Thursday, 16 January 2014

Sébastien de Vauban's models

Detail of model of Lille ©Graham White
Last Saturday we enjoyed a family day out to Lille in France. We met at St Pancras station in London early in the morning and caught the Eurostar train. We arrived in Lille around 11:30am and then strolled through the town in search of the restaurant where we were going to have lunch.

After consuming an enormous meal in a very popular restaurant we staggered off towards the Palais des Beaux Arts to indulge in some visual culture. As we were a group of seven we decided to split up and go our own ways during our visit and meet up in the café later. My husband and I headed for the exhibits on show in the basement and after we'd had a look at the illuminated manuscripts for a bit we felt a pull to go and see our favourite part of the museum which are Vauban's models.

Sébastien de Vauban (1633-1707) was considered the greatest military engineer of his age. He lived during a period when France was constantly at war and he fortified over 160 towns in France during his lifetime. There are 19 of his detailed models of towns housed in the museum including Lille and Calais – they are in a dimly lit room and protected behind glass. There is nothing to stop you from banging your nose on the glass as I did more than once while I was trying to get a closer look.

©Graham White
The details of the models are fascinating to look at. Every tree has been planted, the fields are ploughed in different directions. Water channels are dug around farms and I found myself calculating how I would make my way from a farmhouse to an adjacent field on foot while avoiding the waterways. The congested and built-up parts of the towns tend to dominate the middle of the models and are surrounded by countryside whereas Calais looks quite small and is surrounded by a lot of water. They truly are maps brought to life and while most of the terrain is generally flat there is one town, whose name I have forgotten, that was really quite hilly. It's so much more interesting than anything Google has to offer and I kept expecting to see tiny people walking around tending fields, animals and children. I am so glad these models still exist for us to enjoy today 300 years later.

After a while our energy began to flag and we decided we needed to recharge our batteries with coffee and cake which we did in the café upstairs. While there I drew this sketch of a lady checking her mobile phone. Now that wouldn't have happened 300 years ago would it?


James said...

Great day and super pics ;-)

Heather James said...

Agreed, it was a great day. We'll have to do it again some time. :)