Montbard: A visit to Fontenay - France Again - Cycling in Burgundy - CycleBlaze

August 1, 2008

Montbard: A visit to Fontenay

It was a restless night. I couldn't sleep and tossed and turned for what seemed to be an eternity. Around midnight, after an incessant play of lightning in the night sky - but no thunder and no rain - the air cooled down.

When we woke up in the morning, it was just beginning to sprinkle. The air was cool and the sky very grey. I had hoped it wasn't going to be too hot today, I hadn't reckoned with rain, though. At least we were able to take refuge in the car and hoped it would stop raining for our planned visit to Fontenay, one of the oldest Cistercian monasteries in Europe.

Janos just discovered he left his biking helmet at home. So our first item on the agenda today was to find a new one for him. Between the bouts of rain we cycled into town, found a cycle shop and shortly had a new helmet for 25€.

We then cycled up the hill to the Parc Buffon. I am always for visiting parks.

This park was created by Georges Louis Leclerc Comte de Buffon, an 18th century naturalist, mathematician and biologist born in Montbard. He was an important thinker and scientist of his day and his ideas are said to have influenced Darwin. Buffon created the park (then private) by tearing down a castle that had formerly belonged to the dukes of Burgundy. Today he wouldn't have had such an easy time of it destroying a historical landmark like that.

The ride up to the park was good exercise, if nothing else. The park itself wasn't impressive but it did give me occasion to learn who Buffon was.

Georges Louis Leclerc Comte de Buffon (1707 - 1788), born in Montbard, a progressive thinker and scientist
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The ride to Parc Buffon gave us some exercise, the park itself wasn't impressive
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Parc Buffon
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Wanting to give the weather a chance to clear up, we had lunch before we set out for Fontenay. After a French-style pizza heavily laden with cheese in the Restaurant Calypso, we were confronted with more rain, then hail. Eventually it let up and we set out for Fontenay.

Taking refuge from the rain, then hail
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It was only six kilometers to Fontenay, an abbey founded in 1118 by Saint Bernard in a small marshy valley. St. Bernard joined the Cistercian order in its early stages. The Cistercians rejected the elaborate lifestyle of the Benedictines. They espoused poverty, simplicity of life and self-sufficiency. This is reflected in the austerity of the architecture at Fontenay, bare of all forms of embellishment. The return to manual labour, and especially to field-work, became a special characteristic of Cistercian life. Water was a central theme: It was put to use for farming but also for hydraulically powered hammers and bellows used in the forge which produced tools and hardware. The Cistercians became the main force of technological diffusion in medieval Europe.

The abbey grounds
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Unadorned simplicity: a perfect example of a Romanesque Cistercian church
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Cloister at Fontenay
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Forge with hydraulic bellows: it is one of the oldest metallurgical factories in Europe
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The large water wheel supplied hydropower
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Here the monks baked their bread
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The monks' dormitory - not a very cosy place to sleep, especially in the winter, brrrr
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The abbey thrived for 600 years and remained in use up until the French Revolution when it was sold and converted into a paper mill. In 1906 it came under new ownership and the modern factory was dismantled and the abbey restored to its original appearance.

Visiting Fontenay, thought provoking and inspiring in its simplicity and beauty, was one of the highlights of our tour.

Today's ride: 20 km (12 miles)
Total: 20 km (12 miles)

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