Sunday, 1 August 2010

Cluny – Bourg Monastique

Cluny is the place we do our supermarket shopping on a Tuesday, it’s where we go to the market on a Saturday and the place we generally go to our do everyday things. It is easy to forget the original purpose of the town, to ignore the buildings and to not notice the town's rich civil architecture. Cluny was in fact built by the abbey solely to furnish its needs, before the abbey, there was no Cluny and Cluny only became a “real” town with a town hall and a mayor after the collapse of the abbey, up until that time it was governed by the abbey itself.

Cluny-romanesque house with claires-voies The abbey needed blacksmiths, carpenters, masons, wine merchants, butchers, bakers etc etc and so outside the walls of the abbey a town was formed to provide these facilities. The original town is Romanesque in style with some Gothic alterations and some later “disastrous” Renaissance rebuilding. The houses were constructed with the workshop or the shop on the ground floor and the accommodation on the first and second floors. If you look at the buildings in the town you can see how many have a large arched opening on to the street and a small door next to it which originally led to the first floor.

A special architectural feature of the Cluny houses are the claires-voies (clerestories in English) which are a series of windows on the first floor, normally in pairs and always with a window seat so that the residents could sit and show off their finery. The windows have highly decorated columns in the middle of a pair and intricate lintels above them. The strange thing about these windows is their link to status. Apparently the higher your status or the more money you had, the more claires-voies you had in your house. A house with only one pair was very modest indeed and there were houses with up to twelve of these things – someone really trying to show off or impress!

Anyone who has visited Cluny recently could not fail to notice that the abbey and therefore the town, is celebrating 1100 of existence. So just for this year (starting in May and continuing into September) there are walks around Cluny orgainsed by the residents of some of these magnificant medaeval houses. The walks are free but restricted in the number of people who can take part in each one and no one is allowed to follow more than two of the walks. Jean-Luc Maréchal Back in May we followed the walk “secrets d'escaliers” led by Corinne Loron which took us into some magnificant buildings to see their staircases. All of these buildins are someone’s home and so not normally open to the public. In July we followed “secrets de murs” with Jean-Luc Maréchal which led us around the town looking at the architectural features of the walls, including of course the claires-voies. The guides are very enthusiastic and knowledgable about Cluny’s “hidden” architectural treasures and Jean-Luc Maréchal got so carried away about the visit to his house on the first walk we did, he dressed the part.

Now when we walk to the bank or sit on a terrace in town having lunch, we look at the buildings in a very different light.

For information about our gites and campsite less than 15 minutes from Cluny click here.

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