Monday, November 12, 2012

A Visit to Yverdon-Les-Bains, Nov. 7th.

Yverdon-Les-Bains (E ver don).  The literal translation is The Baths at Yverdon.  The town, with a population of 27, 961,  is located about 34 miles northwest of Vevey and sits near the southwest corner of Lake Nuechatel.  The reason for my visit was to visit the medieval town and the thermal baths, for which the town is famous.

A little history:

The first mention of the town was around 6000BC.  At that time it was a small market place, located on the shores of Lake Neuchatel and settled by fisherman and merchants. 

The Celts are said to have been the first permanent settlers of Eburodunum (Celtic and Roman name of Yverdon), from about the 2nd century BC.

About a century later, the Romans realized the commercial and strategic importance of this place; it controlled major routes such as connecting the Rhone and Rhine basins, connecting Geneva to Avenches (the area near Lake Nuechatel), as well as the routes between the Rhone and the Danube rivers.  It was also a major Roman military stronghold intended to hold back the "barbarian hordes" from northern Europe, who eventually overwhelmed the Roman empire and caused its downfall.

The Savoy dynasty ruled the town from 1003 to 1536.  After the conquest of the Savoy’s, by the Bernese, they ruled until 1798.

In 1798 Napoleon, with the use of French military might, set-up the Helvetic Republic which represented an early attempt to impose a central authority over Switzerland, which until then consisted mainly of self-governing cantons, united by a loose military alliance. The Republic existed for only five years and failed to achieve widespread popular support. However, some aspects of it have survived into present-day Switzerland.

The Menhirs at Yverdon (A Menhir is a prehistoric monument consisting of a single tall, upright megalith)
This site houses a collection of 50 Menhirs that first appeared around 1878, on a beach of Lake Neuchatel, when the lake started to recede. In 1896, engineer Charles de Sinner, published a description of the site and affirmed that these blocks had been aligned by man. It was not until 1975 that his claim was confirmed by scientist and geologist Jacques-Henri Gabus.
Archeologists have dated the Menhirs from the Middle Neolithic, or from 4500-4000 BC. The 50 irregular stone blocks originated from the Rhone glacier. They have either geometric or human shapes.  The smallest block is barely 2 ft. tall, while the largest is around 15 ft. tall and weighs over 5 ton. The Menhirs are arranged in two equidistant rows of 164 ft. in length, forming a sort of semicircle.
The site was probably an important social and religious gathering place.  The Menhirs, those in human form, possibly represented gods, ancestors or community heroes.

The Remains of the Castrum at Yverdon (Castrum was a term used by the ancient Romans to mean buildings or plots of land reserved to or constructed for use as a military defensive position).
About 325 AD after the Romans conquered the Alemanni, a confederation of Germanic tribes, the Romans built a large military stronghold ay Yverdon. It covered about 5 acres and was protected by gigantic ramparts and 15 masonry towers (Castrum).
In the 5th century, the Barbarians invaded Italy and threatened to overwhelm Rome. In a last desperate effort to save the city, all troops stationed North of the Alps were ordered back to Italy. The troops and the Roman administration, which were station in Yverdon, had to abandon camp. The inhabitants of Eburodunum (Yverdon), up to then assigned to live beyond the ramparts, immediately took possession of the Castrum using it for their own safety. 

The Protestant Temple of Yverdon.

This Protestant church was built in 1757, on the site of Notre-Dame chapel of the 14th century.  Its spire was rebuilt in 1608, on the base of the original one, for which huge, sculpted blocks from the ruins of the Roman ‘’Castrum’’ were used.

This French-style organ was built by Joseph Adrien Potier in 1766. The acoustics in the church are perfect for classical music programming. 

