After a wonderful morning spent at Giverny, the Baroness set sail again for Les Andelys, a small town (9000) people that was settled over a thousand years ago. It is actually made up of two towns, Petit Andeleys and le Grand Andeleys which, although separated by a large marshy area, have been connected as one town today. We would arrive there in the afternoon with time to enjoy another tour.
Les Andelys is a sleepy place located about 69 miles from Paris and 25 miles from Rouen.
However, it boasts an ancient church, the Eglise Saint Sauveur , ca. 1202 and the ruins of Chateau Gaillard (Hearty castle) built by the order of Richard the Lion Heart in 1197. The castle is the main draw as it was constructed on the highest point available near the Rhine and even today, looks impressive from the river.
Chateau Gaillard has a somewhat unusual history. It was ordered built by King Richard I of England, better know as Richard the Lion Heart as he was a famous and successful warrior. Richard was also the hereditary Duke of Normandy. For this reason, he needed to protect both the city of Rouen just taken from the Archbishop of Rouen as well as the Duchy of Normandy from the armies of the French king.
The best way to protect this territory was to control access up the Seine by constructing a fortress to guard river access. Thus Richard ordered an impregnable castle-fortress to be built on a promontory overlooking the Rhone valley., which today broods over Les Andelys. Construction had been going on for little more than a year when Richard died at 41. Although he had been the leader of a crusading army, he died not in combat but in bed at Limousin France from an arrow
wound that had turned gangrenous. It is said he died in the arms of his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine (He was the favorite of her four sons.) Richard’s heart was entombed in Rouen Cathedral.
Although the Chateau Gaillard was almost finished, Richard’s brother John was now King of England and Duke of Normandy. John was not a seasoned warrior like Richard, and although he continued the building of the castle, he ordered two changes. These alterations in its design would be ill-fated. He ordered a window built
in the chapel’s outer wall, and a toilet added inside the chapel. The toilets in medieval castles were merely disposal chutes for excrement which piled up at its base.
As you can still see in the ruins left standing, Chateau Gaillard’s outer wall was formed in arcs of stone, this was Richard’s innovation new design in fortress building.
The rounded wall absorbed damage from battering siege engines better than the normal square walls, and arrow slits in a curved wall, allowed a better view of the approaching enemy.
Shortly after construction was completed, in 1203, the troops of Philip Augustus, King of France, took the castle after a long siege. Although they had captured the outer defenses by undermining the tower, they were unable to breach the inner fortress. Philip ordered his men to look for a weak spot in the castle wall, and they found it. By climbing up the toilet chute,
they were able to reach the chapel and set fire to the building. Only a few days later the English troops surrendered, ending the siege. Since there was no well inside the inner fortress, they probably wouldn’t have lasted too much longer anyway.
Chateau Gaillard was a strategic fortress and the scene of several major battles during the long struggle between the English and French over control of France. It even served as a royal residence for a time. At the end of the 100 Years War between England and France , the French were victorious with the help of another heroine who ended up in Rouen. Joan of Arc was burned to death in the square at Rouen and no doubt her spirit still has a presence there. However, the castle that had served France so well no longer had any strategic value when France was united, and King Henri 4 ordered the castle dismantled in 1699, after 400 years of service.
At Les Andeleys, the Ramblers had two choices. They could join a group that would hike up a substantial hill to Chateau Gaillard or ride a bus to the top of the hill. The Senior Rambler decided to stay on board, and I opted to join the group that would ride the bus. Part of me really wanted to hike up, but I knew I wasn’t really up to it, so I joined the bus tour even though I really wanted to walk inside the castle. When we got to the drop-off point, I knew it was just too far.
As it turned out, the view from the hill-top was amazing although I wished I could have gone inside the keep. As it turned out, there were stairs to the entrance and lots of little tents pitched in what would have been the castle bailey or protected area. Archaeologists were working at the castle while we were there.
Being France, there were no walls keeping folks from climbing down or falling off the hill, no barbed wire and no no-trespassing signs. From our viewpoint at the highest point of the hill, it was possible to see Les Andeleys below and the Baroness docked not far away. This was one of the most tranquil of our tours. It was a beautiful day, and everything moved at a slow pace, which was fine with us. This all added to the romantic aura of the Chateau Gaillard.
On our way back to the Baroness, our guide, Irene asked if we’d like to visit the historic Eglise Saint Sauveur, which was built about the same time as the Chateau, in 1202, before heading back to the boat.
As it turned out, Saint Sauveur was only a short distance from our bus stop and so a handful of us said yes. This was by no means a grand church, built out of local stone in a simple style rather than the more flamboyant Gothic churches that came later.
It was beautiful in its simplicity and spoke of less complex times. Barely visible on the wall of the nave were paintings of saints that had served as decoration in the middle ages.
As we entered the church, we were greeted by a statue of Christ holding a bunch of very green grapes.
Evidently this was part of an ancient tradition to ensure a good grape harvest. The stained glass windows inside Saint Sauveur were actually installed after WWII, to replace the medieval ones that had been destroyed during the war This tranquil place had been visited by the armies of both sides after the Normandy invasion. The windows were created by one of the master glass makers of Europe, Max Ingrand, (1908-1969) who designed windows for hundred of religious buildings until his death.
We were all glad we had taken this little side tour as we had plenty of time to get back to the Baroness before she sailed. A short stroll brought us to a wide pathway along the Rhone where our ship was waiting.
We would sail at 5 PM for Rouen, our jumping off spot for the D-Day: Normandy Beaches tour.