Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Montauban, A City of Art and legends

Memorial to the 1870 war by Antoine Bourdelle

In my trip to France there were a couple places that I had to visit. One was Paris and another was Montauban.

I could find plenty of Americans who had been to Paris and were willing to offer advice about places to see and things to do, but I could not find anyone who had been to Montauban.

And that is a shame.

Montauban is a beautiful city in a gorgeous part of France and it deserves more tourists.

I needed to visit Montauban because one of the heroes in the legends of Charlemagne is Renaud de Montauban. Renaud is the eldest son in the famous French poem Les Quatre Fils Aymon or The Four Sons of Aymon.

Renaud's sister Bradamante is the heroine of my story. Therefore I found it necessary to for me to set my novel in the area surrounding Montauban.

Even though it is not historically accurate to the time period of my story. Blame it on the poets who wrote the Matters of France. They were fabulous dramatists, but not well versed on history.

The city of Montauban was founded in 1144 and Charlemagne died in 814.

However, trying to divorce Renaud from Montauban would be like trying to take Robin Hood out of Sherwood Forest.

Or using another Italian city other than Venice when refering to Leonardo. Perhaps Leonardo de Firenze.

It wouldn't work.

By my accepting the idea that dramatic necessity required my using Montauban, it mentally freed me to include similar historical inaccuracies when I deemed it a plot necessity.

That also meant my visit to Montauban was less demanding when it came to fact finding. I needed a sense of the surrounding area, but there would not be any buildings dating back to the time period of my story.

I also wanted to find examples of the legends of Charlemagne influencing their art and heritage.

Unfortunately, that was the most disappointing aspect about Montauban. I had tried via email to connect with any historians, professional or amateur, who were fans of the Matters of France. The Tourism Office sent me a lead, but I did not receive any reply.

It was not the first, nor shall it be the last time an email query receives no response.

My disappointment increased during our visit to the tourist office. I asked if there was anything such as a statue, a mural, streets, etc. in honor of Renaud de Montauban.

The only thing they knew of was a stone face on the side of the Ingres Museum thought to be of Renaud de Montauban. You can see it if you stand on the Pont Vieux and look at a certain angle.

Here is the Pont Vieux or "Old Bridge" over the Tarn River. This bridge dates back to the 14th century.

And here is the stone face that reportedly belongs to Renaud de Montauban.

While having found this face in order to take a picture seems worthy of earning points in a scavenger hunt, I was expecting more for this literary hero by the city of Montauban.

I had hoped to find statues, sculptures, paintings, or possibly a mural. I would not have been surprised to find streets being named after Renaud, Aymon, Guichard, Alard, Richardet and Bradamante. Maybe even a restaurant or two.

Les Quatre Fils Aymon Café.

As far as I know, that name is still available.

Something to demonstrate pride and ownership of this legend by the city of Montauban.

No other city or town can lay claim to being the home of Renaud.

In Chantilly I saw this painting depicting Renaud's magical horse Bayard who could expand to accommodate all four sons of Aymon on his back.

I asked the people working at the Tourism Office why there was not anything else celebrating their literary heroes. I wound up annoying them since they are not in control of artworks for the city or naming streets.

Their only answer to me was that this was only a story.

Only a story.

Rocamadour claims they have the sword Durindal embedded in the side of a rock (similar to Excalibur.) This was the sword of Roland made famous in the epic poem Chanson de Roland. I do not know how they claim it came to their town, but if Roland were to have thrown it as he lay dying in the Roncesvalle Pass and it flew through the air to Rocamadour he would have to have made one helluva toss.

That sword would have to go about 190 miles or 308 kilmeters by my quick and dirty measurment on Google Earth from Roncesvalles to Rocamadour.

Yet Rocamadour uses that bit of legendary lore to lure tourists. It is based on a story.

Carcassonne uses a legend to describe how their town was named. The legend involves successfully withstanding a siege by the Emperor Charlemagne.

They made up their own legend of Charlemagne. It's not true, but it makes a good story.

Portland, Oregon has bronze statues in a park dedicated to characters written by children's author Beverly Cleary. Statues based on stories.

I remember a restaurant on the campus of Wayne State University in Detroit named Friar Tuck's. There is no legitimate claim to the legend of Robin Hood by a college town restaurant/bar in Michigan, yet they proudly used a name they thought would be inviting to patrons.

A name based on a story.

I love the vibrancy of the city of Montauban. I love its history and its surrounding beauty, but I think the city is missing out on tourist dollars. Tourist dollars that are waiting to be claimed.

My plea to the city of Montauban is for them to honor Renaud de Montauban and his fair sister Bradamante through artwork.

Carve it and they will come.

Paint it and they will come.

If nothing else, do this because I want to come back and take pictures of that artwork. I also want my picture taken standing near them.

Okay, enough babbling about what I did not find in Montauban.

Here are some photos I took of a city known for its beautiful brick architecture. Montauban is sometimes called Toulouse's "little pink sister" due to the color of the bricks. The vibrant color is due to the rich color of the soil.

This next picture is from the Place Nationale in the heart of downtown Montauban.

Our visit was on a bright sunny day and unfortunately the carved inscription is washed out in this photo.

Here is a closer look.

On the left is the Occitan Cross which was the standard of the Counts of Toulouse and on the right is the standard of the city of Montauban.

