Roaming with the Romans - Pottering round Poitiers - in the rain - CycleBlaze

April 13, 2018

Roaming with the Romans

They could pack thousands into this stadium back in the days when lions were set loose on the disagreeable
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Andrea BrownThis caption is like a poem.
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5 years ago
Leo WoodlandWell, thank you! happydays- léo.
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5 years ago

St-Sauvant, Rouillé, Sanxay, La Torchaise, Poitiers, Montamisé

THEY could pack six and a half thousand people into the stadium at Sanxay. The Romans, that is. You can guess that by looking at the remains, which are pretty substantial. This was the place to come if you wanted an afternoon of drama and music or, if you were more like me, the fun of watching slaves and criminals having to fight lions. I don't know how much people back then went in for gambling but I don't suppose you got marvellous odds at animal fights.

This is about as far west as the Romans got with their lions. They never took them over to England, for instance. The ferry companies probably didn't like it. The odd thing is that bloodbaths like that were intended to persuade the local population to become more Roman. The possibility that it may have made them less inclined to be Roman, if only because they feared that one day it would be them down there for scrumping apples or looking lecherously at Caesar's wife, doesn't seem to have occurred to them.

This is what it looked like before it all fell down, although they've left the roof off the model so that you can look inside
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Well, all this is for historians and animal liberationists to answer. My own question is this: where did all the people live who were expected to take the 6 500 seats? If only one in ten of the population turned out at a time, and I suspect that would have been good going, that meant a local population  of 65 000. Which is a decent-sized town.

Well, look around. There's nowhere near here with more than a few hundred people. Even if there were more back then, it's hard to think there were that many. And now, of course, they could be brought in by taxi and charabancs; in Roman times they'd have had to walk.

Well, whatever the answer, the Romans' works eventually fell down and then, in the way of ancient remains, vanished under the ground. And there they stayed until a century or two ago when people looking for earth and stones to supply the local tile factories came across a richer supply than they'd expected. They began digging and then the state took over and finally not just the stadium came to light but the elaborate sauna and washrooms across the stream and, further along, the walls of the multi-sided temple. Today, it's a national monument.

Steph adds a little Lycra-clad authenticity to the remains of the temple
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The roads round here have signs for the Chemin de la Libération. In reality's it's not a single trail but a loop to follow through sites marked by the Resistance's rising against the Germans at the call of Dwight Eisenhower. With exceptional bravery driven by bitterness and the frustration of being held on a leash until the right moment, the Resistance bands took on far greater odds, harassed, delayed and killed many of the Germans racing to reach the D-Day beaches... and in turn were slaughtered themselves.

The extent to which they frustrated the Germans is shown in the revenge that the occupiers took. West of Limoges, they torched the village of Oradour-sur-Glane and murdered the entire population in revenge, it's supposed, for the suffering they'd had at the hands of the maquis.

This sign caught my eye - but I had to look up the explanation later
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Sanxay looks peaceful now but it was once within minutes of being destroyed and the population slaughtered. The memorial is to the first war and look closely and you'll notice that the rifle in the poilu's hand is a real one
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There's a plaque on the wall of the church at Sanxay that, without explanation, marks the day the village was spared similar annihilation. The Germans had arrived there exhausted, bleeding and resentful and looking for revenge. The killing was planned and the troops briefed when they were stopped by an Austrian officer of the Wehrmacht.

"This is not the moment," he is supposed to have said, and the Germans moved on instead to face the Allies.

And with that, and a long, dull but quiet 30km ride, we headed back to the traffic of Poitiers and then the final hill to the end of our ride. It hadn't been remarkable and the weather was rarely good. But if you want to get the best out of a day-long meeting, what better than a bike ride?

Today's ride: 66 km (41 miles)
Total: 317 km (197 miles)

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