What intelligent being, what being capable of responding emotionally to a beautiful sight, can look at the jagged, silvery lunar crescent trembling in the azure sky, even through the weakest of telescopes, and not be struck by it in an intensely peasurable way, not feel cut off from everyday life here on Earth and transported toward that first stop on celestial journeys? What thoughtful soul look at brilliant Jupiter with its four attendant satellites, or splendid Saturn encircled by its mysterious ring, or a double star glowing scarlet and sapphire in the infinity of night, and not be filled with a sense of wonder? Yes, indeed, if humankind – from humble farmers in the fields and toilong workers in the cities to teachers, people of independent means, those who have reached th pinnacle of fame or fortune, even the most frivolous of society of women – if they knew what profound inner pleasure awaits those who gaze at the heavens, then France, nay, the whole of europe, would be covered with telescopes instead of bayonets, thereby promoting universal happiness and peace.
Camille Flammarion, 1880
Some of this post is from the National Geographic magazine
Today we’ll travel ten centuries back, at a time when we were anguished to see an oversees ship approaching our coastlines. It was so long ago, but their traces remained to show us what a powerful and ordinary people they were. They are called the Vikings.
The Vikings were a seafaring people from the late eighth to early 11th century who established a name for themselves as traders, explorers and warriors. From the shores of their Scandinavian homeland, between the Baltic and North Seas, these fortune seekers took to the world stage in the mid-eighth century, exploring much of Europe over the next 300 years and traveling farther than earlier researchers ever suspected. With well built sailing ships and expert knowledge of rivers and seas, they journeyed to what are now 37 or more countries, from Afghanistan to Canada, according to archaeologist Neil Price of Uppsala University in Sweden. En route they discovered more than 50 cultures and traded avidly for luxuries. They donned Eurasian caftans, dressed in silk from China, and pocketed heaps of Islamic silver coins. They built thriving cities at York and Kiev, colonized large swaths of Great Britain, Iceland, and France, and established outposts in Greenland and North America. No other European seafarers of the day ventured so fearlessly and so far from their homeland. They were the only ones able to do what they have done. They discovered the Americas long before Columbus and could be found as far east as the distant reaches of Russia. While these people are often attributed as savages raiding the more civilized nations for treasure and women, the motives and culture of the Viking people are much more diverse.
Many historians associate the term “Viking” to the Scandinavian term vikingr, which means “pirate.” However, the term is meant to reference oversea expeditions, and was used as a verb by the Scandinavian people for when the men traditionally took time out of their summers to go “a Viking.” While many would believe these expeditions entailed the raiding of monasteries and cities along the coast, many expeditions were actually with the goal of trade and enlisting as foreign mercenaries.
The earliest recorded raid were in the 790s until the Norman Conquest of England in 1066. During this time, the reach of the Scandinavian people extended to all corners of northern Europe, and many other nations found Vikings raiding their coasts. The farthest reported records of Vikings were in Baghdad for the trading of goods like fur, tusks and seal fat.
The start of the Viking migration from Scandinavia in 793 was in small island located off the northeast coast of England, in this location was a well-known abbey of learning, famous throughout the continent for the knowledgeable monks and its extensive library. During this raid, monks were killed, thrown into the sea or taken as slaves along with many treasures of the church, and the library itself razed. This single event set the stage for how Vikings would be perceived throughout the Viking Age: savage warriors with no respect for religion or appreciation for learning.
In the years that followed the initial raid, coastal villages, monasteries and even cities found themselves besieged by these sea-based foreign intruders. Due to the frequency of sea attacks, many developments were made in developing fortifications in the forms of walled-in harbors and sea-facing stone walls, defenses that proved to be quite effective at deterring raids. Early raiding parties planned their attacks for the summer months, and they often set out with just a few ships and perhaps a hundred fighters. Bristling with iron weaponry, the raiders struck rapidly and went about the carnage swiftly, setting sail before locals could mount a defense. In France, in the ninth century alone, Viking raiders stormed more than 120 settlements, massacring monks and local inhabitants, stripping churches of their treasures, and enslaving the survivors.
