So what is history? It can be the history of a home, such as ours, or the history of the oyster shells making up a cliff close to us, shown as the backdrop to this page. Our home is almost 300 years old, the cliff made of oyster shells is 22 million years old. History can be boring or fascinating. Even if you are not a history lover, please see the page on Castle Visits where the beautiful castles can be viewed either as things of beauty or as a fascinating insight into medieval times, or both. Many towns and villages are there because of past events, be they religious or wars. Bordeaux can be visited for shopping, walking, cycling, eating or to see historical sights, or indeed all of these, likewise Saint Emilion, but in Saint Emilion there is also the added attraction of wine tasting! History also can be viewed in the villages their houses and churches. This page can best be used in conjunction with the other pages.When we first visited our house it had, in french, an âme, a soul. The house was a mess, inside and outside, but was clearly genuine and welcoming. We felt at home straight away. However, there was no history available. No photos and no real information. We had to piece together information, to make our own history. To read a little more on the history of our home, click here. Part of it may be amusing. To close the window, click here.
Sometimes we would visit the market at Cadillac on a Saturday, buy some cheese from our favourite cheese merchant, buy some bread and some sausage and go to Saint Croix de Mont for a picnic. Saint Croix de Mont is quite high up and has a good view over the Garonne and the Sauternes wine area and further onwards towards the sea. They make sweet wine there and sometimes the Maison de Vin is open and one can buy some delicious wine. A nice spot for a picnic but the last one was with water, the Maison de Vin was closed for lunch.It was after we had picnicked there several times, that we discovered, that there was a fossil walk there. On re-visiting we found that the fossil walk was mercifully short but that we had been picnicking on a cliff made from oyster shells. These shells have been shown to be 22 million years old.Just moving down from the picnic spot by the church and the chateau you can see millions and millions of oyster shells and look to the west towards the sea, probably an hours drive away, and wonder.So having started in about 1714, we think the date of the orginal part of our home, we have moved back to 22 million years ago and we are now at a mere 40,000 years B.C. The picture on the left is the simple entrance to the grotte Pair-Non-Pair. The entrance is modern, the underground caves having been discovered in 1881 by a cow, apparently. The cow had a leg trapped in a hole and as such the underground caves were found. Whether that history is 100% accurate who knows, but what is clear is that a local enthusiast, Mr. François Daileau spent 30 years excavating the cave. We do not have a photo of the cow, in fact all photos are scarce, but click here to read more. To close the window, click here.Many years ago it was possible to visit Stonehenge in Wiltshire, England without passing though a visitor centre with razor wire etc. and touch the stones. We have a photo of Maureen leaning against the stones in a rather too short a dress. Nowadays, it is only accredited wierdos who can touch the stones. In France it is different. The standing stone at Saint Sulpice de Faleyrens is just 10 minutes drive from our home, on one of the routes to Saint Emilion, and it is so easy to drive past it without registering its presence. No notices, razor wire or druids prancing about, just a 5.2 metre high standing stone from about 2,500 years B.C. To the left is a more modest and recent photo of Maureen, leaning against this standing stone. Click hard enough and you may see the older photo.Our time steps are now smaller, just a few thousand years, skipping the birth of Christ for the moment, to the Roman Empire.The Romans had a major effect and left behind much to amaze us. There is evidence of them making wine in the area, notably in Saint Emilion.The photo to the left is part of the Roman Gallien Palace in Bordeaux. More details on this are included on the Bordeaux page. It is interesting, no incredible, to see such a major piece of Roman architecture surving in a modern city; despite attempts to destroy it, by the barbarians in the 3rd century and later during the French Revolution. Many Roman visits are concerned with details, beautiful mosaics etc., but here is part of a major piece of architecture that has survived. For more details visit the Bordeaux page or click here for other Roman sites to visit. To close the