Here is a nice colorized version of Montauban's standard taken from the pages of Wikipedia.

Next comes tables for the lunch crowd on the Place Nationale.

We chose to eat at a restaurant whose tables were underneath beautiful arches.

Our first stop of the day before we went to the Tourist Office was actually the Farmer's market held on the other side of the Tarn River.

We were unsure where the market was, but was told it was near the Pont Vieux. We parked near the Ingres Museum but did not see any sign of the market. Then we saw women carrying bags laden with fresh produce. We set off trying to find where they had come from and after crossing the bridge soon discovered a large open air market teeming with people and the bounty of the land.

The fruits and vegetables were wonderful. Chasselas grapes are a specialty of the region and were bursting with flavor.


I sampled brioche for the first time in my life and we bought a marvelous apple tart for dessert.

We had the best bruschetta of our lives using heirloom tomatoes and fresh basil we bought at that market.

After our lunch we visited the Musée Ingres named after Montauban's most famous artist Jean Auguste Dominique Ingres (1780-1867).

The building at one point was an episcopal palace, later it was a town hall and finally became a museum. It houses paintings by Ingres, sculptures by another famous Montauban artist Antoine Bourdelle (1861-1929), as well as other artwork and Gallo-Roman artifacts. The basement of the building is called the Black Prince room another reminder of the longreaching impact of the Hundred Years' War.

One of the most famous paintings by Ingres was inspired by the Matters of France. It is Roger délivrant Angélique. (1841)

The original hangs in the Louvre.

Here is a better version I found on the web.

Ingres was so fascinated by Angelica that he has another painting without Ruggiero. I apologize, but the lighting was not ideal at this point in the day and this was the best photo I could manage.

I do not care for the character of Angelica in either Orlando Innamorato or Orlando Furioso. She is more in the archetype of Aphrodite and I prefer the character of Bradamante who follows the archetype of Athena.

Too bad Ingres did not depict Ruggiero and Bradamante together. Or Renaud de Montauban.

Enough pounding on what I want versus what they have.

Here's a painting that impressed me. It is Le Songe d' Ossiane by Ingres.

A Gallo-Roman mosaic dating back to the fourth century.

There was also a few display cases with Greek pottery.

On the way downstairs there is a wood carving showing the patron saint of Toulouse, Saint Saturnin being martyred by being tied to the back of a bull.

Downstairs are more mosaics. You can tell by the color of the tiles next to the bricks that the materials were made in the nearby area.

A close up on the fine detail of the mosaic.

I would love to have something that intricate and beautiful in my house.

Then the room of the Black Prince. Check out the vaults on the ceiling.

Some stone sarcaphagi.

An old stone fireplace.

The close up is of a bear and a dog holding the crest.

On the left side of the mantle is the Wild Man of the Woods.

And on the right side is the lesser seen Wild Woman of the Woods.

Yay for equal representation!

One of the most disturbing things we saw in our travels in France was le banc de question.

Otherwise known as The Rack.

Here is a nice picture of colored glass to cleanse your palate.

And to leave you, here is the marvelous spread of food that my husband lovingly prepared for our dinner including the fresh fruit and baked bread we bought at Montauban's farmer's market.

It was a good day. The next day on our travels brought us to the town of Peyrusse le Roc. A town reportedly that was once conquered by Charlemagne's father Pepin le Bref.

I shall be sharing some of my pictures of my travels with my friend Lee Lofland on his blog this Saturday. Feel free to stop by.


Catanea said...

Hello. I only wish to suggest that maybe all French cities are not actually pining for more (or any) American tourists, nor for their dollars. It is possible, you know!

L.C.McCabe said...


I do recognize that not all tourists are well behaved. Especially Americans. There is an Ugly American stereotype that has been earned and is perpetuated on a daily basis. Then again, those are the same people who are embarrassing in their home environs as well.

My husband and I did our best in our travels in your country to show respect and deference. We thought of ourselves as being ambassadors from the U.S., but we did not identify ourselves as such either. When asked, we said we were from California. As if that were a whole different country. During our talks with French people, many responded by saying they wanted to visit California. We can only think it is because our interaction with them was positive and they wanted to see our beautiful state in return.

I also wanted to say that the entire feeling of the Midi-Pyrenees region was different than Provence.

Between the two, I much prefer the authentic French villages where I struggled with the language barrier over the heavily traveled Provence areas where I didn't need to speak French and I could have swung a proverbial dead cat and hit at least three American tourists.

To me it is similar to the difference between Napa and Sonoma counties. Napa has the high name recognition and is swarming with tourists, while Sonoma has better wines, multiple appellations and fewer busloads of people looking to guzzle wine.

I live in Sonoma County and am a fierce partisan when it comes to Napa/Sonoma rivalry, but I do not want to encourage diverting busloads of crass tourists here over our neighbors to the east. I would rather have tourists who are knowledgable in wine visit because they are more likely to appreciate what we have to offer.

In this economy, I believe that every locale would do well to encourage people to come visit and spend some dollars in restaurants, lodging, and souvenirs. If nothing else, it helps strengthen the local governments' coffers through sales taxes which in turn will help their local community.

I hope that helps explain my thoughts a little more.

Joelle in VA said...

I lived in Montauban from 1971 to 1983 and now live in Arlington, VA. It's a great town! I miss it.