In the first installment of this diary entry, I told you about Pierre, our tour guide for the morning, and his amazing story. For this next part, I’ll focus on Viviers, the beautiful village that Pierre is so passionate about.
My day actually began with a short trip off the ship to capture some shots of another magnificent sunrise over the Rhône River, while most people were still tucked in bed. The ship has a touch card security system that allows you to come and go whenever it is docked, so I took advantage of the warm morning air to take a walk along the docks and watch the light as it swept over the hilltop village of Viviers.
I found a nice spot on the edge of a sunflower field and set up there so that I could watch the stunning light and colour changes that occur in this golden hour of the day.
After an hour or so, the sun was fully up and the sounds of breakfast being prepared on the ship drew me back onboard. A quick bite to eat, a shower, and the liberal application of some factor 50+ sunscreen, and we were ready to face the climb up to the top of the village.
We met our guide Pierre at the quay and followed him through onto the “Champs-Elysees” of Viviers, a street lined with huge plane trees, many of them completely hollow inside. Pierre was later to explain that these hollows only started appearing and the trees started dying off in the years after World War II, and that there is a theory that some pathogen was introduced via the metal lids of the ammunition boxes that the advanced units of allied soldiers used to dig the soil in order to place markers to guide the liberating forces following them.
He also explained that the red posts erected along the road were put there to stop people from parking along the roadside, but in true French fashion, those laying the posts didn’t want to work too hard and put too many in, so there is actually just enough space between most of them to nicely fit a car.
According to Pierre, Viviers is a sleepy village where you are more likely to see cats than people. To emphasise this, he pointed out that we were at that very moment being watched from a window above by one very large cat. (It’s actually an oversized cushion).
The entrance to the village climbs up through an area that used to be the bed of the Rhône River until the 18th century, when it was canalised in order to reduce the severity of flooding. It still flooded each year though, so the poorest areas of the village were located along there. This is Rue Cheverie, named for the butchers who lived and worked along here. Goats and other animals would be butchered in the houses and the scraps thrown into the channel in the middle of the street, waiting for the next rains to wash them away.
Between the houses on opposite sides of the street, there are often arches – most of them are just bracings to stop the buildings collapsing, however this one was the remains of an older bridge that survived from before the area was built up.
A big part of Viviers’ history revolves around money, greed and power. This Renaissance-era building was the home of a man who rose from being a simple salt trader to being the village’s treasurer, second only in power and wealth to the Bishop. During the Wars of Religion (1562-98), he switched sides from the Catholics of the Holy Roman Empire to join the Protestant Huguenots, simply because he desired to challenge the Bishop for the role of number one. It didn’t end well for him though, and his demise was particularly nasty, involving vivisection and having various bits fed to animals.
Although Pierre didn’t mention it at the time we passed this building, if you’ve read part 1 of this post, you might recognise the house on the left with the green door as the house that his parents lived in during World War II.
These are the steps that lead up to the cathedral. During the Wars of Religion, the Huguenots stormed the steps after a sympathetic Cardinal opened the gate.
The Huguenots ran rampant through the grounds of the Cathedral, destroying all of the homes of the cardinals except for one – the one belonging to the man who had opened the gate for them. However, they ultimately failed, and most of the remaining areas of the Cathedral were not destroyed.
This house had fallen into a state of repair until a doctor from Paris purchased it. He has single handedly restored the top floors of it to its original state, but he is now 87 years old, with no children, and in ill health, so the work has stopped. Pierre is worried that when he passes, the house will become the property of the city and any restoration work will cease for all time.
Inside the Cathedral, Pierre gave us a background to some of the features that we could see, as well as many of those that we couldn’t. Giant tapestries that had once adorned the walls had been taken down and sent to museums in Paris for restoration work – work that was meant to take 2 to 3 years. 30 years later, the tapestries are still in Paris, fully restored and not showing any signs of returning to Viviers any time soon.
The beautiful pipe organ is also watched over by a national monuments register in Paris, and every few years they send someone out to assess whether it needs to be removed for restoral. Over the years several notes on the organ have started to play badly, but the village’s organist simply adapts his playlist so that when the inspectors come around, he can play them a series of pieces that manage to avoid any of these bad notes.
While we were in the cathedral, we were treated to a recital of 6 classical tunes (bad notes included). The cathedral’s small size, coupled with its large dome and thick limestone walls, help to create an amazing atmosphere, even if there is an occasional noise like a farting duck.
Back outside, Pierre led us behind the cathedral, to a square with an elm tree at its centre. In Medieval times, elm trees were used for dispensing justice, however the one that would have stood here originally received some rough justice of its own – this one had to be planted in its place after the original tree was struck by lightning.
Below the town, the former palace of the bishop now serves as the town hall, while the former town hall serves as housing for the bishop. We slowly made our way back down through the village before passing the new bishop’s residence on our way to the town hall.
As we made our way inside, we were promised a surprise, and as you will have read in Part I, Pierre (and his lovely niece Frauntine delivered in spades.
We returned to the SS Catherine for lunch, and an afternoon at a truffle farm in Gingnan. You can read all about that in Part III.