window, click here.The region of Aquitaine, which includes the department of the Gironde, what we think of as Bordeaux wine country, is steeped in history from the middle ages. This is principally because Aquitaine was English for three hundred years from 1154, which caused massive problems as the French were trying to get it back. Much of the architecture that one sees when travelling around has its origins in this period. Be it the history of religion seen in wonderful churches or abbeys, in castles as shown left or in the bastide towns, many of which still show signs of their fortifications, where many people still live in houses of medvn. The pages on Abbeys and Churches, on Bordeaux, on Castle Visits and on Saint Emilion give some ideas of visits. If you would like to find out a little more on medieval history and visits close to us click here. To close the window, click here. The links of war between France and England continued after the middle ages and the town of Blaye, North of Bordeaux, is a prime example. We used to visit Blaye on a Saturday, when on holiday in Saint Emilion, to enjoy the market. We would meander in the citadelle, a walled town within Blaye, and admire the ruins and the view across the estuary of the Gironde without thinking a lot about its history. To the left is a photo of the citadelle from the estuary, where one can cross the Gironde in a pleasure boat, combined with an above ground and an underground visit to the fortifications. With a little prior knowledge one can get far more out of a visit. To find out a little about the history of Blaye click here. To close the window, click here. Moving forward in time one comes to the period of trade and commerce, where in the countryside farms developed, with associated beautiful houses and chateaux and where Bordeaux maintained its importance as is reflected in its wonderful 18th century buildings.Bordeaux is a city full of history, please see the Bordeaux page. To see Bordeaux and learn about it, one can take a conducted tour from the Office of Tourism, buy a map of walks, or hire bikes, or even take the tourist train. The most obvious historical link is its wonderful architecture, much of it dating from the 18th century.The Gironde is a department happily missing mass war graves since the French had surrendered before the Germans needed to advance this far south. It is more an area of individual heroism and conflict since the Gironde was divided between occupied France for the coastal area and Bordeaux and Vichy France for the rest. We have come across individual graves and monuments to local heroes and met people with stories to tell. One friend, in her mid 80’s tells us how she, as a girl, had to cross a bridge to buy the family’s bread, showing her identity papers to Vichy troops on one side of the bridge and German soldiers on the other. The same on the way back, after buying the bread.Shown on the left is a monument at the mouth of the Gironde to the Cockleshell Heroes, ten Royal Marines who were landed by the submarine HMS Tuna in December 1942 and paddled the 100km, at night, to Bordeaux in order to plant limpit mines on boats in Bordeaux harbour.One of the first French homes we visited had been the local Gestapo headquarters. The house was large but otherwise quite normal. It did not have any bad feelings, although the man who had purchased the house after the war was not popular with his neighbours. He was called the fool.Conversely the German U boat station in Bordeaux has a horrible atmosphere. To read more on the Cockleshell Heroes of the base sous-marine click here. To close the window, click here.
Click on a photo above to enlarge
Click on photo above to enlarge
We realised that the house was of the form of a mid 18th century Girondine farm house and we did know that the family who owned it had not lived in it for 100 years.Our understanding of the history of our home evolved and is still evolving. We knew the approximate age and also that any such large houses in the country were constructed as farm houses. We came across a model of a mid 18th century Girondine farm house in a museum that could have been modelled on our house.Maureen spotted a scallop shell on a chimney, a sign that the house had been an auberge on one of the pilgrim routes to Saint Jacques de Compestelle in Spain. As it happened our very first guests were following this route and asked for accomodation. We were not ready to open at this time but we took them in.We found the remains of a bread oven in a room, now Chambre Sud, the chimney gowing through the room above, now Chambre Rouge, at a bizarre angle, to miss some beams. We were told that, within living memory, Chambre Sud was the village