Friday, August 2, 2019

Beziers France

Cathédrale Saint-Nazaire-et-Saint-Celse de Béziers

Place Gabriel Péri

Photos taken in March 2017

Click here for more photos of Beziers.

The old city or centre ville of Béziers has an array of medieval streets unlike any urban plan seen in the United States.  Certain shopping villages have a similar designs with wider streets & cars.  A closer comparison might be at a complex of closely spaced apartment buildings.  But what if this model were copied more closely in US urban planning?  Walkability would be very high.  Density on this level would have a certain charm when commercial spaces & small open spaces were combined with housing.  Access to nearby green spaces would be essential.  Every roof could be a deck with abundant planters & vigorous plants.  There should be easy access to frequent & speedy public transit.  There would be few cars, mostly in underground parking. Doesn't that sound like an urban paradise?  I'd like to see this happen.  Perhaps somewhere it has.

Béziers is a very charming small city on the Mediterranean coast of France.  It's not far from Montpellier where I was staying when I made a day trip to Béziers.  I was quite enchanted, not only with the narrow streets, but the high quality of the buildings, which are tastefully designed & mostly well maintained.  The medieval cathedral is impressive both inside & out.  There is a beautiful view down to the river & bridge from there.  The narrowest streets of the old city are in a small area just behind the cathedral.  There is an attractive central plaza nearby.  An abundance of narrow streets with ground floor shops flow from the plaza.  The centre ville doesn't cover a very large area, but comfortably covers the top of the hill. Béziers is one of the oldest cities in France. Research shows that Béziers dates from 575 BC. Béziers was largely destoyed during the Albigensian Crusade in 1209. Rebuilding started as early as 1215. The restoration continued until the 15th century.

From my travel journal: 3-8-17 Wednesday.  I got to the train station at 8:30 AM. I got on the train to Béziers at 9:30 & arrived at 10:30. I had low expectations for Béziers, because someone on the Internet said that Narbonne (which was just okay) was better than Béziers. But Béziers was great, way better than Narbonne & more charming than Nimes. The old city was lovely & well-integrated with the rest of the city. The streets near the cathedral were a very narrow warren & connected to a lovely plaza where the city hall & many shops were located. The cathedral was impressive but not huge, with vaulted ceilings that almost gave the impression of being underground, in spite of their height. There were views down to the river from outside & it was very windy there. Much of the city is on a hill. The shopping streets near city hall were narrow with eclectic shops. There were vintage/antique shops together on one street with items arranged outside, along the walls, to very charming effect.

Friday, July 19, 2019

Jardin des plantes de Montpellier

Palms with the Tour des Pins in the background

Phlomis species (Jerusalem Sage)

Cycas revoluta (Sago Palm) & greenhouse

Prunus tomentosa (Nanking Cherry)

 Mahonia aquifolium (Oregon Grape)

Yucca rostrata

Photos taken in early March 2017

Click here for more photos of the Jardin des plantes de Montpellier.

Montpellier became an important center for botany in the 16th century.  Botany was taught by the Faculty of Medicine at the University of Montpellier. At that time & long before it, most medicine came directly from plants & doctors needed extensive knowledge of medicinal botany.  The Royal Garden of Montpellier was created in 1593. It was ruined during the bombardment of Montpellier in 1622, then restored in 1629. It was opened to the public at end of the 18th century. The Jardin des plantes de Montpellier is the oldest botanical garden in France. It has remained university property since its creation.

The garden had significant development during the 19th century. The orangery was completed in 1804, the arboretum in 1810, the English Garden in 1859 & the greenhouse in 1860. The garden was named a protected nature preserve in 1982 & a national monument in 1992. The garden contains more than 2,500 plant species, including 500 native to the Mediterranean region. About 2,000 are grown outdoors & 1,000 under glass. The main collections include medicinal plants, the family Cistaceae (rockrose), arboretum trees, plus tropical & temperate plants in the greenhouse.

To be honest, I wasn't very impressed with the Jardin des plantes.  But I have seen many arboreta & botanical gardens, some of them excellent. The Jardin des plantes was interesting enough.  I was pleased to see a collection of plants from the western United States.  The garden is certainly worth a visit when you are in Montpellier. When I was there in March 2017, it wasn’t very well-maintained & many of the plants were still dormant. I’m sure it’s better in May. There were a number of gardeners working to clean it up.

Friday, July 5, 2019

Montpellier France

Place de la Comedie

Rue de la Loge

Place de la Préfecture

 Rue Foch

 Porte du Peyrou

Medieval streets

Hotel particulier at left

The Jardin des Plantes began in 1626 & is France's oldest botanical garden.

Tram station at the edge of the old city.  Photos taken in March 2017

Click here for more photos of Montpellier.

The old city (centre ville) of Montpellier offers an amazing experience of the medieval city plan. The majority of the streets in the old city are of medieval origin & also many buildings, although most have been modified.  The centre ville has a large public plaza & 2 relatively broad commercial streets. There are two substantial parks & a botanical garden just outside the old city. The centre ville is served by sleek modern streetcars.  (The old city is also called the Écusson.) 

