The Roman Pont de Senoueix
Much further into the Limousin, the Taurion River is nothing more than a stream. It is in the hamlet of Gentioux-Pigerolles that a feature is known simply as the Roman Bridge, or the Pont de Senoueix. The term “Roman ruin” conjured images of grand structures that withstood the test of time. The Senoueix Bridge, or what remains of it, is something that reflects the simple type of infrastructure that existed in bygone eras. Today, it is utilized as a rustic photo-op for right or wrong. In fact, the bridge was built in the 17th Century, but like most trends in history, a bridge probably existed in earlier times in either the same spot or nearby. The single arch that remains also only partially reflect what was here originally, under the road paving. Regardless of the details, the point remains compelling that the bridge opens a portal into the world of this rural area. A world connected by the need to transport raw goods to local river mills and from town to town, which this bridge and others like it accomplished. We might only be able to idyllically imagine what this world looked like, but that’s ok too. Every August, the town celebrates this heritage with the Senoueix Bridge Fest and Pastorale.
Spectacular Civic Architecture in Limoges
Like a lot of the places we’ve visited for this year’s Tour de France, Limoges is a historic Roman city. In fact, the modern city was built right on top of the Roman plan, almost function for function. Where the temples to various gods were situated, today is the Gothic Cathedral that was started in 1273 and not finished for another six hundred years. Where the Roman forum once stood is the town’s city hall, Mairie de Limoges. There’s so much to see and do in Limoges so let’s just focus on one aspect of the city that doesn’t get a lot of attention, le Mairie. The Limoges town hall opened in 1883. It was built in the very popular Second Empire style which gives it a very prominent and beautiful unorthodox chateau feel for a government building. In the United States, comparable city halls can be seen in Philadelphia and Baltimore not to mention Paris’ own city hall which was re-built in the 1870s and in fact taking influence from the French Rennaissance style of the great chateaux of the Loire. The architect, Charles-Alfred Leclerc was no stranger to royal architecture as he was the chief architect of Versailles during this period. Leclerc incorporated many local influences in the design, making this art a great place to begin one’s tour of Limoges. Adorning the building are statues of Limoges’ famous sons from porcelain icon Léonard Limosin, French Chancellor Henri François d’Aguesseau, and revolutionary Pierre Victurnien Vergniaud. Even the fountain in the square is decorated with local Limoges porcelain. The town hall does not however pay homage to its most famous resident, Pierre-Auguste Renoir who worked in the porcelain factory as a boy and was a contemporary of Leclerc and le Mairie.
The Horrific Ruins of Oradour-sur-Glane
Nowhere is the impact of World War II so tangible than in the small town of Oradour-sur-Glane. Slightly off the peloton’s approach to Limoges but only 23 kilometers away is this memorial to the atrocities and terror that came with the occupying German army. It was here that on June 10, 1944 that the German SS massacred the entire town’s inhabitants, 642 in all. The details are too lengthy many to recount here, but in short, the German 2nd SS Panzer Division was moving north after the D-Day landings and was told of a German soldier hostage taken by a nearby town. Confusing the names of the villages, an infamous Commanding Officer went beyond his orders and summarily separated and corralled the men from the women and children before executing the entire town, looting, and then leaving it in ruins. The atrocity even prompted disgust and investigations within the German army in France, but the responsible Commanding Officer died in combat before being brought to trial. Following the war, President de Gaulle ordered that the village remain undisturbed and left as a memorial. For the past seventy-one years, the old village of Oradour-sur-Glane has sat exactly as it did in 1944, a testament to the evils of war.
Exploring Little Known Château Saint-Priest
Just up the road from Limoges along the Taurion River is another glorious Château. The current manor house was constructed between 1772-1776 but the history of the property stems from 1509 when the Dalesmes family purchased the property. Unfortunately, the late 1700s was not a good time to be showing wealth and the family was driven from the newly constructed house into exile, only to return and struggle to regain their prior status. Today, the house stands restored to its original condition as designed by local Limoges architect Joseph Brousseau; so much so that the house and grounds serve as a reception and event space, popular for marriages. Could a better venue exist?