Monday, 4 September 2017


The Baou des Blancs above Vence

We set out from the lovely home of our friends Derek and Arlette's in the St Martin district of Vence and headed towards the town. Immediately we noticed this wonderful art nouveau house on the right.

We crossed the bridge over the river far below and followed Avenue des Poilus towards the Old Town. On the right, was the old public laundry (below is an atmospheric shot from the previous evening).

In a road on the right we caught a view of another lovely house.

Further along, in Avenue Isnard, is the former Chapelle des penitents blancs, now used for art exhibitions. The tiled roof was especially impressive. (This view was taken from the back in Avenue de la Résistance.)

We then diverted into the main square to pick up a town trail at the Tourist Office. This quickly led into the Old Town. The main feature the old town is that its houses were built into the town walls, starting from the 15th century. There is now an oval of houses surrounded by a road and pierced by a number of gates (well, archways) three of which are medieval.

The first sight was the 12th century Tower.

 Off to the left is an ash tree said to have been planted in 1538 by Francis I.

We went through the Porte du Peyra, with a lovely  fountain dating from 1822 on the other side.

This led to Place du Peyra and Rue du Marche which in turn brought us to Place Clemenceau. Directly ahead was the remarkable Cathedral which dates from the 4th century – and is the smallest in France.

To the right and left of the main door are two stone tablets with Roman inscriptions dating back to 220 and 239 AD. After looking around the interior we went round the side to the atmospheric Passage Cahours, which once linked the cathedral to the Bishop's Palace.

Now along Rue de L'eveque to Place Godeau at the back of the Cathedral. There was a nice view of the Cathdral's tower.

We walked along the short but remarkable rue des Portiques, a section of a Roman Road which ran from Cimiez to Castellane.

We emerged through the Porte d'Orient to get an external view of the old town.

And now we followed the outside to Place Antony Mars with its old fountain. The reproduction of a painting of it by Raoul Dufy (I think) beside was actually more impressive.

We went through the nearby Porte du Signadour and crossed through the old town again to to see another fine gate, the Portail Levis.

 From the belvedere there was a great view across the river gorge to the Matisse chapel and the rocky Baou des Blancs high above it. Now we retraced our steps and headed towards the Chapel of the Rosary (the Matisse chapel). (It is the white building in the lower right of the photo at the head of this post.) 

The story of the chapel is rather lovely. In 1941 Matisse developed cancer and underwent extensive surgery. During his recovery in Nice, he recruited Monique Bourgeois who responded to his advertisement seeking ‘a young and pretty nurse’. She became his model as well as his carer. 

In 1946 Monique Bourgeois decided to become a Domican nun and was ordained as Sister Jacques-Marie. Having previously qualified as a nurse, she continued to care for Matisse who eventually bought a home in Vence not far from the convent. In 1947 Bourgeois confided to Matisse her wish to decorate the oratory in one of the rooms in their convent.  Matisse, now aged 77 and in poor health, instead offered to design a chapel that would be offered to the Dominicans. 

The chapel is a simple, quite low, rectangular building, painted white with a cheerful blue roof.

Internal photography is not allowed for "copyright reasons", so I have no photos, only one of the decoration above the entrance (below). The interior is white with tall and narrow stained glass panels along the left hand side of the nave. Some of Matisse's images are exquisitely simple and expressive, but on the the west end wall, which contains the Stations of the Cross, his images are, to my mind, crude and cartoon-like. The chapel is well worth a visit though.

Conditions: warm and sunny.

Distance: about 3 miles.

Rating: four stars.

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