La Nuit Des Temps
Back in la nuit des temps, which I think occurred slightly before our “dawn of time” but was definitely “when dinosaurs roamed the earth,” humans lived on the site of what is now the Château de Bruniquel.
A nearby grotto houses the original of this Paleolithic cave painting
and the “lady of Bruniquel” rests here for all time. She’s not the real lady to which Bruniquel owes its existence, for that lady lived much later, in the 6th century. She was Queen Brunehaut, or Brunhilda, and she was a Visigoth. She had a long and complicated life, which you can read more about here if you wish. I’ll just say here that although her life ended badly, she evidently had vision and power long before women’s lib held sway.
Today she’s mainly remembered for the château she’s said to have built on a steep hilltop overlooking the Aveyron River. There are actually two châteaux on the site today, one old, and one very old, but a series of restorations has resulted in the curious fact that the older of the two actually seems to be newer.
From the outside it’s an imposing fortress, built to repel the invaders that have besieged the south of France since la nuit des temps.
Inside it’s startlingly beautiful
and tranquil, evoking the days when the ladies of Bruniquel dallied here, dresses trailing softly over the polished stone.
Although, if truth be told, they probably spent a lot of time here too, sanitation being what it was. It’s an image of the times that’s not nearly as picturesque, but one that’s infinitely more atractive than similar arrangements must have been at the time of Queen Brunehaut. If the Visigoths had plumbing, its legacy has long since vanished, even though Queen Brunehaut’s remains.
Like a lot of history, this is a place of shadows and mirrors. Here in what is now a lovely high-ceilinged room we were surprised to discover that there were fireplaces up in the air, where there used to be a second floor.
Here in a little “truth window” one can see the original stone wall, covered at some time long after by plain wood paneling, and then even later by this elaborately carved surface. It’s a graphic reminder that history is much more like an onion that a heap of stones. Time after time, era after era, people came, they saw, and they redecorated.
Some of the early features were built to last forever, like this spiral staircase carved long before power tools were even a gleam in a stonecutter’s eye.
Others might have been transitory, offhand, even at the time of their creation. This little sketch might have been a cherished bit of art, or might have been quickly covered over. Its creator might be bowled over to think that hundreds of years later the vase of flowers has become part of the legacy of Bruniquel, through an accident of preservation. We’ll never know.
History is like that, more random than we’d like to think, at the whims of wind and weather, and of the storytellers, and of the intention of those who come after to guard what came before, even when they don’t understand it.
At least some things don’t change much. The château’s old wine press isn’t that different from what we use today, and in fact it’s still used at least once a year when Bruniquel does a harvest à l’ancienne, just to remind everyone that some things vanish and some things hold fast, and raising a glass to both is often the best thing we can do.