As precious metals flowed back to Scandinavia, young men flocked to the great halls of Viking leaders, eager to swear their loyalty. What began as small raiding forays of two or three ships gradually evolved into fleets of 30 vessels, then many more. According to the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle, a contemporary annal, hundreds of Viking ships arrived along the east coast of England in 865, carrying a ravenous host that the Chronicle writers called micel here, the great army. Pushing inland along England’s rivers and roads, these invaders began smashing Anglo-Saxon kingdoms and seizing large swaths of land to colonize.
One famous early Irish text records how a woman known as Inghen Ruaidh—or Red Girl, after the color of her hair—led a fleet of Viking ships to Ireland in the 10th century. Bioarchaeologist Anna Kjellström of Stockholm University recently reanalyzed the skeletal remains of a Viking fighter found in the old trading center of Birka, in Sweden. Mourners had furnished the grave with an arsenal of deadly weapons, and for decades archaeologists assumed that the elite fighter was male. But while studying the warrior’s pelvic bones and mandible, Kjellström discovered that the man was in fact a woman. This nameless Viking woman seems to have commanded the respect of many Viking warriors. “On her lap she had gaming pieces,” says archaeologist Charlotte Hedenstierna-Jonson of Uppsala University. “This suggests that she was the one planning the tactics and that she was a leader.”
It’s not really known the reason behind these attacks, perhaps the Christian persecution and forced baptism of pagans to reduced agricultural outputs in the Scandinavian region. Many more documented reasons might have prompted these people to leave their cold and harsh homes to seek out the means to survive elsewhere. Yet, despite how unforgiving their homeland may have been, most Vikings still returned to their homeland at the end of each season with treasure, slaves and goods to survive yet another winter.
The modern perceptions of Vikings found their origins through Catholic propaganda. Upon the sacking of multiple Christian facilities and the loss of countless relics and treasures, the Catholic ministry sought to dehumanize them. Until Queen Victoria’s rule of Britain, the Vikings were still portrayed as a violent and barbaric people. During the 19th and 20th centuries, perceptions changed to the point where Vikings were glamorized as noble savages with horned helmets, a proud culture and a feared prowess in battle.
How and why did medieval farmers in Scandinavia become the scourge of the European continent?
Around A.D. 750, Scandinavia was wracked by turmoil. More than three dozen petty kingdoms arose during this period, throwing up chains of hill forts and vying for power and territory. In the midst of these troubled times, catastrophe struck. A vast cloud of dust, likely blasted into the atmosphere by a combination of cataclysms, comets or meteorites smashing into Earth, as well as the eruption of at least one large volcano darkened the sun, lowering summer temperatures in the Northern Hemisphere for the next 14 years. The extended cold and darkness brought death and ruin to Scandinavia, lying as it did along the northern edge of medieval agriculture. In Sweden’s Uppland region, for example, nearly 75 percent of villages were abandoned, as residents succumbed to starvation and fighting.
When summer at last returned to the north and populations rebounded, Scandinavian society assumed a new, more truculent form. Leaders surrounded themselves with heavily armed war bands and began seizing and defending abandoned territory. A militarized society arose in which men and women alike celebrated the virtues of warfare—fearlessness, aggression, cunning, strength under fire. On the Swedish island of Gotland, where archaeologists have found many intact graves from this period, “almost every second man seems to be buried with weapons,” notes John Ljungkvist, an archaeologist at Uppsala University. As this weaponized society was gradually taking shape, a new technology began revolutionizing Scandinavian seafaring in the seventh century—the sail. Skilled carpenters began constructing sleek, wind-powered vessels capable of carrying bands of armed fighters farther and faster than ever before. Aboard these ships, northern lords and their restless followers could voyage across the Baltic and North Seas, exploring new lands, sacking towns and villages, and enslaving inhabitants. And men with few marriage prospects at home could take female captives as wives by persuasion or force.
All of this centuries of kingly ambition, a seeming abundance of wifeless young warriors, and a new type of ship created a perfect storm. The stage was set for the Vikings to pour out of the north, setting much of Europe on fire with their brand of violence. The fleets that carried death and destruction to western Europe also transported slaves and commodities to markets scattered from Turkey to western Russia, and possibly Iran. Medieval Arab and Byzantine officials described convoys of armed Viking slavers and merchants known as the Rus who regularly voyaged along river routes to the Black and Caspian Seas. “I have never seen more perfect physiques than theirs,” observed Ahmad Ibn Fadlan, a 10th-century Arab soldier and diplomat from Baghdad. “Every one of them carries an ax, a sword, and a dagger.”
