As usual, France did not disappoint. Yet again, as happened when we aimed for the region of Alsace and ended up instead in Xonrupt-Longemer in the region of Lorraine, we discovered the town of Sedan in the north of France quite by mistake.
Our target for a quick weekend break was the town of Bouillon in the south of Belgium. We came, we saw, and we felt cold in Bouillon. It had just snowed and then ‘warmed’ up to zero degrees, enough for precipitation and the soggy ground to become wet. These conditions didn’t help much our appreciation of the world-famous castle there, and neither of the rest of the town, unfortunately.
There’s a sizeable labyrinth inside and underneath the castle. I was particularly impressed by a large cistern deep in the castle’s bowels, where water of pure quality seeps down from the rock above, enough to keep large numbers of ever-important soldiers (more on this later) well sated for a long time. There’s also an airtight store for cheeses, established some time in the last century. Behind a large glass pane, real cheese (at first we thought it was fake, same as various life-size figurines of soldiers and counts etc. elsewhere in the castle) is kept at a constant 13 degrees Celsius, apparently a good temperature for it to age properly. Various torture chambers and unimaginably horrible prison holes made up the grizzly side of the complex.
A warm soup later, we did try to explore the town centre, but our main interest was to go to our booked hotel room to warm up. For Bouillon hotel accommodation, my hotels app had given me a list, along with the standard “there’s a large demand for rooms in Bouillon during your search period”. Imagine that, on the 2nd of February. It was practically empty of people. We chose a hotel relatively close by across the border in Sedan, France.
Instead of “we also went to Sedan”, this town ended up being the main feature of our trip.
Bright and sprightly weather is always a help, of course.
Beautiful as these castles tend to be, I’m often dismayed by the history of sheer violence and savagery that they tell. This was no exception. It was designed with defence in mind, and following the visitors’ route inside you are reminded of this most of the time.
You see life size and quite realistic figurines in action while defending the castle against invaders.
You see bows and arrows, holes for pouring boiling oil onto invaders, swords, rocks and lead balls, cannons… and depictions of battles, including large graphic paintings of fallen soldiers, dead horses. This picture set me thinking:
A king from some other place decides that he wants the castle for himself, so he sends his warriors to try and capture the castle. Many of them die in the process. Maybe the attack succeeds, and thereby the king avails himself of the riches from this area. By what right? No right whatsoever, except for the right of violence. Someone builds a fine castle and someone else decides to take it by force. Steal it for himself and never mind hundreds of soldiers who die a horrible death in the process. Ah, but he does find a moral justification: he is backed by God, because, you see, God prefers king X to king Y. And why, may I ask? Well, God knows why.
It’s the history of humanity, and we’re not out of it yet. Nowadays, we admire and appreciate fine works of military architecture, but they are born of the need of protection from invasion and bear witness of much violence and atrocity. It’s an obsolete design now, not because we’ve become a peaceful species, but because our weapons have become much more destructive. A castle is no use in the era of air strikes. We seem to be in a relatively safe situation now through a balance of fear. Any war would bring so much destruction that no one, hopefully, dares fire the first missile. Alas, the same doesn’t hold for less developed countries, to whom we, immorally, sell arms so they can use them to kill each other.
There should be a special hell for the producers of arms and weapons.
At the (finally, peaceful) castle of Sedan, they even produce their own beer and the obligatory matching glass. It tastes good, too. That’s the way it should be, and do away with all weapons and aggression.