SS Catherine moored overnight at the village of Viviers. As usual, we waited until the passengers had departed for their excursions – one of which was to the famous Châteauneuf-du-Pape vineyard. Oh well. Some more excellent wine missed.
We walked up a long avenue lined with plane trees, which were common in many places. The story goes Napoleon had these trees planted all over France so his soldiers would have shade when they were on the march. I can believe the trees are old. Quite a few are showing signs of decrepitude.
Walking up the road we could see a spire high up on the hill to our left. That was St Catherine’s Cathedral, apparently the smallest cathedral still in use. Parts of it date back to the 12th century. The road itself was lined with houses that looked to be 200 years and more old, many with gardens where I expect the local produce comes from. Most of the town is medieval but I’m sure the Romans would have started the settlement here.
We ended up at a roundabout, with the wall protecting the cathedral area and a fortress visible on the rock above.
From there, using a map we’d been given on the ship, we ventured into the historical old town. It’s a maze of cobble-stoned roadlets and intriguing alleyways. It was fascinating meandering between the houses, with a new surprise just around the next corner. People live here, as evidenced by cars, the occasional air conditioner, and shops.
The story is that in the olden days the clergy lived up around the cathedral and the laity lived on the flat ground where they did the farming.
It’s a bit like negotiating a labyrinth with occasional open spaces where there would have been markets and such.
It’s clear there has been a lot of renovation and none of that has affected the charm of Viviers. We came across a small group of people shaping stone for some project.
Of course we made our way up to the cathedral. The tower dates from the 11th century, and the greater part of the rest of the building from the 12th century. The vaulted ceiling was destroyed during the 16th century Wars of Religion and was not reconstructed until the 18th century.
The cathedral was damaged by an earthquake in November 2019, and a lightning strike in September 2021 destroyed one of the spires. Repair work is being carried out.
I loved this place. It was especially nice that while we didn’t have the town to ourselves, it wasn’t overrun with tour groups following lollypops. We had time to stand and stare and imagine what it would have been like in the 13th or 14th century. History almost oozes out of the walls and there are a number of notices in French and English describing what you’re looking at. We weren’t feeling very fit so we only spent an hour or two wandering around. There was so much more we could have done – lunch in the restaurant, a climb up to the remains of the fortress – I expect that would have been, at least in part, Roman. So this post is a sketch, a line drawing of what you’ll find here.
Given a choice between coming here or visiting Versailles, I’d go for Viviers every time.
If you’re new to this journey and want to find other parts of the trip, go to France 2022. That page has all the posts.
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