One of the courses I’m taking for uni here is on the History of Tours. We had our first lesson in the classroom last week, but from now on we are out on the streets, learning about the past as we walk through the city of today. We began with the history of the town during Antiquity: the time before the Middle Ages (up to about 400 AD). Tours was founded by the Romans as a settlement after they gained control of this area. The location was chosen as it was not too close to be dominating and not too far away to have no influence over the Gauls (native French) living in the nearby town of Amboise. The town originally sprawled along the length of the river, but at some point around around 300 AD, the decision was made to fortify the city, containing it to an area half it’s previous size.
We met outside the Cathedral where the ruins of the old fortifications are still visible, merging with the much newer (yet still centuries old) walls of the Cathedral today. You can see that the walls were made up of layers of small stones cut into little cubes, followed by layers of bricks, which were set back further into the wall, keeping the previous layers held together. The rocks and bricks are set in a cement-like mortar- according to my history lesson, Romans were one of the first groups of people to use this combination of bricks and mortar to solidify their walls.
We then walked a few metres down the street to the nearby Musée des Beaux Arts (Fine Art Gallery). The building was previously the home of the bishop, and was constructed very close to the Cathedral in order to allow easy and safe access. The building incorporates one of the ancient towers of the wall, although it has a few bonuses that have been added, such as windows, stairs and a roof.
The Romans built rounded towers for a number of reasons. Firstly, less stone is required, so it is economically better. Secondly, it provides a 360 degree view, making it harder for enemies to approach unseen. Finally, the curved wall is harder to break, as the curved form spreads the force of a blow and causes weapons to glance off the wall without causing too much harm.
We then went underground to explore a tunnel built in the early 1800s as a passage from the Bishop’s palace, to the Cathedral and possibly all the way to the other side of the Loire river. Today, only a small section remains as the other areas of the passage had to be filled in due to the creation of roads overhead. The tunnel follows the line of the old wall, as it was cut into the ancient foundations. The foundations consist mainly of large chunks of stone, piled on top of each other. What is special about them though, is that the stones were not cut from a quarry, but taken from the public buildings from the areas of the city that were to remain outside the new fortifications.
So far this class has been very enlightening! I can’t wait to discover more next week.