3700 – Baptistery and Cathedral in Fréjus

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Dec 062016

The cloister was more important to us than the church, and because the tourist office, our entrance to the cloister, closed at noon, we started there and visited the church later.

Well, it was slightly anticlimactic. The baptistery, the oldest part of the church, originates from the fifth century, but you can only look into it through a scratched and smeared glass window. I’ve tried my best in post-processing, but you can only do so much to a bad image 🙂

The other thing is the church. It looks like an odd mix of architectural styles and misplaced furniture. By all means, this is one of the most ugly churches that I’ve ever visited.

I’ve spared you the baroque parts of the church, and to be honest, I’ve not even taken an image of them.

There’s one exception though. The church has two beautiful modern stained glass windows. They are not enough to save the ensemble, but at least they take away some of the pain.

3699 – An Unexpected Cloister in Fréjus II

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Dec 052016

In earlier times I would have had bought a guide to the region, or more likely a few. I’m mostly interested in art, history and architecture, and the quality of guides varying.

Today I always start with a look into Wikipedia, and in order to be independent of Internet connections, I also have an offline copy of the German Wikipedia on my phone.

Basically the quality of that information is comparable to everything that a good tourist guide of the Provence would have revealed about a town like Fréjus. It told me that there is a cathedral, and it also told me about a cloister. I love cloisters, therefore we had to see it.

It’s a two story cloister. It’s not a big one, but it is extremely beautiful.

What makes a cloister beautiful? Well, twin columns are always nice, and of course much depends on the nature of the patio. This one has a lovely well, white gravel and a few small trees.

Fréjus is not a tourist center. We spent maybe 20 minutes in the cloister and for the whole time we were completely alone. That’s one of the benefits of visiting places off the beaten path.

One of the beautiful details was the wooden roof of the lower part of the cloister. It’s not completely uncommon, but most of the time you have gothic or romanesque vaults.

Originally the cloister was connected to the church, but that door is closed now. You reach thr cloister through the tourist office, just like we’ve seen it in Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume.

3698 – An Unexpected Cloister in Fréjus I

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Dec 042016

Fréjus had not been on my radar. If you had asked me where that place is, I would have said it’s in the French Alps, just across the border from Torino, Italy. Which is also correct, because the mountain pass pass leading from Torino to France is called Col du Fréjus, and that’s the name that I had in mind.

It’s always irritating when two places have the same name. I don’t know the origin of the name of the mountain pass, but the city in Provence derives its name from Forum Julii. It’s one of the cities founded by Julius Caesar. From there, linguistically, it’s a long way to Fréjus, but that’s what 2000 years do to names.

It’s not a particularly interesting city, not a must-see in Provence, but it was one of the places where we could reach the sea. Cannes, half an hour on the highway to the east, would have been the next access to the Mediterranean, but we didn’t want to drive that far. We just wanted to drive an hour or two along the coast and probably sip a drink somewhere. Therefore Fréjus was it.

3692 – Abbaye du Thoronet: Above the Cloister

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Nov 272016

I’ve never seen a cloister like this. Like in Silvacane the refectory is above church level and atop the chapter house.

Not only do stairs lead down to the cloister though. Through the refectory you can also get out and on top of the cloister.

Of course the ultra-wide at 7 mm makes the cloister look bigger than it is. At 14 mm the third image, while still wide, gives a more accurate impression.

In hindsight, of the “Three Sisters”, l’Abbaye du Thoronet is the most impressive, and even more so because of this unusual view.

3691 – Abbaye du Thoronet: The Church

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Nov 262016

The Abbaye du Thoronet is the third of the “Three Sisters”. It’s not in use any more and most of the outbuildings are already in ruins.

You reach the abbey on a small street. To the left is a big parking area with a small café (very welcome afterwards), and the abbey itself is on the right side. You follow a short, cobbled road through oak trees leading down to the gate.

There you pay the entrance fee, and then you can either go to the right and up to the humble main entrance of the church (depicted here), or you go down through some ruins and into the cloister. Church and cloister have been beautifully restored.

Everything is empty though. We know that mediaeval churches were colorfully painted, but nothing is left of that. Again it’s all naked architecture, only that the stone here has a beautiful red tinge.

Nov 252016

Using a fisheye is hard. Before you look through the lens, you never know what you’ll get.

For the fountain the lens was ideal. Everything is round here anyway, you have to look twice to even see the fisheye effect.