bakery.In what is now Chambre Ouest we found ancient glass tiles as the room was used as a wine vat. In the past farming here was mixed, with crops, animals and vines. We have covered these ancient tiles with subtle modern materials to preserve them.In the kitchen we found an inventory of all the utensils used for cooking and for feeding the vendangeurs (grape pickers). Although we knew that the house had not been used as a family home we did know that it was used during the grape harvest to house the grape pickers. Also we knew that the house had been split into appartments and so at various times many people lived here. We have met many people in the village who lived here or played in the garden or in fact were born here.Our Grand Salon was once the village dance hall and cinema. Not quite in a modern sense but we know that there were benches around the walls and that dances were held, where young girls, now in their 60's, danced with the local young men, while their mothers looked on. As to the cinema, it was the priest who organised the film shows.We have in the garden several old pieces of equipment, an ancient well pump, above the well that always has water in it, an old mill stone, an old wine press and a very rickety set of wooden stairs. These stairs were always an enigma since they seemed to be stairs to a hay loft or such. We worked out that there had been stairs going into what is now our bedroom so we deduced that our bedroom was once a loft. This is probably true but in fact after the last war there was a fire in the local grocery shop and at that time our bedroom was used as the grocery shop for the village and these stairs were used as an access to the temporary village shop. The mill stone is more of a mystery. It weighs about 500 kilos and was not the sort of thing that was used as a garden ornament over 100 years ago. It is highly unlikely that the previous owners would have moved it since they had no interest in the house and certainly half ton garden ornaments were not fashionable. So where was the mill, there is no record of a wind mill close to here and if not how and why did the stone get here?We recently found out that during World War II the house was commandeered by the Germans for housing refugees. These were people moved from Alsace and the areas close to it by the Germans when they annexed Alsace-Lorraine and moved French people out. However it was mainly women who were housed here. We found out from a lady who lived here during the war that part of the house was used for refugees and part for her family. She recalls that Germans used to visit the refugee ladies and that the house was, in modern French, ‘comme un bordel’. We always thought that the house had a good feeling!We have built up the history of our home. Perhaps some of it is not accurate but from now on it is the history.
The caves at Pair-Non-Pair date to about 40,000 years B.C. and the engravings to about 30,000 years B.C. To the left is an engraving of an Ibex and below it a horse. There are also engravings of bisons, mammoths, a stag, a doe and a megaceros,which was a type of moose.The cave is small so the number of visitors per visit is limited but this adds to the pleasure. As this is a real cave and not a modern reproduction, lighting is low and photography with flash is not permitted. Once one becomes used to the low lighting the sense of a connection with the past is much greater. The engravings are all close to natural light sources.The young guide was so proud of ‘her’ cave and was scornful of the much bigger but reproduction caves at Lascaux.At the end of the visit, stepping into the light, one is filled with a sense of awe at the evacuations made by François Daleau over 30 years.
Travelling from Castillon towards Bergerac you might notice the sign mentioning the monument to John Talbot, the English general killed in the battle of Castillon in 1453, which effectively ended the 100 years war between France and England. After this you arrive at Moncaret.Here there are the remains of a vast Roman villa that dates from the 1st century A.D. and was inhabited until the 5th century. What remains are the foundations for several large rooms and baths with their heating systems. There are some incredible mosaics dating from the 4th and 5th centuries and were made by craftsmen who went from villa to villa carrying out commissions.In the 11th century Benedictine monks built a church on the now abandoned site and later still houses were built on part of the villa.The villa was excavated when the cemetry beside the church was moved in 1921. The church is surrouded by parts of the villa and a substantial part of the villa is under by the church and the houses.
