TER service in an old device that looks like an oversized, diesel-powered streetcar (Ferroviaire). Portions of the right-of-way are very old; indeed there was a bridge designed by Gustav Eiffel along the way. http://frenchrailways.homestead.com/MontluconUssel.html Eygurande-Merlines is the last point on the way one can travel, today. There is a dispute about the cost-effectiveness of rehabilitating further north. A service bus now makes the trip, or you can go through Clermont-Ferrand. « Pour satisfaire les besoins des usagers et envisager un usage vraiment régional, il faut un train le matin et un le soir », estime le Comité de défense -- "To meet the needs of [today's] users and to develop a truly regional use, a train in the morning and evening [would be needed]." The issue continues to boil on simmer: http://www.laterre.fr/article.php3?id_article=137. The Committee is also hoping the project would bring additional rail cargo and spur growth in the isolated area.
Montluçon is outside the Limousin region, over the mountains (upstream of Bourges) in the Cher River Valley (département de l'Allier, région d'Auvergne), a tributary watershed of the Loire. The Roman legions established a fortification here, during its occupation. The town we see today, which formed part of the duchy of Bourbon, was taken by the English in 1171, and taken back by Philip Augustus in 1181. The English were beaten soundly outside its walls in the 14th century. Henry IV (Prince of Navarre) also conquered the city, before he became King of all France. The Dunlop plant was occupied by the Nazi's for use by the Luftwaffe (caoutchouc synthétique), because natural rubber was unavailable. Of the churches, Notre-Dame dates from the 14th century, Église Saint-Pierre is partly of the 12th, while Saint Paul is wholly modern. Three former convents see use for other purposes today. Montluçon will have TGV service one day and be only 2 hours from Paris and possibly less time to Lyon. The city was a stopping point on the way north in the 2008 Tour de France (stage 19). More pictures HERE. Don't miss a visit to nearby (south in the Bourbonnais) Néris-les-Bains, a Belle Epoque spa-town with Roman ruins. The church dedicated to Saint George is built near the gallo-roman sanctuary and the north wall possibly has gallo-roman elements; it is built of small uneven stones.
Aurillac, Rodez & Albi