We used to live in the Atlanta, Georgia area not too far from the city of Macon that was named for statesman Nathaniel Macon in 1823. Now that our home is in France, we’re still fairly close to a city with that same name except this one has a circumflex accent mark (^) and its origin dates to around 50 BC when Julius Caesar referred to it in Latin as Matisco, meaning “wooded hill at the water’s edge” that gradually evolved into its present day form by the middle of the 18th century. Coinciding with that time period was when native son and author Alphonse de Lamartine was his most prolific and we followed numbered bronze plaques honoring him on a heritage trail to trace 2000 years of history.
If there’s one structure that consistently remains in French cities conquered by the Romans it’s the bridge perhaps because of its utility over the centuries in addition to its solidity. The current bridge over the Sôane river, Pont Saint-Laurent was first constructed in wood before being converted to stone in the 11th century and then fortified in 1221 and 1550. During the Wars of Religion (1562-1598) prisoners were thrown from it into the river below and in 1944 retreating German soldiers unsuccessfully attempted to destroy it to thwart the Allied forces.
From the oldest bridge we walked the short distance to the oldest house in town. La Maison de Bois (the Wood House) was begun in 1490 and has 3 floors made entirely of wood, some covered with carvings of humans and monkeys that the Tourist Office brochure describes as “saucy”. Nineteenth century French authors and brothers, Edmond and Jules de Goncourt warned that the building should only be looked at “as an escape, because of the earthy sculptures that adorn its walls.” You might need binoculars and a good imagination.
Continuing with the theme of “old” our next stop is referred to as just that “Old St. Vincent” meaning the former cathedral that now has only the two towers and a connecting arch remaining from its construction in the 11th century. Just a few blocks from there is the “New St. Vincent” that, relatively speaking, is true to its name having been constructed in the early 1800s with financing provided by Napoleon Bonaparte himself.
On the other side of the square directly behind “New St. Vincent” is the Hôtel Dieu, a still functioning hospital (now especially for seniors) that got its start in 1760. Although the building has been updated over time, the apothecary maintains its look and equipment from 250 years ago with an oak parquet floor, rows of small medicine jars, plus one preparation called a thériaque, made from 74 ingredients, that is supposed to be a cure for all contagious diseases plus animal bites, asthma, and lethargy. We had hoped to go inside but it was only open for group tours.
While Emperor Napoleon was having a church built starting in 1808 (which was initially named St. Napoleon) across town the city decided to construct a place of worship as well. Église St. Pierre is the largest church in Mâcon with two towers, each 53 meters (174 feet) tall and inside housing three listed historical monuments: a marble altar, a Renaissance burial marker, and the choir organ from 1866.
Across the street is Hôtel Montrevel, a mansion from 1750 turned into the City Hall in 1792 and said to have been the “most sumptuous private dwelling” of the time (featured photo above). In the next block is the impressive Hôtel Soufflot, of the same period that was used as a shelter or orphanage with the unique building feature of a rotating barrel by the front door where unwanted children could be left anonymously to be taken in by the charity.
If you’re in Mâcon and have time only for one stop that might be at the Ursuline Museum. This former convent has 3 floors of exhibits devoted to the city’s archaeology, literature, regional landscapes and fine arts from the 16th century to the present day.
Although we ate lunch elsewhere, I asked Bill to get a photo of Bil’s Diner even if we think that they are missing one letter “l”. True to their website description we saw booths, checkered tiles, and a jukebox playing American music in an “atmosphere typical of American diners in the 1950s.” The hamburger menu included sections such as “Simply” with Classic, Cheese, or Onion; “Original” with Avocado, Frenchie Blue, or Honey Cheese made with goat’s cheese and wildflower honey; or the “Mega” with 4 burgers, 4 slices of cheese, and a free milkshake if you finish the sandwich. I have a feeling that if we had not already had a reservation at another restaurant, somebody would have taken up that challenge!