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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.

Notre Dame church, Poitiers, France. [Alamy image ref. B1CXKD]

Whenever I venture out to a nearby town or village for a photographic exploration, I start in the very centre where there is usually a church. Here in France, compared with the New World (the United States of America and Canada) which is a strong market for European images, there is a long history and an architectural heritage which they have some difficulty in comprehending. For example, the church across the road from where I’m typing these articles was celebrating Mass more than a thousand years ago… or half a century before William of Normandy invaded and conquered Britain in 1066. Every Sunday, during Mass, I look around to try to picture the scene a thousand years ago – not just because I can’t follow the usually lengthy lesson too easily in French, but partly to keep my eye honed for new photo angles (God forgive me if I have sinned by doing that!)

Here at the 12–13th century Notre Dame La Grande church in the centre of Poitiers, in the Vienne département of France, the main part of the building was built in the 11th century and the later façade in the 13th century. In the 15th and 16th centuries chapels were added (in the south of the choir – the biggest, the chapel of le Fou, is dateable to 1475). It was damaged during the Wars of Religion (1562-1569) when several statues on the façade were beheaded. In 1840, it was listed as an Historical Monument and restorers of the 19th century were very keen on giving it back its original purity. It was freed from the surrounding houses and shops that previously hidden it, repainted inside and the façade was strengthened. Since then, bad weather, pollution and ageing have marked it again. It became urgent to save the façade and its beautiful sculptures of which some were painted. The latest restorations (early ‘90s) have combined micro-sandblasting and laser cleaning techniques.

All of which is, for most clients, ideally shown in just a single image because most don’t want to pay for two or more shots when one will do. Yes, times have changed and photo spreads are a thing of the past for most publications unless accompanied by a lengthy article… when the guest “name” writer will command an exorbitant fee and the photographer’s image will be a budget after-thought purchase.

I suppose I shouldn’t complain because this shot was used in a Polish (where publication fees are historically very low) publication – although in this case much higher than UK national newspapers pay… being licensed for 1-year by Alamy under my “a la France” pseudo for an 1/8th-page reproduction in a retail textbook with a 5,000 print-run.

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