engineering down on the ground and up in the sky
October 14, 2012
I love surprises especially those in the landscape. This feature wouldn’t have been a surprise if I’d read the guide book before visiting Oppidum d’Ensérune. Of course, Oppidum is a remarkable site on a hill with 360 degree views; so a smart strategic choice for seeing those down on the plain who might have threatening ideas. An ancient settlement occupied the hill from the 6th century BC to 1st century AD. The Romans ran the Via Domitia alongside connecting the Alps to the Pyrenees and below the hill sits this landscape -Étang du Montady – a large circular expanse of drained land which is now wedge shaped fields separated by irrigation ditches that converge in the centre. Monks in the 13thC drained the freshwater wetland following orders from the Bishop of Narbonne! I found it amazing as a piece of land art which is also functional. So, the ditches allowed water to flow in radial lines to the centre of the circular depression, from which it was conveyed through underground pipes below the Malpas hill several kilometres to the south. (I think I prefer the image above in contrast to the photoshopped one below) . . . .
. . . the fact that the drain for Montady went through Malpas encouraged Riquet, the designer of the Canal du Midi, to build a tunnel through the same hill for his canal. The image below is from the Malpas tunnel excavated and constructed in 17C to accomodate the passage of the Canal du Midi – Europe’s first navigable canal. In the nineteenth century, a third tunnel was excavated, passing through the Hill d’Ensérune beneath the Malpas tunnel to house the railway freom Beziers to Narbonne. The hill had been riddled with holes.
‘History is just one f . . . thing after another’ (expletives removed). Alan Bennett The History Boys
The mist sits in the Tarn Valley and floats under the viaduct designed by Norman Foster. He wanted it to seem that ‘it has the delicacy of a butterfly’. Well achieved and it works as the highest road bridge in the world with the central pillar taller than the Eiffel Tower. Beautiful to look at as a landmark and a beautiful experience when crossing.
Simple immoveable benches in the spacious area around the vistor centre – an old farm building – that offers the best vantage point for viewing. The Fench are good at space and very rarely clutter it up.
Between the viaduct and the Étang du Montady, rests the remains of the Abbaye de Fontcaude – hot spring in Occitan – on the pilgrim route to St. Jacques de Compostela. Many events caused destruction to the building – burnt to the ground during the wars of religion – sold by auction during the French Revolution – fell into disrepair and became farm building in the 19C – before the start of restoration only 40 years ago. It looked over restored to me.
So over restored that it lacked any sense of the past. Hanging baskets and horrid planting filled the cloister area. The only images I’ve posted are those that have a glimmer of history and the ancient construction. I did like the carved figures of St. Jacques on the capitals with the slochy hat, capacious outer garment and the loose bag over the shoulder. Back to craftsmanship then . . . . but hats off to more recent engineering !
Between now and now,
between I am and you are,
the word bridge.
you enter yourself:
the world connects
and closes like a ring.
From one bank to another,
there is always
a body stretched:
I’ll sleep beneath its arches. Octavio Paz The Bridge
My six-year-old mechanic, you are up half the night
inventing a pipe made from jars, a ski-ing car
for flat icy roads and a timer-catapult
involving a palm tree, candles and rope.
You could barely stand when I once found you,
having loosened the bars from the cot
and stepped out so simply you shocked yourself.
Today I am tearful, infatuated with bad ideas,
the same song, over and over. You take charge,
up-end chairs, pull cushions under the table,
lay in chewing-gum and juice
rip newspaper into snow on the roof. Lavinia Greenlaw Invention