Before Bill and I visit a city we have never been to we try to discover as much about it as possible. What is its cultural heritage, what historic sites are there to see, where will it be convenient to stay and what restaurants offer something that we can’t find in Carcassonne, what makes it interesting and/or famous? That’s how we found out that today’s featured city was the birthplace in 1841 of French Impressionist painter Auguste Renoir. The Romans knew it in 10 BC as Augustoritum in honor of the emperor Augustus, it has a French and European-winning championship basketball team, and is headquarters for the electrical supply giant Legrand. There’s even a US connection since its sister city is Charlotte, North Carolina. While all of those are notable, they aren’t the first words that spring to mind when you say “Limoges”; however, we think that “porcelain” certainly is.
It was the discovery in 1765 of a deposit of a type of clay, kaolin, near Limoges that allowed this city in the center of France to take the lead in porcelain production worldwide, a position that it maintains even today. At the national museum Musée national Adrien-Dubouché you can see “the largest public collection of Limoges porcelain in the world” plus a detailed history of the art including an Italian renaissance bowl created in the 1500s and a Chinese plate from the late 1200s.
Staying within that 13th century time frame, we ventured down to the river to walk across the medieval stone bridge Pont Saint-Martial, completed in 1203 that put us close to another monument from that period, the cathedral Saint-Étienne. Although construction began in 1273 it took 6 centuries until it was considered complete with the attachment of a steeple.
Right next to the cathedral we wandered through the 5 hectare (12 acre) garden Jardin Botanique de l’Evêché where the Bishop raised a variety of plants for textile dying, medicine, tanning, and for his own kitchen.
For a glimpse at where townspeople lived in medieval times, the guidebook we were following suggested visiting two streets: rue de la Boucherie and rue du Temple, both in the heart of the historic district. At the Maison Traditionnelle de la Boucherie we could see where butchers worked on the ground floor, where they lived upstairs and where meat was cured in the very warm loft. The tiny neighborhood chapel Saint-Aurélien, dates from the 15th century and still serves today even though there’s only room for a few worshipers at one time.
While rue du Temple seemed narrow, we had to turn off from it into an even smaller passageway (photo in 1st paragraph) to get to our next destination. This cobblestone courtyard, Cour du Temple, is surrounded by tall, half-timbered houses with a stone arched arcade downstairs filled with shops. This neighborhood’s church, Église Saint-Pierre-du-Queyroix, is considerably larger than the chapel Saint-Aurélien and features stained glass windows from the 1500s.
Although we travel by train and therefore see a lot of stations, these structures seldom figure into our blog posts. The Gare des Bénédictins is a little different in that it’s suspended on a platform above the 10 train tracks below. It has a copper dome with a stained glass skylight and its art deco exterior, finished in 1929, gives it a classic look that makes it considered to be one of the most beautiful in Europe. That was a fitting place to say “goodbye” to a delightful city.