France’s Lively riverside city
My time in Angers was short and sweet. I would have loved to spend at least a week exploring the various nooks and crannies of this lively riverside city. But in as little as two days, my girlfriend and I managed to cover a plenty of interesting sights.
Once the capital of Anjou, 265 km from Paris, Angers straddles the Maine River at the western end of the Loire Valley. Though it suffered extensive damage in World War II, it has been restored, even making a remarkable progress in the recent years, without losing its ‘sa fameuse douceur de vivre,’ (Its relaxed pace of life).
The arrival of tramway in 2011 has modernized the city’s image. The city’s dynamism, unique patrimony (castles, cathedral, medieval city, museums, wooden houses, countless gardens), makes this bustling regional center worthwhile to explore. Its many pedestrianised streets and a thriving café culture makes it attractive. Water gushes from stone cherubs on its Beaux Arts fountains and picture-perfect vineyards announce the town’s current prosperity. Young people, including some 30,000 college students, keep the vital city of 155,700 jumping until late at night.
Angers is famous for its tapestries: the 14th-century Tenture de l’Apocalypse in the city’s château.
The magnificent Tenture de l’Apocalypse is 100m long by 4.5m wide, the world’s oldest complete tapestry of this dimension that survived to this day. A work of great prestige, it has been ordered in 1375 by Louis I, Duke of Anjou to illustrate the Revelation to John – the last book of the New Testament and completed in seven years, a short span of time for such a huge work. Entirely woven in wool, the Apocalypse Tapestry portrays the eternal struggle between good and evil. Stitched more than 600 years ago, the detail on the world’s longest tapestry is extraordinary, from a seven-headed lion to lilies and ripe purple grapes.
This building, the Maison d’Adam, a half-timbered house on whose ornate façade wooden sculptures run riot, is nearly 500 years old. The Tree of Life, on the corner, used to be flanked by Adam and Eve.
Cathedral St. Maurice
Under the patronage of Saint Maurice, the cathedral, that dates mostly from the 12th century and 13th centuries, renders the town homage to the patron saint of the Anjou. The architect Jean Delespine (1505-1576) lent his talent to the renaissance bell tower where the gallery immortalizes the bishop Maurice seen surrounded by seven soldiers accompanying him. The statues on the portal represent everybody from the Queen of Sheba to David at the harp. The tympanum depicts Christ enthroned. The stained glass windows from the 12th through the 16 century have made the cathedral famous. The 12 century nave, a landmark in cathedral architecture, is a work of harmonious beauty. Simple but majestic, robust but elegant, the cathedral receives a treasure of tapestry and liturgical objects.
Special thanks to our French friends, who visited Ethiopia a couple of months ago, and had been yearning for us to visit them. They have an apartment in Angers, so not only did we have knowledgeable “local” guides for our travels through the city, but we had some great companionship. Gildas Fresneau has bought me two guide books about his city.