ETV 4: French medieval urbanism

Part 4 of a series: Eurapan Transportation Vacation (ETV)

22 May 2013

Between visits to Paris and Madrid, I had to stop in Die (the site of my 2001 home stay as an exchange student with American Field Service (AFS)).

Die is commune (a small city) of about 4,500 people – a subprefecture of Drôme province in mountainous south east France.  While the layout of every European city I visited was characterized by ancient city walls, concentric about the oldest districts, remnants of the walls surrounding medieval Die are still prominent today (although I wasn’t curious enough to notice as a 16 year old).

Die wall

Satellite view of Die – Medieval wall outlined in red (credit Google Maps)

Similar to larger cities, the walls critically influenced the city’s layout and distribution of urban densities.  Quoting from the pamphlet I obtained at the local tourism office:

After the relative calm of the Pax Romana, the barbarian invasions of the end of the III century compelled the townspeople to construct and withdraw behind defensive city walls.  The city abandoned  its outskirts which had extended right down to the river.  Stones and slabs from the streets were used to build the ramparts…close to 2 kilometres long.

Despite the city’s antiquarian physical structure, today’s residents of Die are perfectly modern, deriving economic sustenance primarily from tourism and Die’s sparkling wine appellation – Clairette de Die.  (The members of my AFS host family who remain in Die harvest lavender.)

1 – TGV Railway Station in Valence, (560 kilometers south east of Paris).  Local tracks straddle the perspective.  Express tracks are to the right beyond the concrete wall – where train speeds approach 200 mph.  (From here I drove one hour to Die.)052220135958

2 – Streets in Die are narrow, yet they accommodate people, bikes, and cars – without striping or signalization. 052220135979

3 – Rue Camille Buffardel feels like a public hallway, with private shops and cafes spilling out, blurring the line (and only the line) between public and private realms.  (It is a wonder that so many tourists who sample these older places nevertheless choose to live in sterile, car-dependent sprawl.)052220136013

4 – As a curious 28 year old, I finally had the sense to tour (and climb) the 1700 year old city wall.  (This photo is taken in the north east corner of the map shown above.)052320136133

5  – Even French medieval cities have their sprawl developers.  (One kilometer outside central Die)052320136176

6 – Finally, a big “bonjour” to the host and resident of the guest house where I stayed in the center of Die – Chambres d-hôtes.  Bonjour Laurent!  (His parents joined us for a photo.  And crucially, he lent me a bicycle to tour the town.)

052320136212 052320136081

Next up: Madrid.  Qué pasa con el Español?

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