Whilst travelling in France for a painting and drawing vacation in the Charente, I stopped for a couple of days in Poitiers, the favourite city of the most powerful woman of 12th Century Europe - Eleanor of Aquitaine. I was interested in taking in the attractions of the area and there discovered that the past, from which we can all learn so much - and the future, which we can influence by imaginative scenario writing now - are presently co-existing in this place. The conurbation is bustling and exciting, the buildings are beautiful and the scenery, like so much of the Vienne, a delight. Among the ecclesiastical sights I visited were:
The Church of St Radegonde. This saint enjoys a considerable cult following in this part of the world, her politics being intermixed with her steadfast religious beliefs.
The Baptistière Saint-Jean, which is of the 4th century AD and is believed to be the oldest surviving edifice in France.
The Church of Notre Dame La Grande, of Romanesque design, a 12th century structure with finely sculpted figures of Biblical scenes on its remarkable frontage.
The Cathedral of St Pierre, containing a 12th century crucifixion window which is said to be the gift of Henry II of England, and inside are the oldest carved wooden pews in France.
I climbed the steps to the Plateau des Dunes and there, on a promontory overlooking the city I marvelled at the gilded statue which I presumed to be of Queen Eleanor with a child holding a royal orb in his hand. I supposed the baby to be her son John, who later became King of England. The monument itself is ambiguous as it is modelled exactly on sculptures of Madonna and Child, and I mused that probably the association was deliberate. Indeed, in times past when Eleanor was politically not in favour it could fairly be claimed that the edifice was of Our Lady with the infant Jesus - for there is no inscription. She looks benignly and protectively northwards across the urban landscape and the two rivers Clain and Boivre in the direction of a futuristic Park of the Moving Image.
Eleanor of Aquitaine had her principal seat of government in Poitiers. She was a truly independent spirit of the mediaeval world and her achievements have seldom been surpassed even up to the present day, for she was:
Ruler of Anjou, Aquitaine and Poitou as well as a number of smaller possessions in southern France.
Queen of France. In 1137 she married Louis who that year became Louis VII.
Queen of England, marrying Henry II in 1154.
Mother of 10 children, amongst whom in adulthood were King Richard the Lionheart and King John.
Regent of England and lands stretching from Scotland to the Pyranees, in the absences of the King on a Crusade or prosecuting wars in foreign lands.
Patroness of the arts and the poetry of the troubadours, developer of the ideals of chivalry and that of courtly love.
When in residence in the Isle of Oléron, supervised the rules known as the Law of the Sea, still quoted and referred to with reverence.
An advertising montage for Le Futuroscope
Just outside Poitiers there is a mini-city called Futuroscope. It is a complex of some 20 pavilion structures, landscaped in parkland. It was constructed in 1987, the designs being mainly by the French architect Denis Laming. All the pavilions are modernistic in concept and give the visitor an unforgettable sensory experience when sampling the delights therein. Among the sites which I visited were:
Kiwi Magic - the holiday journey of 'Mr Barnes' to a remote resort in New Zealand.
Gyrotour - a great wheel orbits a central spindle and rises about 100 feet in the air.
La Vienne Dynamique - the story of a young man on a train, going to his wedding and missing the station. He has fanciful travels guided by a tree-man, including a ride in a formula 1 racing car!
Couleurs de Brasil - a carnival unfolds around the audience. Spectacular ride with a hang-glider around Rio de Janeiro's statue of Christ in majesty, and also a skim along the Copacabana beach.
Le Défi d'Atlantis - (the challenge of Atlantis) a ride to the lost city.
Ocean Oasis - a journey under the sea.
T-Rex - based on the idea of Alice in Wonderland. Prehistoric creatures created.
Everest - the audience is treated to a climb up the mountain, without the hazards.
Truly, Eleanor of Aquitaine, the magnificent, the beautiful and the dominant woman of her time would wholeheartedly have approved!
page last updated 31 MARCH 2002