Monday, January 5, 2009

Historic Poitiers

Poitiers is really old, at least that's what the Wikipedia entry says. But sometimes it's hard to wrap your mind around what 'old' really means; dates and numbers, rather than elucidating this, sometimes just make your vision blur.  For many of us, tangible things are easier to appreciate.

Take for instance the electrical wiring in our apartment, which seems a little sketchy, or the fact that rainwater drains inside our building.  That means the place was built before people worried about things like electromagnetic pollution and toxic death mold.  So that's a pretty tangible marker of age, but then again, the same kinds of weaknesses were present in the poorly-maintained 80-year-old house we rented in Illinois.  

What we're trying to get at is that to US "old" is nothing compared to European "old".  Lately, we have been noticing the patchwork nature of the construction here. There are, for example, university buildings less than 20 years old sharing a common wall with a 500-year-old half-timber house.

One side of the house...

...and the other.

And with so many layers of renovation and new construction, I can't even begin to imagine the headaches faced by all the engineers and architects involved in these projects over the last few hundred years.

Fortunately for the curious-minded, Poitiers reveres its history, and has marked out three historical walking routes (red, blue, and yellow; so far partially translated by Jefe) that people can take to see various interesting houses, churches, and city buildings. While taking these self-guided walking tours and translating all the associated information on posted plaques, he began to notice how few of the buildings stick to one style of architecture (e.g Classical, Romanesque, Gothic, Flamboyant Gothic, Renaissance).

The closer you look, the quirkier things become. For example, most of the windows have actual working shutters (instead of the decorative shutters we have in the US), which people actually use daily. Built into the exteriors of the walls near those shutters are small iron latches that keep them from swinging freely when open. There are numerous designs for these tiny shutter latches, but the one below was surprisingly common:

I haven't figured out who, if anyone specific, this is supposed to represent, but I'll be asking around (or please let us know if you have any guesses).

The other minor detail that people have preserved over the last few hundred years are the doors. Since so many periods of construction coexist, it seems like no two doors (even in their dimensions) are the same. Short rounded medieval doors stand next to giant entryways for carriages, which neighbor stubby blocked-off doors that must have been deemed too low for human use and decommissioned. But at least these still seem to work...

Antique (or just really old) door knockers

After walking around on foot and dodging all the dog poop on the sidewalks, you may wonder where all the parks are. Besides Parc de Blossac, most of the grassy spaces are hidden within courtyards and gardens behind the walls of formerly aristocratic homes (which have since been converted to apartments). However, occasionally you think you are walking into a parking area behind a building and you end up here...

The truth is that it is easier to find the parks using Google's satellite view than by walking around. Some parks are right in your face, but with entrances that are locked. This park looks great on Google. Unfortunately, it is completely private. Maybe they didn't want to deal with the dog poop (yes, that's the same link as before.  It's just really funny).

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thanks for this info. It's really hard to find anything on the internet and Poitiers haven't yet got the idea of internet self promotion.