Saturday, 6 April 2013

A handsome pile

In Drake's great work "Eboracum" on the buildings and antiquities of York, virtually every other building is described as 'a handsome pile' in the typical, slightly florid style of the early 18th century.
"A handsome pile": la Pile at Cinq-mars-la-Pile
This 'pile' is slightly different. It isn't a stately pile like Harewood House or Chatsworth, it's a brick tower known as 'la Pile' just outside Cinq-Mars-la-Pile. Built on a ridge with a commanding view across the Loire river, it sits on the north bank not far from Langeais.
1770 engraving showing the view looking north to 'le Pile'.
It's Roman and although you'd be inclined to think it has something to do with guarding and monitoring traffic on the river Loire, it has nothing to do with that whatsoever. It was, in fact, constructed by a high status Gallo-Roman individual to serve as a border marker on his estate. Its height, position and decorative patterns all serve to reflect the estate owner's wealth, status and cultural links with Rome. Similar towers have been found in the south-west of France.
View from behind 'la Pile' looking south over the Loire
A distant Villandry on the opposite bank of the Loire
An information panel charts the discovery, in 2005, of a decapitated statue which provided enough stylistic detail to date it to between 180 - 230 AD. The figure, found face-down in the ground just above the tower, is that of a chap with his arms behind his back and some kind of probable restraint round his neck. He's dressed in clothes typical of the region south of the Black Sea: pleated tunic, baggy trousers and a Phrygian cap.

Photo of the information panel showing the restored statue
According to the information, the presence of the statue, which may have formed part of a larger group of figures now lost, would indicate that the tower also had a role as a memorial site where the family honoured a venerated ancestor.

17 comments:

the fly in the web said...

I remember seeing the 'pile' on one of my first visits to the Loire area...and on the same day found the remains of the aqueduct near Luynes.

The statue was totally new to me though...

Niall & Antoinette said...

We first saw it on one of our early visits, but at the time didn't stop to find out more.




Perpetua said...

Fascinating to realise that the Romans were at least as fond of status symbols as we are. :-) That is an impressive piece of work and how good that it still stands after almost two millennia.

Niall & Antoinette said...

It's some status symbol isn't it! :-)

Craig said...

It's quite a statement - very handsome!
I've also been called a handsome pile (in my younger years of course, before I fell to ruin)!

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Craig - it's a change from some fancy gates isn't it?

LOL!

Food, Fun and Life in the Charente said...

Interesting post. I just love delving into history here in France. Have a good Sunday, Diane

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Diane - well it makes a change from a set of ostentatious gates :-)

You too!

Aussie in France said...

Phallic symbols have always been popular it seems! I find it interesting that Cinq-Mars is a name. I discovered that only recently. Henri Coiffier de Ruzé was the Marquis de Cinq-Mars (1620 – September 12, 1642), a favourite of King Louis XIII of France and conspired against Cardinal Richelieu. Richelieu built the original part of the Palais Royal where I live in Paris. I don't know where the Cinq Mars comes from though. Do you, Antoinette?

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Aussie - no I don't know anything further. Presumably de Ruzé took this title because he had a local estate.

In Roman times 5 March would have been known as 'nones' so that doesn't help us much either :-)

Susan said...

I have dredged from the back of my mind that in architectural terms a pile is a range of a large house which is one room deep, and that you can have double piles ie houses that are two rooms deep.

I'll be interested if anyone comes up with an explanation of the cinq mars thing though.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Susan - I'm impressed--that's a successful dredge indeed :-)

You and me both.

Aussie in France said...

Jean Michel got onto it and discovered that Cinq Mars comes from Saint Médard!

Niall & Antoinette said...

@Aussie - that's an interesting corruption! ....off to see what St Médard did to get his sainthood.

Sarwat Tariq said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
LindyLouMac in Italy said...

Just had a great visit here reading about Riviere and your cheeky furry visitor. Thankyou so much for your kind words and continuing support on my own blog, so much appreciated.

Niall & Antoinette said...

@LindyLou - furry visitor has thankfully found better chocolate elsewhere!

No Problem -- hope things are moving steadily in the right direction :-).