Our Society has visited Angers three times altogether – in 2001, 2003 and the last time in 2005.
All three trips were organised by our erstwhile chairman – the late Tom Glover who, if nothing else, knew how to run an efficient and economical trip (this picture is probably says enough – van was rented from the council on a very reasonable rate, with plenty room for the local produce to take home with us).
Angers lies on the R. Maine near its confluence of the R. Loire and (surprising as it may seem) it’s Wigan’s twin town in France.
In Medieval times it was the capitol of Anjou and centre of the Angevin Empire. At its height in the late 12thcentury, it stretched as far as the Pyrenees and included England and much of Ireland.
Cathedral is dedicated to St Morris
At that time it was ruled by the Plantagenet Kings of England, including Henry II and Richard the Lionheart.
Its castle, which dates from that period, is huge having 17 towers and made from a mixture of dark and light stone.
The castle is also the home of a famous 14th century tapestry called the ‘Apocalypse’ tapestry – thought to be the oldest French medieval tapestry to have survived. It depicts the story of the Apocalypse from the Book of Revelations by St John and was commissioned by Louis I in 1377
The city itself is based on the Roman town called Juliomagus and many Roman finds have been unearthed over the years including a 6th century Christian necropolis and a large amphitheatre.
On our first visit we where hosted by the head of antiquities for the district Monsieur Jean Bordeur who gave us an exclusive guided tour around the castle including the ‘Apocalypse’ tapestry – and also excavations in the grounds of the castle where they were uncovering evidence of Roman occupation.
On our second trip we visited the Musee Jean-Lurcat which, although looking like a church, turns out to be the old Hospital of St Jean.
It was founded in 1174 by King Henry II of England. It remained a hospital until 1865 when it was converted into the city‘s Antiquities Museum.
In 1967 it became the home of the Song of the World Tapestry. (80 meters long, the series of ten tapestries of Jean Lurçat, it was designed and woven between 1957 and 1966. It’s a modern vision of the world, seen through the eyes of an artist whose outlook was influenced by the carnage of two world wars. It was designed during the Cold War with its threat of the atomic bomb wiping out the world, a threat which also plays a part in the images. Essentially this is a vision of Man’s place in the 20th-century Universe.)
On our first visit we were also entertained by M. Boisbouvier (a college lecturer in archaeology)
He took us on a tour of sites along the river Loire- including this fine 12th century Romanesque church – Nortre Dame of Tuffeaux,
also a Roman temple and a small amphitheatre.
He also took us to a Roman site he had been working on located on the River Loire called Chennahutte.
It had once been a thriving town next to a river crossing which had totally disappeared and was only rediscovered from the air when crop marks appeared in the field.
M. Boisbouvier had discovered and excavated some buildings in the undergrowth and a road on the edge of the field
but the main activity lay in the centre of the field where he couldn’t get permission to excavate.
At that time we were in the process of obtaining our own resistivity meter and made a promise to M. Boisbouvier that if we came back we would bring our meter and survey this site for him.
Sure enough, on our next trip, two years later, we returned with our new meter and carried out a survey of the central part of the field where the main activity seems to have taken place – with some very satisfying results they seemed to confirm the crop mark interpretation.
Also some casual field-walking produced quite an array of pottery.
Not everybody took part in the survey and while a small contingent carried out the work the rest visited the delights of Saumur which is the next big city upstream on the Loire.
They were entertained by M. Cousin
who took them on an exclusive guided tour of the Troglodyte caves.
M. Cousin had been exploring, discovering and recording these caves over many years in the area around Doue la Fontaine and produced a book on the subject.
The caves were created by the quarrying of the Tuffa stone which was ideal for making coffins out of.
However the landowners did not want to lose there land and thus the quarrying had to continue underground.
In times of trouble the people of the area found it convenient to live in these cave out of sight and the tradition still carries on to this day.
On all of our trips to Angers we were chaperoned by the Wigan Ambassador for Anger who acted as interpreter for us on all our visits. That year it was Claire from Marsh Green who spoke excellent French.
In the evening after we had done the survey of the field we all met up for a banquet in a restaurant located in one of the troglodyte caves.
On our third trip to Anger we met up with m. Cousin again who took us around some of the site around the Angers district. First was a large dolmen or megalithic tomb. what was unusual about this monument was that it had been occupied at sometime in the past and a stone bread oven had been built inside it.
M. Cousin then took us to a winery near Saumur where the proprietor was keen to show us his underground cellars and tempt us with some of his wine.
Finally we arrived at the Chateau Breze which is a fortified mansion dating to the 16th century although it has its origins in the 11th century.
It is famous for its deep cut dry moat
and its under ground caves which were used as refuge during times of trouble.
Our first trip to Angers was fortunate to coincide with the Accroche-Coeur Festival
and in the evening we join in with the festivities in the town centre which that year had a wedding and underwear theme (for some strange reason).
As always on our trips, on the evening before we returned, we would have a lovely meal in the beautiful city centre
We also had meals at the ferry port before catching the midnight ferry both going and coming back. On our 2nd visit at Portsmouth it was the Bridge Tavern
and on our final trip at Le Havre it was the Mercury Hotel.
Sites on the way out and back
On our first trip to Angers, on the way back, we visited a museum at Monte-Ormel which commemorates the battle of the Falaise pocket. This is where allied forces in the 2nd WW defeat two German armies and wipe out a complete SS division. Special mention went to a small Polish contingent who despite severe losses sealed the gap between Falaise and Argentan and prevent the Germans from escaping.
On the second and third trip we visited Falaise itself
which is a beautiful medieval walled city overlooked by a huge castle which was once occupied by William the Conqueror.
On our last visit to Angers we set off earlier to give us time to visit a site in Britain before catching the midnight ferry at Portsmouth. The site we visited was the Roman villa of Littlecote near Hungerford in Wiltshire.
This particular villa is famous for its Triclinium with its beautiful mosaic depicting scenes from mythic legend including Orpheus, Bacchus and Apollo.
TheTudor Mansion at Littlecote is Grade I listed but is also a hotel where you can stay (apparently it was here that Henry VIII wooed Jane Seymour).
On our way back from Anger that year we caught another site at Oisseau le Petit on the road between Le Mans and Rouen – a little town which once was a huge Roman city occupied between the 1st and 4th centuries. One of the main structures to have been discovered during excavations is this fine temple or Fanum (which has had its upper structure reconstructed).
Le Lac de Maine
On all three trips we stayed at Le Lac de Maine hostel on the outskirts of Angers, which, although not the Ritz, was certainly value for money. However it did mean having to rely on the minibus to get us in and out of the city.
On all the trips we always had help from the twinning Ambassadors in the planning stage and the current one has been in touch to see if we want plan another trip. If there is enough interest, I’m sure we would be able to arrange another trip in the future.