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Armchair Uzès

la Vie Quotidienne

Fall 2002
Uzès, France

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Floods hit the A9 just north of Nîmes
(courtesy  Midi-Libre)

Devastating floods hit the south of France
Les inondations effrayantes en Languedoc

Terrible news from the south of France this September. Torrential rains and violent storms brought floods, death and destruction to hundreds of villages and cities in the Vaucluse, the Bouche-du-Rhône, the Gard, the Hérault, the Drôme, and the Ardèche. A few days after the flooding, 13 people were reported dead with at least a half a dozen still missing. The tally of damages is almost immeasurable…vineyards wiped out, much of the Côte du Rhône harvest in jeopardy, bridges and roads destroyed, phone and cable lines drowned out. Because we weren’t in France at the time, we can’t bring you any direct reports, and our communications with friends has been difficult with continued power and telephone outages. But here’s what we’ve learned, thanks to newspaper reports and a French weather site.

     Hardest hit was the department of the Gard. In Collias, a few kilometers from Uzès and just upstream from Remoulins and the Pont du Gard, a wall of water swept away a significant number of homes and businesses. Further upstream from Collias, near Blauzac, the 16th century Pont Saint Nicolas was wiped out, cutting off the most direct route between Uzès and Nîmes. The 2,000-year-old Roman-built Pont du Gard still stands, but the beaches beneath are gone or washed up into bordering vineyards and orchards. Sommières’ Roman bridge and its lower town were severely damaged. People were stranded in trees and on rooftops throughout the region, waiting for help and for the waters to recede.
     To put some numbers on the volume of water into perspective, normal rainfall in the Gard is about 60-80mm per month, and never much more than 800mm annually. Two out of three stations reported more than 300 mm in the 24 hour period of September 8-9, with Anduze at the top of the list with 687 mm.


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A map-based chart of the flood's effects
(Courtesy  Midi-Libre)

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Rainfall amounts for Sept 8-9  approached
 average annual total rainfall of 800 mm
(Courtesy Météo France)

 



Part of the Chaîne des Puys Volcaniques in Auvergne, one of many treasures along the A75 autoroute
Photo by Bertrand Dichamp

Great highway across the Massif Central - the A75
Bonne route, l'A75

Most of us who visit France want to “stop and smell the roses” as we’re touring by car, avoiding the snarly, speedy, and expensive autoroutes unless we’re in a hurry to get somewhere. But we’re intrigued by the most recently opened autoroute segment, the A75. Designed to open up the largely unexplored Massif Central, the route stretches from au plein centre Clermont-Ferrand to Béziers near the Mediterranean coast. It offers a variety of great places to explore for the adventurous traveler, including the volcanic hills in Auvergne, mountain trails in the Cantal,  traces of the Knights Templar, and the gorges of the Tarn river. Rest stops and exits are planned to accommodate the tourist, every 8 kilometers (rather than the usual 30-kilometer spread between exits). Best of all, it’s free. We’re looking forward to taking this new route through and into the heart of France, la France profonde. After all, that’s what travel is all about, be it live or via the armchair. Bonne route!



Like a fairy tale from afar...

Carcassonne, top-10 must-see 
Carcassonne, une site historique

High on the list of top ten architectural images of France has to be the medieval fortress of Carcassonne, a fairy tale vision of a fortified castle from afar, a bit more like Disneyland from within. In spite of the hordes, some jarring restorations and the overriding commerciality of the walled city, Carcassonne is rich in history and redolent with the spirits of its former inhabitants.
     What a colorful history! Romans, Visigoths, Berbers, Franks, even Charlemagne paid homage and left traces during the first milennium. Pope Urban II preached the First Crusade from its ramparts in 1096. The knights of the Trencavel family made Carcassonne the center of courtly love, literature, and gracious living in the 12th century. Beastly Simon de Montfort wrenched it from these Cathars during the bloody Albigensian crusade, turning it over to Catholic bishops in 1209. Then Louis IX moved in, proclaiming French sovereignty and the Inquisition, driving fear and hopelessness into the hearts of its citizens. In the mid-14th century, Scottish and Gascon archers fiercely attacked and overtook the walled city in the name of the Black Prince of England. When the smoke finally cleared in next century, Carcassonne the medieval fortress had seen the last of its glory days. Viollet-le-Duc arrived in the mid-1800s to oversee a major restoration that, controversial as it was, brought back a sense of the walled city’s previous beauty, strength and grace.
     Best way to see Carcassonne is off-season. Even better is to stay at a hotel within the walls so that the daytime crowds can disperse, leaving you and your fellow overnighters to step back in time to soak up the silent, evocative atmosphere. Want to find out more? Visit www.carcassonne.org.

 

And that ends our fall report. Next month we'll have another holiday edition of Armchair Uzès. Stay tuned. 

 

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Towers, bridges, dungeons, moats...

CarcCh1.jpg (74152 bytes)

     

 

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