A great way to visit Le Mans is to take a leisurely walk through the old town, along its narrow streets and river embankments. I started my walk at the foot of the cathedral steps at the Place du Jet d’Eau where there sits a marvellous fountain from 1853. Further up the stairs is the Place St-Michel. Standing in the shadow of the Cathedral of Saint-Julien is the Renaissance house where Paul Scarron lived while he was a member of the cathedral chapter. Its stone façade and tower date from the 12th and 15th centuries. There are several other buildings of interest that can be found here. The first is the Maison Saint-Paul, also known as the Maison à la Tourelle. This Renaissance mansion from 1530 is named after the corbelled turret, which it features on its corner. Second, we have the old windows of the chapel and Hôtel-Dieu des Ardents which are from the 14th century while the building to its right is the Maison du Bon Conseil and was built in the 15th century. Finally, near the western porch of the cathedral, one has a spectacular view of the Hôtel du Grabatoire (1545) and the Maison du Pelerin (16th century), which now serve as the bishop’s house and offices. Walking down the wide staircase of the Pans de Gorron from the Middle Ages one reaches the base of the hill and the banks of the Sarthe River. Clearly visible from all along the quays of the Sarthe, the well-restored Gallo-Roman ramparts (3rd century) in their typically pinkish hues, are truly unique. The alternating layers of brickwork and black and white ashlars arranged in geometrical patterns create the overall impression of elegance. This military construction, interrupted by 11 towers, is one of the longest in France. Today, nine towers can still be seen on the Sarthe side. From these towers, a watch could be kept and any assailants fired upon. Three different tower shapes can be seen: hexagonal (the Pans de Gorron Tower), horseshoe shaped (the Magdelaine Tower), and the ¾ circle shaped Hueau Tower. It is thought that they were built on two levels, their original upper levels are now lost: a terrace or a roof, perhaps? Continuing along the Sarthe toward the Jardin des Tanneries, one passes two old fountains within the Gourdaine gardens. The first one, Fontaine Able, was built in the 18th century as a place for watering horses or doing laundry. The second is the Fontaine de l’Hôpitau that dates as far back as the Middle Ages. To head back into the old city, just climb the stairs which run along either side of the Tunnel des Jacobins. This large avenue designed by Eugène Caillaux cuts directly through the center of town and was created between 1873 and 1877 to alleviate the heavy traffic within the city. One can also climb the 15th century Tucé Staircase to reach Square Dubois and the very popular Grand Rue with its many half-timbered houses. Within the old city there are some 100 of them. The oldest date back to the late 14th century, the majority were built in the 15th and 16th centuries. Over the past few years, work has been ongoing to restore the original medieval colors (blue, green or red) to the houses in order to liven up the old town. When a house has many timber slats and its façade contains molded or sculpted work on it, it is a patrician’s house (aristocrats or bourgeois). Many are still decorated with a corner pillar. The pillars are thought by some to be a rudimentary street recognition system. Along the Grand Rue one can see the Maison du Pilier Vert, Maison du Pilier Rouge, Maison du Pilier à l’Ecrevisse, Maison du Pilier aux Clefs and the Maison du Pilier à l’Évêque, all of which date from the 16th century. Another house along the Grand Rue is the Maison d’Adam et Ève, 1520-1523. This superb Renaissance mansion was the home of Jean de l’Épine, an astrologer and physician. The street opposite the Grand Rue is known as Rue de la Reine Bérengère where one can find the Maison des Deux-Amis and across the street, the Musée de la Reine Bérengère with its small garden where I sat in the shade and rested beside the statue of François Liger, an architect who wrote a book about the art of iron work. Trust me, even Google has forgotten this guy. In 1989, a bicentennial garden was created along the Rue de la Verrerie. Although not very impressive, it offers a spectacular view of the western part of Le Mans toward the Church of Notre-Dame du Pré. I didn’t have time to visit this church but my guidebook says this about it: “First built in the 5 century on the site of Saint-Julian’s tomb, this church of the former Saint-Julian’s Abbey was completely rebuilt in the 11th and 12th centuries. It remains one of the most beautiful Romanesque style monuments in the Maine region. Max Ingrand created the stained glass windows in 1950. A medieval style garden surrounds it and all the plants contained within the garden are those used in ancient pharmacopoeia.” Isn’t that interesting? If I had known this at the time, I would have made more of an effort to cross the Sarthe and visit. Oh well. Once again I headed for the Grand Rue to see some more half-timbered houses and then to Place St-Pierre, the place where one can see the Hôtel de Ville (18th-19th centuries). Just behind it are buildings that once made up the palace of the Counts of Le Maine. The palace was the birthplace of the Plantagenet king Henry II, future king of England. It also housed the Présidial (court) until the Revolution and became the seat of the Town Hall in 1790, which it still is today. Beside the ancient palace is the former Holy Chapel known as the Collégiale Saint-Pierre-la-Cour now used as an exhibition space and concert hall. With the day almost at an end, I wanted to visit the cathedral precincts again. The northern side of the ancient city has a semi-circular bastion with five towers, four of which remain and can be seen in the small square Robert Triger. These towers were to protect the weakest point in the town’s defenses. The big stone balls, which were hurled against the town during the Count of Salisbury’s assult of 1425, still lie at the foot of the wall. In the small garden, don’t miss the strange looking Bollée sundial. I couldn’t figure out how it worked. Well, that’s all for now. There’s still so much I want to post but I’m tired of trying to remember all the history of this awesome city. Check back again soon for more vacation pictures.