Montpellier's example of high urban density in the old city contrasts greatly with modern cities.  I'd like to think it can serve as a model for contemporary urban planning, which is often devoid of charm.  There is a lot of residential construction in my home city of Seattle.  I'd to see something like this: narrow pedestrian streets with town-homes & apartment buildings with ground-floor retail   Cars & parking should be very limited.  

The first settlement of Montpellier began in the late 10th century. Situated near the major Roman road, the Via Domitia, the city grew rapidly during Medieval times. Sold to the kingdom of France in 1349, Montpellier became its 2nd most important city. During the Reformation, many of the citizens of Montpellier became Protestant. They built many churches, destroyed during the Wars of Religion.  In 1622, the city was bombarded for two months by French forces. Afterward, public squares took the place of the ruined churches.  

After Louis XIV (1643-1715) made Montpellier capital of Bas Languedoc, the Porte du Peyrou, Promenade du Peyrou & the Place de la Comedie were built. In the 17th & 18th centuries, wealthy families constructed elaborate private residences, the hotels particuliers. These homes were much the same. (A large gate is set in a high wall on the street. A vaulted passage leads to a courtyard, surrounded by highly ornamented facades. A monumental staircase winds around a large vault, open to the courtyard at the landing & rising to access 2 floors above.) 

In the 19th century, there was an effort to create wide avenues. That grand plan was never completed.  Only 2 fairly short & not very wide avenues were made: Rue Foch between the Porte du Peyrou & Place de la Préfecture, Rue de la Loge between Place de la Préfecture & Place de la Comedie. They link together & are the main commercial streets of the centre ville.

Notes from my travel journal (March 4 to 8, 2017):

The central shopping district is beautiful. The streets are  narrow & mostly closed to cars. There are throngs of people. There is a huge plaza by the opera, Place de la Comedie. At the other end of the old city, a long, 2-story aqueduct feeds into a water tower that looks like a Greek temple. That was built in the 18th century. And there is an Arc de Triomphe built in the 17th century. Montpellier looks nothing like Nice or Marseille, which look nothing like each other. This looks a lot older. 

I went out to walk in the old city from 8:30 to 10:30 AM. There were very few people out. The sky was gray & it was fairly cold. The old city continued to amaze me. The narrow streets seemed to go on forever. I saw a number of large houses (hotels particuliers) with historical markers, built in the 17th century. The houses all have stone facades. That morning was one of the best experiences of the trip. I was fascinated & excited by the old city environment. It was magical.

One evening, I walked down a narrow street, lined with small shops, cafes, a few tattoo parlors & a bar named The Titty Pincher. There was a lurid & graphic neon sign that showed exactly what that meant. Lots of young people were on the street. It leads to a tram stop for 3 lines & 1 goes to the university. Montpellier spreads far beyond the old city.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Roman Architecture of Vienne France

Part of the Roman Road

Jardin archéologique de Cybèle

Jardin archéologique de Cybèle

Le temple d'Auguste et de Livie

Le temple d'Auguste et de Livie

Le temple d'Auguste et de Livie. Photos taken in March 2017

The Jardin archéologique de Cybèle contains the remains of a section of the Gallo-Roman city.  There are arcades of a portico bordering the forum area, a wall suggesting the existence of an uncovered room & vestiges of a residential area with houses and terraces.  Construction dates to the beginning of the 1st century AD.

The temple of Augustus & Livy is a typical Roman temple with Corinthian columns, located at the center of the ancient city & still standing at the center of  Vienne.  The temple was dedicated to emperor Augustus & his wife Livy. There is construction from 2 different periods. Only the rear wall remains from the last quarter of the 1st century BC after the rest of the building, probably unfinished, collapsed.  There is evidence of fire.  The rest was rebuilt at the beginning of the 1st century AD.  The temple was originally dedicated to Augustus alone, but in 41 AD the emperor Claudius re-dedicated the building to include Livia, his grandmother.

After the fall of Rome, the temple became a church until the French Revolution.  It then began to have a series of different uses, including library & art gallery in the 19th century.  The temple was later restored to its appearance during the Gallo-Roman era.

This temple is similar to the Roman temple in Nîmes & presumably many other temples in Gaul. These temples are particularly interesting because they are so well-preserved.  They illustrate the model for many significant buildings constructed in Europe & America from the 17th to 20th centuries.

The return to classical styles in architecture began with Andrea Palladio (1508–1580). Palladian architecture grew from Palladio's ideas based on the classical temple architecture of the Ancient Greeks & Romans.  Palladianism got its start in Britain during the mid-17th century & then spread to the British colonies in North America.  A famous example is Thomas Jefferson's Monticello in Virginia.  I saw that building in the fall of 1973 with my father, an architect.

The Early Classical Revival style developed at the end of the 18th century took inspiration directly from the ancient buildings of Rome & Greece. While earlier styles were also inspired by classical forms, they used only architectural details & did not recreate the look of ancient buildings. The Roman Classical Revival & Greek Revival style copied the form of Roman & Greek temples. It recalled the power & influence of  the Roman Empire. Thomas Jefferson designed campus of the University of Virginia using ancient Roman temples as his guide.

