#56 – Scary ascent, Loudun, France

La Tour Carrée, Loudun, France [Alamy image ref. B50DGA]

La Tour Carrée (the Square Tower) or Donjon, is emblematic of Loudun, in the Vienne département of France. It is the tower of an ancient château constructed by Foulques Nerra, the Count of Anjou (also known as “The Black Falcon”) in 1040. It is a good example of military architecture of the period and has been classed as an historic monument since 1877.

The tower, or donjon, was used as observation post and is all that remains of a large fortress. The walls reach 31 meters (around 100 feet) in height and are more than 2 meters (6.5 feet) thick. From the top of the tower is a wonderful panorama of the surrounding area, and in good weather one can see the Tower of Moncontour 16 kms (10 miles) away. The defence system also included a circular keep which was part of a later fortress which was dismantled under Louis XIII at the request of Richelieu.

I first visited the donjon in 1980 and remember the “exposure” encountered when climbing the rickety staircase winding it’s way around the inner walls with the increasingly dramatic drop below drawing one’s stomach to one’s mouth! I think I closed my eyes for most of the ascent and only opened them on feeling the wind on my face 100 feet above the ground and realising that the view all around was there to see. My last visit was in 2008 when the exposure didn’t seem as extreme (maybe extra safety railings had been put in place)… although I have heard that the donjon is currently closed to visits, which can only be due to the state of the 100-year old wooden stairs rather than the near 1,000-year old stone walls. Although Loudun is slightly off the tourist trail – between the traditional châteaux belt of the Loire Valley to the north and Poitier’s Futuroscope to the south, the small historical town (pop. 7,500) is still worth a detour and visit… and the gardens at the foot are, as always, accessible to the public.

View from la Tour Carrée, Loudun, France [Alamy image ref. B50EPB]

The garden has a medieval theme… it is organised symbolically around twelve squares representing the Twelve Apostles, and in the center a Quince tree representing Christ. This tree is a symbol of love and of happiness – and it has even been said that the Apple offered to Aphrodite by Pâris was actually a Quince.

It is surprising how often tall, imposing structures are difficult to photograph. This tower when seen from afar shows its height but doesn’t reveal its mass… whilst from close-up its mass is apparent but its height is not as impressive. Here I used a Nikon 14-24mm wide-angle zoom at the 14mm wide end from a very restricted but elevated position on a steep grassy bank between the garden and tower proper. The ideal view showing the tower’s west face (this is the south) was not very descriptive of the structure because it was draped with flapping banners from top to bottom and therefore unsuitable for long-term (i.e. representative) image stock. I did take many more shots of the other faces from far and near – as well as views in all directions from the narrow walkway at the top – but this was the view chosen for publication.

The Image was licensed by Alamy for use in a textbook with a 1,000,000 print-run (school textbook probably) for distribution in France for 1-year under my “a la France” pseudonym.

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