Many popular myths created through misperceptions, have been shown to be wrong such as the fact that Vikings wore horned helmetst; they traditionally went bareheaded or wore simple leather and metal-frame helmets with the occasional face guard. Or they were filthy and unkempt; archaeologists find evidence on a regular basis of combs, spoons and other grooming utensils that indicate the Viking people were very keen on maintaining personal hygiene. Or that they spent all their time raiding and warring; while raiding proved an excellent source of income, many of the Vikings held farms back in their homeland that their wives maintained during Viking season. When the men returned home from a raid, they resumed their normal routine of farming. Or maybe that they were a unified army; due to the difficult geographic location, the Scandinavian people were very spread out to conserve limited farmland. In addition, the penetration of Christianity caused many great divisions among the people still worshipping the traditional Nordic pantheon, further emphasizing the divided nature of the people. Or most of all that they were large and heavily muscled;
due to the short summer seasons, growing crops was difficult and resources were always scarce. As a result, many of the Scandinavian people were much smaller than commonly depicted due to limited food sources. While the living conditions in Scandinavian regions were certainly harsh and made a hard people, many Vikings suffered from the scarcity of resources and the people set up their homes over great distances with no real unified leadership. During the Viking Age, the Scandinavian people were able to make a stronger push to the outside worlds and create a reputation for themselves beyond simple barbarism. While some Vikings were driven with the lust for riches, many sought more peaceful economic relationships with the surrounding nations.
But the legend of the Vikings, the romance of these intrepid northerners who built great ships and sailed ice-choked seas to a new world and winding rivers to the bazaars of the East, never grows old, never grows tired. It lives on here and across their northern realm, a message from a long-dead world, an enduring spirit of an age.
The town dates back nearly 3000 years when it was situated on the hills above the Granède.
By the second century A.D. the trade had collapsed from competition and subsequent invasions during the fourth and fifth centuries by barbarians saw the town relocate and settle to the opposite bank, changing its name to Amiliavum, then to Milhau en Rouergat (in the Millhau language), then to the French Millhau.
By the ninth century the town has grown and is the seat of a viguerie, a mediaeval administrative court, and a centre for the production of lambskin gloves. At this time the town is surrounded by ramparts. The tenth and eleventh centuries saw the creation of the Viscount of Millau and subsequently passed to the Counts of Provence, the Counts of Barcelona and eventually, in 1112, to the father of the future King of Aragon. In 1187, the King of Aragon grants him the seal and communal freedom of Provence by Consular Charter. A consulate was thus created, and was responsible for administering the city to raise taxes and to apply justice. In 1271, Millau passed to the crown of the kings of France.
In 1361, during the Hundred Years War, the city came under English rule. The return to peace in the fifteenth century gave the city a boost.
In the Middle Ages the town had one of the major mediaeval bridges across the river Tarn. It had 17 spans, but after one poorly maintained span fell in the 18th century, the bridge was mostly demolished. Just one span remains, with a mill that is now an art gallery, as testament to this significant trading route from north to south across pre-Renaissance France.
The Millau Viaduct was completed in 2004, eliminating traffic jams in the town centre. The town is now a tourist centre with one of the largest touring campsites in central France, benefiting from the attraction of the landscapes all around, and the architecturally acclaimed Millau viaduct. It is also a major centre for outdoor sporting activity.
It was designed by the English architect Lord Norman Foster and French structural engineer Michel Virlogeux. As of November 2018, it is the tallest bridge in the world, having a structural height of 343 metres (1,125 ft).
The Millau Viaduct is part of the highway from Paris to Béziers and Montpellier. It was built over three years. The bridge has been consistently ranked as one of the great engineering achievements of all time, and received the 2006 Outstanding Structure Award from the International Association for Bridge and Structural Engineering.
The highest pylons in the world: 244.96 metres (803 ft 8 in) and 221.05 metres (725 ft 3 in) in height, broke the world record previously held by the Kochertal Viaduct (Germany), which is 181 metres (594 ft) at its highest
Since opening in 2004, the deck height of Millau has been surpassed by several suspension bridges in China, including Sidu River Bridge, Baling River Bridge, and two spans (Beipan River Guanxing Highway Bridge and Beipan River Hukun Expressway Bridge) over the Beipan River.
