August 31, 2018
The collections of the Musée Antoine Vivenel of Compiègne include objects of art from classical antiquity and the Renaissance. The museum was founded with the contributions of Antoine Vivenel, entrepreneur-architect and collector who made his fortune in Paris during the reign of Louis Philippe. Initially conceived to include works of art and antique sculpture, addressing science and natural history, and providing instruction in drawing and music, the museum assumed a more modest scope due to limitations of resources and space.
The museum presents one of the largest collections of Greek ceramics in France after the Louvre museum in Paris, drawing upon the collections of Lucien Bonaparte, brother of Napoleon and Prince of Canino in Italy. The museum includes sculpted blocks from the Gallo-Roman temple of Champlieu located twenty kilometers southeast of Compiègne, bronzes dredged in the Oise river and Gaulish weapons of Gournay-sur-Aronde.
The museum is housed in an 18th century mansion built on the ruins of a Dominican monastery founded by Saint Louis and razed at the time of the Revolution. Some remains of the original abbey are still present, including a window arcade, door, arches in third-point of the cloister and statue of saint Dominique. The structure is surrounded by a park of two hectares.
The Mémorial de l’internement et de la déportation was built on the site of the former Royallieu camp in Compiègne. The Royallieu baracks were built in 1913, and included 25 buildings laid out over 16 hectares. From 1941 to 1944, the barracks were transformed by the German army into one of the main transit camps in France. Nearly 45,000 people were sent to the camp, including political internees, resistance fighters, communists, Russian or American civilians and Jews. Deported, subjected to forced labor and abuse, nearly half of internees died during transport or in the camps.
The modest, somewhat drab town of La Croix Saint Ouen has nonetheless ancient roots that may be traced to well before Gallo-Roman times. The Sainte Croix abbey was founded in the 8th century. The surrounding forest was vital to the sustenance of the town’s inhabitants, providing food (berries, game), wood for cooking, materials for houses and tools (wood, clay), a place of grazing for herds , as well as a refuge in case of aggression. In the 19th century, the town achieved fame for its horse racing stables.
Further southwards along the Oise river towards Senlis lies the charming historic entrepôt of Verberie. The town has ancient origins, dating to Gaulish times. Charles Martel, following his victory of Poitiers against the Saracens, stayed in Verberie in 739. It was there that he received from Pope Gregory III the chains of St. Peter and the keys of his sepulcher.
Charlemagne had a large 420 metre-long palace built in Verberie, flanked by round towers of cut stone. Its walls were decorated with bas-reliefs and pediments surmounted by colossal statues, the doors made of brass, with marble mosaics and furniture encrusted with gold. The castle’s park extended to the forest cut by canals and dotted with ponds.
The town of Verberie was destroyed by the Normans, restored in 885, then looted several times during the 10th century. Verberie was subsequently burned by the English in 1359, and rebuilt again by Charles V. The town’s walls were interrupted by five doors still present at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
Several historic structures are found in Verberie, including the Saint-Pierre church, built between 1339 and 1342, Notre-Dame des Monts chapel, and the manoir Saint-Germain, dating to the mid-13th century. The cruciform late Romanesque/early Gothic Saint-Pierre church consists of a blind nave of four spans, two aisles, a largely projecting transept, a choir with two spans, and a saddle-bell tower. Apparently the southern transept was the chapel of the royal palace of Charlemagne.
North of the town of Senlis lies one of the most spectacular country houses of the region, the Château de Raray. The history of Raray dates back to the 13th century and the Bouteiller family, who were the original owners of the domain. Of the original Renaissance building of 1522, only the facades of the central body remain, while the current facade of Chateau Raray dates to the time immediately preceding the Revolution.
Robert de Cressonsart, the bishop of Senlis, Arnould d’Audename, les Ghistelles and the Lisgny were successive owners of the chateau until the 16th century. In 1600, Jehan de Belloy sold the domain to Nicolas de Lancy, at the time advisor to the King, chief accountant for the King’s army and chamberlain to the Duke of Orléans at the same time. The château passed on to the Marquis of Barres in 1760, who employed the renowned English landscape gardener, Thomas Blaikie, to create the chateau’s English garden.
Today the expansive neoclassical chateau is a combination hotel, restaurant and golf course, and is set against the eminently charming medieval town of the same name. In 1946 the chateau attained fame as location for the filming of Jean Cocteau’s ‘Beauty and the Beast’.
Of great importance are the two long monumental balustrades north and south of the courtyard, unique in France. They were probably built at the end of the Renaissance, displaying the taste of the lord for hunting, antiquity and Italy, drawing inspiration from Italian achievements of the sixteenth century.
A number of other historic structures are found in the town of Raray, including the small Saint-Nicolas church, built between 1520 and 1530 in a flamboyant Gothic style, the portal and enclosures of the old presbytery, built in a pure Renaissance style in 1621, and the ‘Ferme Parmentier’, featuring a small, 16th century Renaissance mansion.
Further along the country road leading towards Senlis, the late afternoon casting long shadows, I pass through the charming towns of Rully and Bray, with their own share of dramatic historic structures, including the 12th century Notre-Dame-and-Saint-Rieul de Rully, one of the oldest parish churches of the Valois region, and named after Saint Rieul, first bishop of Senlis. The church features a Romanesque bell tower above the cross of the transept, with a second floor featuring elaborate carved decorations.
Near Bray lies the 13th century priory of Saint-Victor de Bray, consisting of a fortified farm with a large round dovecote, a pond and an old well in the middle of its courtyard, a second farmyard, very old cellars, and an especially an elegant 13th century Gothic chapel surrounded by a park. The priory was functional for more than five centuries and was abandoned in 1773 with the death of fortieth and last prior.
One of the most historic towns of northern France, and arguably most beautiful towns in the country, Senlis traces its roots to Roman times. During the 3rd century, the city was protected from Frankish incursions by a seven-meter high defensive wall, which remained in use into the 13th century, and about half of which still exists. The town also featured a Roman amphitheatre, the remains of which are still visible some 500 m west of the walled town. The amphitheatre seated as many as 10,000 people and was used for public meetings, theatre, gladiatorial combats and animal hunts.
(Narrative excerpted from Wikipedia, www.musee-vivenel.fr, www.memorial-compiegne.fr, www.ville-lacroixsaintouen.fr and www.chateauderaray.fr)