Aquitaine is the area covering the South West coast of France from the Spanish border and its history today can be traced back to the marriage in 1154 of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry Plantagenet, who shortly after became King Henry II of England. By this marriage Aquitaine, the South West of France, became English and remained so until 1453 at the end of the 100 years war between France and England. The picture on the left is a re-creation of the Bataille de Castillon of 1453, which can be seen in July and August. The site of the spectacle is very close to Beau Séjour. For dates see the Events page.This was a period of conflict between France and England that gave rise to prosperity and development. There are the wonderful castles that one can visit and others seen on hilltops that are often just glimpsed on a journey, see for example part of the Chateau de Beneauge, seen on the way to Cadillac.Town planning was also different in the 14th century. There were many new towns created, named Bastides. These were typically created from the mid 13th century until the mid 14th century and had a common plan of a market square surrounded by buildings and the town built around that and surrounded by fortifications of stone walls with gates which could be closed to protect the inhabitants, from ‘brigands’. What a nice word historians use to descibe robbers, rapists and murderers.Again, perhaps interesting, one historian says that the term Bastide comes from the latin ‘bastire’ and another from the Occitan ‘bastida’.The bastide towns, such as Libourne founded in 1270 by Roger de Leybourn, still have some of their towns walls and market squares. They are best visited on a market day. One can then mingle with the ghosts of people who shopped there almost 750 years ago.Not just castles and towns were fortified but also churches, graveyards and water mills, see the 14th century water mill left. Whereas castles were built on elevated land, water mills were built in valleys, hence they were so much more vunerable.
The Citadelle de Blaye was built for one purpose, to stop the English sailing down the Gironde and attacking Bordeaux. It was designed by the famous French military architect Vauban and built between 1686 and 1689. There had been defences there for a long time and part of the ruined Chateau Rudel, dating from the 12th century, is on the site. In that time a canon could not fire across the width of the Gironde so in fact three forts were built. The second, Fort Paté, was built on an island in the middle of the Gironde. On the opposite, left bank there is another fort called Fort Médoc. Now canons could cover the width of the river. In fact the English attacked once in 1814 but the citadelle was not taken. The defenses are not only from the river side but also from the land, where there are several levels of defense including those below ground, see above. There are canon emplacements underground so if attackers broke into the underground defenses they would meet canon fire and presumably massive rock falls killing attackers and defenders alike.The citadelle included a bakery and hospital as well as accommodation. One can walk around and see these as well as more modern shops and a restaurant. As part of the visit a trip across the Gironde on a pleasure boat is well worthwhile.
Monuments are strange things and normally they are so well looked after by French people. It was therefore very sad to find, shortly after moving here, a neglected monument to some young men killed by the Gestapo. It was probably the same Gestapo troops that had apparently ridden their motorbikes in the house that we had earlier visited that had done this. Anyway, we noticed the date and it was close to the anniversary so we tidied the memorial up, weeded it, not our strong suit, and left some flowers. We visited again a year later and somebody had taken over, and improved upon our work. This page has several monuments, all well looked after.Left is a monument found at the northernmost point in the Medoc, the Point de Grave. It is to the men from Operation Frankton, an operation carried out in December 1942. Ten men left the HMS Tuna, a submarine, at the mouth of the Gironde. These men became known as the Cockleshell Heroes, due to the form of their canoes. Of the ten men, four made it to Bordeaux and planted limpet mines on six boats and then started their escape to Spain. Two made it home. Of the other marines, six were captured and murdered by the Germans, murdered since they were wearing military uniforms, and two died from hypothermia. The French resistance helped hide the four initial survivors and three French people from Beaunac paid the price by being sent to a concentration camp where they died.We first visited the Bordeaux base sous-marine to see an art exhibition and in fact this is the way to enter. It is a massive concrete structure that has a feelng of evil about it. It was built between mid 1941 to mid 1943 as a U boat pen for 11 U boats, 8 in dry dock. There is a monument outside to 6,000 slave workers who helped build it, see left. Many refugees and exiles from Franco’s war in Spain were used as slave labour.The U boats based there were often long distance supply U boats to take food, fuel and torpedos to other U boats at sea to enable them to remain at sea longer.From outside, one of the first things that we noticed was the roof. Clearly a massive structure but with another structure on top. We deduced that this was a protection against bombing, and so it was. The base was hit twice by the RAF, but without damage.The city of Bordeaux now own this defacto monument, it being impossible to destroy it.
Click on a photo above or below to enlarge
The monument and the estuary at the Point de Grave where the Cockleshell heroes started their journey.