The current municipal area of Lourdes was inhabited since the prehistoric times. The oppidum hill where today stands the fortress, as it is testified by the numerous finds came to light in the second half of the nineteenth century, remains of walls, fragments of citadel stood a pagan temple dedicated to the gods of water, whose buildings have come partially to light soon after the demolition of the parish of Saint Pierre. In the fifth century the temple was replaced by an early Christian church destroyed later because of a fire.
Little is known of Lourdes in the period from the barbarian invasions to the Carolingian period, when the town was part of the County of Bigorre. The fortress was at times the seat of counts and, during the Albigensian Crusade, it was the subject of disputes between various local lords. Ultimately it came under domination of the Counts of Champagne. In the fourteenth century Lourdes was first occupied by Philip the Fair, then, during the Hundred Years’ War, the English, who controlled it for nearly half a century, from 1360 to 1407, through some local feudal lords to their faithful, as Pierre Arnaud de Béarn and, later, his brother Jean de Béarn. The English were able to take advantage of the excellent strategic situation and the prosperity of a market that was born in the eleventh century, had been increasingly consolidated thanks to its proximity and good communications with Toulouse and Spain.
For 46 years, up until 778, Lourdes was possessed by Muslims of Al-Andalus. However, during the 8th century, Lourdes and its fortress became the focus of skirmishes between Mirat, the Muslim local leader, and Charlemagne, King of the Franks. Charlemagne had been laying siege to Mirat in the fortress for some time, but he had so far refused to surrender.
According to legend, an eagle unexpectedly appeared and dropped an enormous trout at the feet of Mirat. It was seen as such a bad omen that Mirat was persuaded to surrender to the Queen of the sky by the local bishop. He visited the Black Virgin of Puy to offer gifts, so he could make sure this was the best course of action and, astounded by its exceptional beauty, he decided to surrender the fort and converted to Christianity. On the day of his baptism, Mirat took on the name of Lorus, which was given to the town, now known as Lourdes.
During the late 16th century, France was ravaged by the Wars of Religion between the Roman Catholics and the Huguenots. In 1569, Count Gabriel de Montgomery attacked the nearby town of Tarbes when Queen Jeanne d’Albret of Navarre established Protestantism there. The town was overrun, in 1592, by forces of the Catholic League and the Catholic faith was re-established in the area. In 1607, Lourdes finally became part of the Kingdom of France.
The castle became a jail under Louis XV but, in 1789, the General Estates Assembly ordered the liberation of prisoners. Following the rise of Napoleon in 1803, he again made the Castle an Estate jail. Towards the end of the Peninsular War between France, Spain, Portugal, and Britain in 1814, British and Allied forces, under the Duke of Wellington, entered France and took control of the region and followed Marshall Soult’s army, defeating the French near the adjoining town of Tarbes before the final battle took place outside Toulouse on 10 April 1814 brought the war to an end.
Up until 1858, Lourdes was a quiet, modest, county town with a population of only some 4,000 inhabitants. The castle was occupied by an infantry garrison. The town was a place people passed through on their way to the waters at Barèges, Cauterets, Luz-Saint-Sauveur and Bagnères-de-Bigorre, and for the first mountaineers on their way to Gavarnie, when the events which were to change its history took place.
On 11 February 1858, a 14-year-old local girl, Bernadette Soubirous, claimed a beautiful lady appeared to her in the remote Grotto of Massabielle. This lady later identified herself as “the Immaculate Conception” and the faithful believe her to be the Blessed Virgin Mary. The lady appeared 18 times, and by 1859 thousands of pilgrims were visiting Lourdes. A statue of Our Lady of Lourdes was erected at the site in 1864.
Since the apparitions, Lourdes has become one of the world’s leading Catholic Marian shrines and the number of visitors grows each year. It has such an important place within the Roman Catholic church, that Pope John Paul II visited the shrine twice: on 15 August 1983, and 14–15 August 2004. In 2007, Pope Benedict XVI authorized special indulgences to mark the 150th anniversary of Our Lady of Lourdes.
