Candes Saint-Martin, my favourite spot in La Touraine.

Sunday, 22 September 2013

A tall chimney?

The Gallo-Roman Aqueduct of Luynes certainly makes a surprising exception in a region that is famous for its Renaissance châteaux. And there is more of the sort at a stone’s throw from Luynes: La Pile de Cinq-Mars near the village by the same name.

Just a few more steps to climb ...

It was our second stop on that, what was beginning to become a very hot Wednesday. The Pile is an important landmark on the road that runs along the Loire River from Tours to Saumur. I’ve lost count of the times I’ve seen it from the car when we were making our way to Tuesday’s Bourgueil market and other tourist sites West of Tours. And although it was on each and every program I have ever made since 1999, year of my first visit, we never had the chance or the time to stop and take a closer look. In fact, I thought it was not ‘visitable’ as – seen from the road - the foot of the Pile is hidden in thick undergrowth. Not the kind you would like to tackle without a sharp ‘machete’ or other forestry tool!

The view from the top of the bluff ...
with the Loire looking rather muddy of the spring rain.

In the past, many theories about the use and origin of the Pile have been published, a look-out tower or Roman lighthouse being the most common. However, apparently someone has been digging a little deeper into history and now it turns out that the Pile was built between 150 and 200 D.C. marking the burial place of wealthy Roman family. It stands 29.50 metres high (which equals exactly 100 Roman inches, just in case you’re interested).

 The statue of ... a Roman prisoner?

It’s not the only one in its kind but the tallest one so far north. ‘Piles’ are apparently very common in Italy and the South-West of France. What makes it special too is the fact that it is made of red bricks, a building material that is rare in this part of France.

On the plateau behind the Pile, looking north ... vines!

During recent diggings a Roman statue was found near the Pile. It’s in rather good condition considering the time it has been under the ground. It’s that of a man with a Roman hairdo and a rope around his neck. The rope indicates that this man was a prisoner. Well, at least that’s what the panel at the foot of the Pile says.

The locals have an excellent sense of humour.
A mini 'Pile' on top of the chimney of a troglodyte house,
overlooking a quite unusual veget
able garden.
(click to enlarge)

We actually did climb up all the way to the foot of the monument! While J.L. parked the car in the shade of a tall tree, B. and I. walked down the lane leading to the Pile. It’s very quiet with no traffic to speak off, except the occasional tourist and the locals. The silence was disturbed though by a man handling a very noisy hedge trimmer. He was red in the face and sweating profusely. When he saw us coming, he cut the power of the machine and took off his gloves. His house behind the hedge was located just underneath the Pile. “You’re coming to see the Pile”, he asked, whipping the sweat of his forehead using the sleeve of his jumper. He seemed like a nice man with a good sense of humour so I said: “The Pile? I thought it was your chimney!” He appreciated the joke although I think he had heard it before. “Walk that way,” he said pointing towards an alley. “When you reach the top take the wooden staircase, it’ll take you all the way up.” We thanked him for information, and started our climb … which was rather steep. The stairs were very comfortable though and rather well kept. There were some nasty nettles along the way, but we made it, almost unscratched.  And it was certainly worth the effort.


chm said...

This "pile" is reminiscent of the much younger medieval towers in Bologna, Italy.

Louise said...

Fascinating...wonderful description of the local resident!

ladybird said...

Chm, Now that you mention it, I've seen similar towers in Tuscany.

Louise, The man was quite a character and not hard to describe :)

The Broad said...

Absolutely fascinating! The 'man' and the 'statue' as well!

VirginiaC said...

It's good that the true story of the Pile is now known.
It does look like a chimney, but far more fascinating.

ladybird said...

Fascinating is the right word for it! And 'amazing'; amazing because it's still in such good condition. But then bricks are more weather-resistant than the soft Loire Valley limestone. Those Romans knew what they were doing :)