The image from the chapter house is extreme, but then, in a certain way it conveys what I saw and how it felt to be there. That’s a funny thing to say about an image that’s totally distorted 🙂

The third image, looking from the cloister into the chapter house (yes, it was that dark in there) is somewhere in the middle.

For comparison I have an image taken from the church down into the cloister, also ultra-wide, but this time with the rectilinear 7-14/2.8.

Fisheyes: this is really stuff for experimentation. Try it out. Sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. Predictions impossible 😀

Nov 222016

We are still in Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume. This church, like so many Gothic churches, is a celebration of light.

We were there around 1.5 hours before noon, on a bright day at a time of the year when the sun is at its highest.

The 7-14/2.8 is a wonderful lens, but with the blazing light streaming through the high windows, a few flares were unavoidable.

There is also a cloister in Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume. It’s not a part of the church any more, and you reach it through the tourist office.

Nov 212016

Provence is not exactly famous for its Gothic architecture. Southern France in general ain’t.

The reason is, that southern France was once largely independent. It was part of a larger region called Occitania, the land where “yes” was “oc” instead of “oui”, and where the language therefore was called lenga d’òc.

It was the land of highest Troubadour culture, Toulouse was the most glorious court. It was a land at the border to muslim Spain, a land of openness and wisdom, a rich land, envied by its neighbors.

It all went down when the French kings conquered the the south in the late age of the crusades, at a time when the stupid but noble idea of fighting for the freedom of Jerusalem had already been perverted. The war in the Holy Land was lost, christian Constantinople had already been plundered, and at that time every war for money or power was fought under the sign of the cross. It was a little bit like today, when every war for oil is called a war for freedom and against terrorism.

That was the time when Gothic architecture flourished in the north, and it was the same time when the north plundered the south. At that time the south was torn apart and burned to ruins. That’s not a time for building cathedrals. The few that exist were built by victors as signs of their triumph. Albi is a good example, a Gothic church that looks like a fortress, but that’s far to the west. I’ve been there 27 years ago and I’ve got no images to share 🙂

Saint-Maximin-la-Sainte-Baume is another good example at the heart of Provence, just a few highway exits east of Aix-en-Provence. Unfortunately I couldn’t take any images from the highway. That sounds like a strange thing to say, but it is really from there that the church looks most interesting. It’s a small town with houses no more than maybe two or three stories high. In the middle, crammed in between, the church rises, and seeing it from the highway, I was completely convinced that it was on a hill. It’s not. It’s just that much higher than its surroundings.

Well, I’ve got no good pictures from outside, but you can always search Google, right?

3668 – The Graves of Sénanque

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Nov 032016

Lavender fields in B&W? That would indeed be objectionable, but this post is not about lavender, this post is about the dead. See the graves on the backside of the church? This is the place where the monks find their last rest.

In the original color version the crosses, being in the shadow on a bright, sunny day, would have been easy to miss. B&W gave me the leeway to emphasize them dramatically but without ruining the image.

3667 – Second of the Three Sisters: Abbaye Notre-Dame de Sénanque

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Nov 022016

Sénanque Abbey is the second of the so-called “Three Sisters of Provence”.

To be honest, it was a little bit of a let-down. The view in the Image of the Day is one of the classic views in Provence: Sénanque, and in front of it endless lavender fields.

Well, actually the distance between the wall that I look across and the monastery is far from endless. The illusion in about every book is createy by wide-angle lenses. Actually it’s good that there is a wall, because otherwise it would be hard to get an unobstructed view at all. In other words: you can’t imagine how many photographers there are 🙂

You’ll see later, that we were generally a little bit too early for the lavender season. It was impressive elsewhere, but Sénanque lies higher than most lavender areas. Therefore the blossom is later, and for our visit it meant that we got precious little color. Have a look at Wikipedia to see what it should look like 😀

It was worse though. The monastery is still in use, it can only be visited as part of a guided tour, and unfortunately we had just missed the tour. What now? Wait?

We decided to have a look around and get a better feeling for what we’d be missing. The church was open, so I took a peek inside, found it almost completely dark, and otherwise it was just more of the same. By the way, the image of the inside has been taken at ISO 200 and 0.3s, handheld.

What we did not know, what our books did not depict, and what I had neglected to research beforehand, that was the cloister. In the end we gambled, left and lost – a little.

Any picture search with the terms “sénanque abbey cloister” will reveal a beautiful cloister. Had I had Internet access on the spot, I think the outcome would have been different. But then, I wanted to take some pictures on our way back, and had we stayed two more hours in Sénanque, I would have missed those. You’ll see what I mean in two days.