I have made this post a little longer than usual, so as to wrap up the La Rochelle posts before completing the holiday break blog with Part 5 - the day trip to Île de Ré.
About 16 km (10 miles) north of where we were in Part 2, the villages of Maillé and Maillezais sit close together on an island in the surrounding marsh. Believed to be smaller until 1000 or so years ago, this island of firm ground was enlarged by monks from the nearby abbey, who dug canals to drain the wetland and make their settlement more accessible.
First, we visited the generously proportioned church in Maillezais, dedicated to St Nicholas; he is the patron saint of watermen, so the dedication is very appropriate! This very solid roman-style edifice was built in the 12th century, but added to and greatly altered over the following centuries, such that a lot of its original design has been lost. It was badly damaged during the wars of religion in the 16th century and at another point in history, the building is said to have been used for the production of saltpetre! More rebuilding has taken place in the last 200 years.
The arches, above and below, are beautifully decorated with carvings of gymnasts and acrobats, violin players, demonic monsters, jugglers and geometric figures, all conjured up no doubt from the stonemasons' imaginations!
So much work and decorative carving!! It can often take one stonemason up to a week just to carve an elaborate single stone, let alone hoist it and set it in position!
Most French villages of any size have a memorial to the Great Wars, and Maillezais is no exception. More fine carving!
The abbey of Maillezais, founded at the beginning of the 11th century, fell into disrepair in the 17th century and was mostly demolished by an owner in the 19th. After that, it came into the hands of more responsible parties and was declared a national monument in 1923. The remains have now been preserved and the site opened to the public.
One for the French car fans! I didn't get to see the radiator badge, but I would guess it's a Citroen from the 1930's?
We moved on to the neighbouring village of Maillé. Above is a view of the church. German forces occupied the town during WW2 and the French Resistance was also secretly based there during 1944. On 25 August of that year, it is thought to have been the Gestapo who led the reprisals for attacks made on German troops by the Resistance and they murdered 124 civilians, about 25% of the population. The town was also badly damaged by shelling from anti-aircraft guns and set afire during this same episode, but, unlike the village of Oradour-sur-Glane further east which was abandoned after a similar massacre, the local people decided to rebuild the village exactly as it was before the war.
There isn't much information to be found about this church, but it can be seen that it is built in the same Romanesque style as Saint Nicholas in Maillezais. The interiors are, however, quite different, but this may be because of the rectification of the wartime damage.
Beautiful carvings on the main entrance archway, but suffering now from the effects of air pollution!
Above and below, spectacular interiors and stained glass, beautifully restored and maintained!
Back in La Rochelle later in the day, we saw this old WW2 armoured vehicle, a still-visible reminder of the area's turbulent wartime history.
The old port at La Rochelle, with its very busy night market attracting plenty of visitors and locals alike.
We watched this break dancing for a bit; the dancers were excellent and seemed to work hard for the money donated by the audience!
and finally, off to dinner at Le Thiers Temps restaurant; small, intimate, exclusive, and fully booked, as the restaurant is very highly rated by a popular travel website! In the 90 minutes we were there, we saw no fewer than 6 prospective dining parties turned away. Imperative to to reserve your seats!!
All extremely artistic, but there wasn't a lot of food in these "main courses", so we had to fill up with bread!