Thursday, April 26, 2012

Wonders - above and below ground.

Wellington Quarry.

When I was in Arras I went, after the belroi debacle, on a tour of the Wellington Quarry.  This is named after Wellington in New Zealand because it was the NZ tunnellers who had a lot to do with this quarry during the War.  There is also an Aukland quarry, which the NZ'ers connected with a very long tunnel. 

The entire quarry is below ground and was begun in the middle ages.  It has numerous tunnels and caverns througout, with the roof supported by various pillars left by the quarriers back in the middle ages.  The stone removed from these quarries - a sort of chalk / sandstone was used for the buildings in the area. 

Along board pathways, there is now a wonderful tour of the quarrry, with a very moving audio visual display throughout (complete with various WW1 songs!).  It was not only the NZ'ers who were in this quarry, but also the "Tommy's".  The pillars have a numbering system on them so that the men could find their way around and also signs to things like the latrines etc.  One wag put a sign up over a very small "cave" calling it the Waitomo Cave which, for the non NZ'ers reading this, is a very beautiful, large glowworm cave in the North Island of NZ! 

At the peak time of use during the war there were as many people (soldiers) living below ground as in the town of Arras itself - many thousands of people.  This was the area where the men left from for the disatrous battle of Arras.

During the second world war the entire population of Arras used this quarry as an air-raid shelter.

Albert Somme Museum.

A wonder because it too is below ground!  The Basilica in Albert (pronounced albear) was almost demolished in the war, but beneath the Basilica is a network of tunnels.  These have been converted to a very moving museum, complete with lifesized replicas of varying war time working situations, with life sized dummies.  The most touching for me was the "men" in a trench in winter time - complete with "snow".  These appalling conditions are hard to imagine, from our perspective so long after.

These tunnels are bricked and the length is over 250 metres!   I am not sure why they were originallycontstred, but like the Wellington quarry, these tunnels were used as the air-raid shelter for the townsfolk during the second world war.

The statue on top of the basilica - now upright.  During the war she was lying at right angles to her present position.

The interior of the restored Basillica
 The front porch the restored Basillica

Des Hortillonnages.

I feel very content that I have managed to complete the one thing that I had on my list for Amiens that I really wanted to do - that was to go on a boat trip of the Hortillonnages, or floating gardens. 

This is an extraordinary 300 hectares of cultivated land only accessible by a network of canals.  Originally this land was marshland, and it is thought the gardens are over 2,000 years old.  The soil is very rich, peaty soil, and the banks need constant maitenance by the Hortillons (gardeners).  There are small market garden plots on some of the land, and even a small orchad on one block.  The water is constant, and controlled by 3 locks (fed by the Somme and the Avre Rivers) and these days there is a real push to reclaim the area and conserve the gardens and canals. 

About to board the boat for the Hortillonges boat tour.  Unfortunately this is the only photo as, for the first time ever, I somehow ended up with TWO flat batteries!

It is full of wildlife and very sheltered in amongst the trees.  The properties are only accessible by boat - a special flat bottom boat, and a network of little footbridges going from one property to another in some places.  As we floated by I saw numerous people working on there plots.  The tour took just over an hour by boat which gives you some idea of the size of it. A must see if you are in Amiens!

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