Today Lourdes has a population of around 15,000, but it is able to take in some 5,000,000 pilgrims and tourists every season. With about 270 hotels, Lourdes has the second greatest number of hotels per square kilometre in France after Paris.
Yearly from March to October the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Lourdes is a place of mass pilgrimage from Europe and other parts of the world. The spring water from the grotto is believed by some to possess healing properties.
An estimated 200 million people have visited the shrine since 1860, and the Roman Catholic Church has officially recognized 69 healings considered miraculous. Cures are examined using Church criteria for authenticity and authentic miracle healing with no physical or psychological basis other than the healing power of the water.
Tours from all over the world are organized to visit the Sanctuary. Connected with this pilgrimage is often the consumption of or bathing in the Lourdes water which wells out of the Grotto.
At the time of the apparitions the grotto was on common land which was used by the villagers variously for pasturing animals, collecting firewood and as a garbage dump, and it possessed a reputation for being an unpleasant place.
I’ve been here many times before (not for religious purposes) but I’ve never seen the town this empty of tourists, sick and disabled people. Usually all the religious shops are open, now it seems to be…desolated. Didn’t have time to make lots of pics so here is a video a little longer than usual 7mn.
The town is considered the world’s capital of perfume. It is 350 m (1,148.29 ft) above sea level and 20 km (12 mi) from the Côte d’Azur
Three perfume factories offer daily tours and demonstrations, which draw in many of the region’s visitors. In addition to the perfumeries, Grasse’s other main attraction is the Cathedral, dedicated to Notre Dame du Puy and founded in the 11th century.
Grasse has had a prospering perfume industry since the end of the 18th century and it is the centre of the French perfume industry. It produces over two-thirds of France’s natural aromas (for perfume and for food flavourings). Its particular microclimate encouraged the flower farming industry. It is warm and sufficiently inland to be sheltered from the sea air. There is an abundance of water, thanks to its situation in the hills and the 1860 construction of the Siagne canal for irrigation purposes. Jasmine, a key ingredient of many perfumes, was brought to southern France by the Arabs of North Africa in the 16th century. Twenty-seven tonnes of jasmine are now harvested in Grasse annually. There are numerous old ‘parfumeries’ , such as Galimard, Molinard and Fragonard, each with tours and a museum.
The countryside around the city began to grow fields of flowers, offering new scents from the city. In the middle of the eighteenth century, the perfumery was experiencing a very important development. Leading companies dating from this period includes oldest French perfumerie and third oldest parfumerie in Europe Galimard established in 1747.
In the Middle Ages, Grasse specialized in leather tanning. Once tanned, the hides were often exported to Genoa or Pisa, cities that shared a commercial alliance with Grasse. Several centuries of this intense activity witnessed many technological advances within tanning industries. The hides of the town acquired a reputation for high quality. But the leather smelled badly, something that did not please the glove wearing nobility. This is when Galimard, a tanner came up with the idea of scented leather gloves. He offered a pair of scented gloves to Catherine de Medici who was seduced by the gift. Thereafter, the product spread through the Royal Court and high society, and this made a worldwide reputation for Grasse. The seventeenth century became the heyday of “Glovers Perfumers’. The rare scents from this town’s (lavender, myrtle, jasmine, rose, orange blossom and wild mimosa) did win the title for the Grasse as the perfume capital of the world.
A network of sixty companies employs 3,500 people in the city and surrounding area. Additionally about 10,000 residents are indirectly employed by the perfume industry. The main activity of perfumery is in the production of natural raw materials (essential oils, concretes, absolutes, resinoids and molecular distillation) and the production of concentrate, also called the juice. A concentrate is the main product that when diluted in at least 80% alcohol provides a perfume. Also food flavorings, which developed since the 1970s, account for over half of production output today.
The Fragonard Perfumery was established in 1926 in one of the oldest factories in the city. Its museum Fragonard Musée du Parfum displays rare objects that explain the history of perfumery, covering 5,000 years.
International Perfume Museum. Opened in 1989, the museum traces the evolution of techniques during the 5,000 year history of perfumery and the large contribution of the Grasse area to perfume making.
These are some pics I took of the old town. And there is a 5mn long video through the old streets.