France Contemporary Architecture Part III

According to shopareview, Brittany, bordering Normandy but less rich in historical monuments, has suffered less. However, an irreparable loss is that of the city of Saint-Malo, one of the most picturesque in France with its ramparts and old houses clustered in the narrow streets. The cathedral and the castle were also heavily damaged. Rennes, Faugères, Hennebont were seriously affected. Even the famous PlougastelDaoulas ordeal suffered damage. In Brest, the pile of ruins forms a 25-meter high platform, on which urban planning projects envisage the reconstruction of the city.

In the Loire Valley, the destruction caused by the German advance in 1940 is joined by those caused by the German retreat in 1944. The signs of war follow one another from Nantes to Nevers. As has been said, the bridgehead cities are all severely war-torn. In Angers the castle chapel is practically destroyed, while the cathedral and the Berrault houses have suffered only minimal damage. In Tours the old museum, the old town hall, the Crouzille palace are radically destroyed. If the cathedral has been little damaged, other churches and chapels, other palaces and houses have deteriorated deeply. In Orleans the towers of the cathedral are partly destroyed, as well as several churches; many old houses are in ruins; especially a stupendous urban complex of the century. XVIII, the Rue Royale and the Loire bridge, which continued its perspective, has completely disappeared. In Gien, 13 houses, classified among the monuments of historical interest, are on the ground. In Nevers, the cathedral suffered the most serious damage.

On the Garonne in Bordeaux, another first-rate urban development, the old Royal Square with the Stock Exchange Palace, was set on fire. The Mid-Garonne and Pyrenees regions suffered relatively little; however, we remember the losses of the Carmelite churches in Perpignan. But the blacklist starts all over again with the Mediterranean cities. In Marseille the magnificent whole of the old port was coldly destroyed by the Germans. In the Var, the damage is enormous in Toulon; the famous town hall is among the victims; however, the Puget caryatids were able to be saved. In Fréjus the cathedral is not unscathed. Antibes, Nice, Sospel, have suffered, albeit less severely, having the enemy, taken by surprise, put up little resistance.

For the same reason, the damage is relatively minor in the Rhone valley and in the Alps. They are noticeably accentuated towards the north-west, where the German resistance had stiffened. With Lorraine and Alsace the martyrology begins again. The losses are so great that only the main ones can be mentioned. In Strasbourg the cathedral was relatively spared; two bombs from an airplane broke through the roof of the nave, but did not hit any vital part of the building; the stained glass windows which, transported to the Dordogne, were later taken up and hidden by the Germans in a salt pan, were found intact. But the Rohan palace, the ancient bishopric, a masterpiece by Roberto de Cotte, and one of the most beautiful French buildings of the beginning of the century. XVII, suffered serious damage. In the most picturesque neighborhoods of old Strasbourg, the bombs created painful voids; the old customs house, the church of S. Stefano which is the oldest in the city, the church of the Maddalena, and others have been almost entirely destroyed, the others severely damaged. Almost all the small towns full of charm in the vineyard area are in ruins. If Riquewihr, which is one of the most famous, is almost intact, Mittelwihr, Benwihr, with their ancient churches are nothing more than heaps of ruins. Ammerschwihr, who owned a beautiful town hall, old houses and fountains, was the victim of the bombings that prepared Colmar’s liberation. Kientzheim, Sigolsheim, suffered painful mutilations. Fortunately Colmar itself suffered little; but the Germans, for political reasons, the

In Lorraine the most serious damages are in Saint-Dié (complete destruction of the city and serious damage to the beautiful Romanesque cathedral), in Épinal, in Pontà-Mousson (college; piazza Duroc) not to mention the most important.

Even in the departments of northern France, which had already suffered so much in 1914-18, the damage is very conspicuous, although no great cathedral has suffered the fate of that of Reims. Above all, the loss of two first-rate churches, famous in the history of architecture for different reasons, should be noted; that of Saint-Leu-d’Esserent, which belonged to the first series of Gothic buildings of the century. XII with women’s galleries; that of Gisors, which was perhaps the most sumptuous building of the early Renaissance. Although their destruction is not complete, their restoration will certainly be a very long and difficult job.

We close this balance of the losses of buildings caused by the war by pointing out a happy, but certainly completely involuntary consequence of one of these destructions. In Vincennes, on the outskirts of Paris, where Mazarin had added, towards the middle of the century. XVII, to the old medieval castle of San Luigi and Carlo V another castle due to Le Vau, the architect of Versailles, the buildings of Le Vau were partly hidden by horrible barracks built a century ago by the military engineers. The Germans, on their departure, decided to blow up the castle and filled the barracks with explosives. But the charge was badly calculated and the explosion, even if it severely shook the ancient parts that remained visible, namely the king’s pavilion and the queen’s pavilion, brought to light the magnificent portico of Le Vau with the triumphal arch that connects the two pavilions and which was believed to be definitively lost. Their restoration began immediately, facilitated by the numerous engravings of the century. XVII, reproducing the castle of Le Vau.

France Contemporary Architecture 3