A statue of Johann Pestalozzi and two children, in the Pestalozzi Plaza.
Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi (January 12, 1746 – February 17, 1827) was a Swiss educator and educational reformer who exemplified Romanticism (an artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that originated in Europe toward the end of the 18th century and in most areas was at its peak in the approximate period from 1800 to 1840), in his approach to education.
He founded several educational institutions both in German and French speaking regions of Switzerland and wrote many works explaining his revolutionary modern principles of education. His most successful endeavor was between 1804 and 1825 when he lived in Yverdon.  He founded one school for boys and one for young girls.  Both schools attracted the European elite as well as children from Yverdon.
His motto "Learning by head, hand and heart" is still a key principle in successful 21st-century schools. Thanks to Pestalozzi, illiteracy in 18th-century Switzerland was overcome almost completely by 1830.

The Pestalozzi Plaza.

As is common in most towns in Switzerland, there is a central town square where on Saturdays, it is occupied by the market, where you can buy fresh products, such as vegetables, fish, meat, cheese, etc.

This monument, which is located in Pestalozzi Plaza, was placed there to honor the men and women, from Yverdon, who died in the First and Second World Wars.

Yverdon Castle

The castle was built in 1260 by Peter II of Savoy.  It was built in an area of Yverdon that was completely surrounded by water.
The castle was used as the residence of the Savoy’s until 1536.  Following the Savoy’s, it was the official residence of the Bernese.
In 1804 the castle was acquired by the City of Yverdon and they entrusted it to Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, as one of his “new” schools. After 1838 the castle housed a public school. New classrooms were created, especially on the second floor; dividing walls were erected, additional windows changed the severe look of the castle's façade. After 1950, these classrooms were gradually abandoned; the last classes left in 1974. The original medieval structure was then restored.
Today, the castle is a multi-purpose cultural center, housing a regional museum, a theatre, various conference rooms and the oldest public library of French-speaking Switzerland, founded in 1763. The library is now part of the castle museum, which as existed since 1830.

Another shot of the castle.

The Maison d'Ailleurs (translated as House of Elsewhere).

In 1806, Johann Pestalozzi demanded this building be  constructed to hold prisoners who were kept in the castle.  He did not want his pupils to be under the same roof as the prisoners.  

Today, it is a Museum of science fiction, utopia and extraordinary journeys. 

The Church of Saint-Pierre (St. Peter).

This catholic church is certainly not as ornate as most catholic churches which we have visited in Europe.

The church was designed and built between 1837 and 1841. It is modeled after the Church of the Valentin, in Lausanne, and reproduces the Roman style of its architecture, albeit in a much more simplified version.

An interesting feature of the church is its lack of a bell-tower, in conformity with a local law that was in force between 1810 and 1878.

The main alter in St. Peters.

The Thermal Springs.
The springs were known and used at least since the Roman era, but most probably before. It is supposed that the springs were a sacred place, with some sort of wooden structure. Middle Age documents prove the existence of a spa center, as early as 1429, and mention several useful buildings.
By 1728, the authorities decided to have a new spa constructed. Its reputation grew rapidly. The 18th century saw major developments and brilliant success, for the town and the spa. Then followed a period of decline; the spa lost its drive and popularity.  By 1800 it had been completely neglected and the buildings were in disrepair.
In 1897, encouraged by the Spanish scientist A. Gimbernat, the local City Council decided to reconstruct the spa center and to renovate its hotel. The consequences of the First World War (1914–1918) were detrimental, the number of guests having significantly declined.
Another period of decay followed, and by 1960 the center and its equipment were again so dilapidated that the center had to be closed.

In 1974 the City of Yverdon purchased the spa and reopened in 1977.  In 1982 a new outdoor pool was added.  Today, there is one inside pool and two outdoor pools. The spa welcomes more than 1,200 visitors per day.

The water from the sulphur springs gushes forth at 84 degrees Fahrenheit with a flow of over 1,000 gallons per minute. The water is then heated to 93 degrees before it enters the pools. The water's extremely high sulphuric content makes it ideal for treating rheumatism, skin disorders or simply for a relaxing soak. Jacuzzis, bubble baths, hydro jets, and activated water currents provide moments of relaxation and wellness. 

After a nice relaxing soak in the pools, I ended my visit and headed back to Vevey,

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