The Neoclassical style is common in the United States. It was inspired by the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago held in 1893, which promoted renewed interest in the classical forms of architecture. Neoclassical buildings have massive columns with classical capitals, topped by a front facing pediment. The arrangement of windows & doors is symmetrical.  The Neoclassical style was most often used for courthouses, banks, churches, schools & mansions.  My own high school was built in this style in 1912.

Friday, May 17, 2019

Jardin botanique de Lyon

Veltheimia capensis

Helleborus liguricus

Primula x polyantha

Photos taken in March 2017

Click here for more photos of the Jardin botanique de Lyon.

The Jardin botanique de Lyon is an impressive botanical garden in the French city of Lyon.  It covers 20 acres, near the city center, in the much larger Parc de la Tête d'Or.  I walked there, but it is not far from a subway stop.  The garden has existed here since 1857, when the park was first established.  It is France's largest municipal botanical garden. It is said to have 15,000 plants, with 3,500 species from temperate regions.  There are also roses, peonies, alpine plants, water lilies & many plants in greenhouses.   The greenhouses cover 70,000 square feet.  The largest greenhouse is one of the most impressive of the many greenhouses I've seen.  But the beds of perennials & shrubs, laid out in concentric circles, was the most interesting part for me, as a gardener.  This botanical garden is a must for people who love plants & visit Lyon.

Friday, May 3, 2019

Lyon Confluence

Jardin d'Erevan

Jardin Aquatique Ouagadougou

Jardin Aquatique Jean Couty

Place Nautique

Promenade du quai Rambaud

Promenade du quai Rambaud, Rivière La Saône

Click here for more photos of Lyon Confluence.
Click here for video of Place Nautique.

Lyon Confluence is a remarkable example of urban renewal at the old Port of Lyon. It is comparable to South Lake Union in Seattle, the Pearl District in Portland OR & other redeveloped urban industrial sites. The architecture here is bolder than in any other place I have seen.  This was the part of Lyon I found most attractive & interesting.  When it’s done, Lyon Confluence will double the size of the central residential area of Lyon.  The waterfront is more accessible here than in other parts of Lyon, which has grown up along the banks of the Rhône and Saône Rivers since the arrival of the Romans.  Place Nautique brings the Saône River to the center of the residential & commercial area with apartment buildings on one side & a shopping mall on the other.  Most of Lyon Confluence is less than 400 yards from water.  Parc de la Saône was built along the river, replacing a busy road with a 35-acre park designed by landscape architect Michel Desvigne.  It has separate paths for cyclists & pedestrians along with gardens & ponds that encourage & mimic nature.  Eventually it will be possible to walk or bike for miles along the Saône River, around the tip of the Confluence & then along the Rhône River.  Discussion of the redevelopment began in 1998 & work began in 2003.  Lyon  Confluence is expected to be completed in 2020.

Friday, April 19, 2019

Menton France

Photos taken in March 2017

Click here for more photos of Menton.

Menton is a pleasant little city on the Mediterranean coast of France near the Italian border.  During the 13th century, the Vento family of Genoa built a castle along the Roman road, now the site of the Vieux-Château cemetery, providing the core around which the current town grew.  This small, medieval town is now the oldest & most charming neighborhood in Menton.  The castle was built at the top of a steep hill, not very large, nor very high.  There are wonderful views of the Mediterranean Sea from the hill.  The view from the plaza by the two churches is stunning.  The rest of Menton is pleasant & peaceful with a certain amount of quiet activity.  There are as many stores & restaurants as you might need.   I was staying in Nice when I came here.

This is an urban landscape you would never see in the United States.  Hills like this are not developed into high density neighborhoods.  But very narrow streets like those of the medieval city could be used on level ground to form small & dense townhouse developments free of cars & near transit.  I've seen something like this done including garages.  But there should be car-free options for housing in an urban environment.  

From my travel journal: I got the train to Menton at 10 AM. The train took 40 minutes each way. I loved Menton! The 18th-19th century town was nice. The medieval hill town was fantastic! The narrow streets wound around & criss-crossed the hill, going under arches & up steps. The houses were nice, but not too nice. There were few tourists. Real people seemed to live there. The views of the Mediterranean, the city & surrounding hills were excellent from the top. There were 3 castles up there between 1200 & 1800. But two were destroyed in wars & the 3rd fell apart & was replaced with a cemetery. There were two interesting churches & a school on a small plaza halfway up the hill. People were out with their dogs. Farther up the hill some residents came with groceries & set the bags by their door. Their cat ran down the street & stuck its head in a bag. Then they all went inside. There was a market hall down in the lower city near the beach. Inside were stalls with fish, meat, or produce. One just had spices. I got a sandwich that was breaded & fried chicken fillets with fries in the sandwich, on an 8-inch baguette. It was oh so starchy. Pigeons harassed me while I ate it on a bench.