Around Paris: the city of Chartres

The air was cool at that time of the morning and Paris woke up slowly while I reached the Montparnasse station. The bus passed through the legendary Saint Germain de Pres district, while I thought of the writers, artists and bohemians who in the past, in absolute poverty, had spent hours in cafes to escape the winter cold. Rue de Rennes was beautiful and elegant with dozens of buildings that ended next to the Montparnasse skyscraper which, together with the Eiffel Tower, dominated the Parisian skyline. The station was under the great tower that on that November day was cut in half by a thick fog that hid its end. The train had just left Paris and already I was immersed in a different atmosphere, the busy streets left space for large forests while the large buildings were replaced by small stone houses with sloping roofs. I had not yet gotten used to the difference between Paris, a densely populated city, and its rural surroundings that I found a rare beauty. The train ran fast, the plain of the Beauce region was a succession of fields planted with rapeseed and corn, interspersed with small towns where there was almost always a small Romanesque church and an old mill. I was observing one of those endless fields when, on the horizon, like an ancient solitary lighthouse, appeared the majestic Cathedral of Chartres, the absolute protagonist of that plain that dominated the landscape alone. As the train approached the city and the Cathedral became ever more imposing, I thought of medieval pilgrims and the suggestion that such a building could bring to their soul. I had time to take a picture before the train arrived at the station. Two tourists sat on a bench contemplating the majestic facade of the cathedral. I sat on a sidewalk and while I contemplated the two bell towers, I thought of the “Sancta Camisia”, the tunic worn – according to tradition – by Mary while she was giving birth to Jesus and also while standing at the foot of the Cross. The relic was then transferred from Jerusalem to Constantinople and presented by the emperor Irene to the emperor Charlemagne: his descendant, Charles called the Bald, delivered it to the cathedral of Chartes and this is the reason why the city, from the Middle Ages on, had become a destination of pilgrimage and a reason for the construction of the Church that now stood there,  imposing in front of my eyes. Inside the Cathedral I was kidnapped by the large medieval blue mosaic windows and the labyrinth recreated in the pavement. I took advantage of the quiet to study the map of the city and to understand which alley I had to take to reach the Eure river. I then walked towards a steep passage made of high stone walls that allowed me to reach the old district of the tanners. How much beauty in a few meters! The river was crossed by several bridges and walkways. Houses, churches and medieval buildings leaned against each other, creating a picturesque urban disorder. On the river there was also the impressive collegiale Saint Andrè, a Romanesque building, used during the revolution as a warehouse and now the cultural heart of the city, while the 16th century Church of Saint Aignan was also seen, used as a hospital during the revolution. I stayed in Chartres until late afternoon, discovering an architectural heritage that witnessed the glorious past of medieval France.

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