The Road from the Past

Ina Caro is an American with a passion for France and a unique idea. She proposes a chronological itinerary for the traveler to France. It extends from Provence in the south to the Ile-de-France in the north and allows an uninterrupted survey of French architecture from Gallo-Roman to Napoleonic times. The only prerequisites for this visual history are a rented automobile, a few tickets for the Metro or suburban trains in the Paris region, and a minimum of two weeks to complete the journey.

She begins in Provence, the imperial Roman segment of the trip. Here she suggests some expected sites: the arch and theater at Orange, the aqueduct at Nimes, and the temple of Apollo, the Maison Carree. She also makes some unusual suggestions such as the cave monasteries at Les Alpilles, which mark the onset of the Dark Ages. As Caro leaves Provence for Narbonne, she notes that the landscape appears to change in tandem with the era. Narbo, an artificial inland port of the Romans, became a silted backwater under its Goth invaders.

As Caro approaches the fortified keeps of Languedoc, she notes that as the Middle Ages evolve into the Renaissance, as monarch and state become synonymous, fortifications become decorative, moats become reflecting-pools, and castles become chateaux. The Hundred Years’ War saw construction of English and French castles on opposite sides of the Dordogne. Once the monarchy becomes the state, landscaped chateaux become the mode. At the height of the Enlightenment, Louis XIV synthesizes in Versailles absolute monarchic power and French architectural supremacy.