August 15 Day 11 – Blaye > Bordeaux
Our Free Choice today was to stroll through the charming Citadel of Blaye. Not to take a more active walk throughout the town or join a 30 kilometer round trip cycle along the Captain’s Road which is named in honor of the WWI Captains who chose to purchase their homes along this beautiful stretch of waterway in the early 20th century. And we did not enjoy a cooking class in Scenic Culinaire. In the afternoon we relaxed on board as we cruised past beautiful uninhabited islands, bound for Bordeaux.
No sun salutation with the well being coach this morning, why break a perfect record! Besides I needed the sleep still not feeling great. We set sail for Blaye at 7:00 am arriving at 9:30. We went off on a guided walking tour of the Blaye Citadel at 9:45 the entrance was very close to the ship – no bus. Yes! After we finished the tour of the Citadel, an amazing place, by the way, we wandered through the market before going back to the ship for lunch, then packing. After that a nap before supper. Trying to get a bit of rest before the evening festivities and a 2:45 wake up in the morning. We left Blaye at 1:30 and arrived in Bordeaux at 5:00 pm.
Blaye: Located on the east bank of the Gironde estuary, Blaye was an ancient port of the Santones (a tribe of Gauls). In the 1st century BC the Romans occupied the area and recognized the importance of its strategic location for trade and defense. In the early centuries AD there was a succession of invasions by Germanic tribes following a similar history as the rest of Aquitaine, including English ownership, 100 Years War, religious wars and the French Revolution.
Citadel of Blaye: Because of its location on a rocky spur 35 meters above the Gironde estuary, it was a prime site for defense from its earliest settlements forward. But it was not until the 7th century that the first castle was built by the Merovingian’s who made Blaye, intermittently, a royal residence. The castle was apparently still standing in the 12th century when Wulgrin Rudel becomes lord of Blaye. He demolished the old Merovingian structures to build a modern castle, suitable for the defense of the city. Blaye was a key military defense of Aquitaine during the Hundred Years War; it was taken and retaken several times before being conquered by the French in 1452. In the late 16th century during the Wars of Religion (Huguenots and Catholics) it was partly destroyed by Protestant forces. Finally in the early 17th century, Louis XIII’s government repaired the fortifications and established a modern defense system supervised by Marshal Vauban. These included bastions built according to the most modern theories of the time. It is one of the three forts designed by Vauban as ‘the Bolt of the Estuary’ to protect Bordeaux. Only a few elements of medieval fortifications escape destruction, the castle Rudel, which served as a home to the military governor, and the Liverneuf gate were two of them. The inhabitants were relocated to a “new city” built a few hundred meters further east. The citadel is perfectly preserved. Its defense system comprises 1.2 km of ramparts, four bastions, three demilunes, dry moats, and underground passages between the defense lines. Inside, it was a surprise to discover a veritable military town with barracks, a convent and a powder store. It is currently used as workshops by artists and artisans, for exhibitions and many other events.
Château des Rudel: The castle of Rudel, dating from the twelfth century, now in ruins, is located inside the citadel Vauban de Blaye. It was preserved and transformed into lodgings for the military governors during the construction of the citadel of Blaye in the seventeenth century then abandoned in 1820.
Liverneuf Gate: is one of the old medieval gates of the old upper town of Blaye, destroyed in the 17th century to give way for the citadel. Built in the thirteenth century, it consists of a Gothic gate surmounted by a barlongue tower, which was enlarged in the seventeenth century to serve as housing for officers.
Royal Gate: Built in 1685, it is one of two accesses to the citadel. The sophistication of its defense system makes it one of Vauban’s major achievements: two sleeping bridges, a half-moon, an ovoid-shaped vestibule barred by two drawbridges were designed to protect the gate.
Dauphine gate: Along with the Royal gate it is one of two entrances to the stronghold. Built in 1689 , it is preceded by a dormant bridge and a half-moon, its entry is deliberately shifted and designed to avoid exposure to fire. It was only possible to access the bridge after crossing a solid oak gateway.
The convent of the Minimes: The convent of Minimes is a monastic complex erected between 1607 and 1611 to serve as a place of worship for the garrison and to provide moral support to the soldiers. During the construction of the citadel in 1685, the convent is incorporated into the fortress to ensure a continued religious presence. Under the terror, the convent is transformed into prison, while the chapel became storage for fodder. Today it consists of a church flanked by a squat bell tower crowned with a dome, convent buildings and a cloister with vaults with traces of painted decoration.
Military Prison (Archaeological Museum): Originally constructed in 1677 by Duke Claude de Rouvroy de Saint-Simon as a military Prison. The trace of his coat of arms, hammered at the Revolution, is still perceptible on the facade. The ground floor had administrative offices, four vaulted cells, the jailer’s living quarters and a kitchen. Other vaulted cells were also located underground and the first floor served as the prison dormitory. Over time many political prisoners were also held here especially priests who refused to renounce their vows during the French Revolution. Converted to bakery and warehouse in 1831 two ovens and baking areas replaced the ground floor cells. Flour and grain were kept on the first floor and wood and non-perishables were stored in the basement. During WWI German prisoners made bread here for the entire garrison.
Soldiers Barracks: Standard living quarters on the ground floor each room featuring a window, a door opening onto the street and overlooked a small private courtyard. Each barracks had a fireplace for heating and cooking as well as beds in which soldiers could take turns sleeping.