Celebrating the History of Science
and the Science behind History
During the Renaissance, French kings and queens built many palaces, in an area known as the Loire Valley. The royal family would travel from palace to palace to get away from Paris, the way you might head to a lake house. The Loire Valley is not very close to Paris. It’s about 110 miles from Paris to the palace of Chambord, for instance. I wondered how long it took sixteenth century travelers to make this journey—and why there were so many palaces.
First, the distance. Under the best of conditions (good roads, decent weather, level ground), humans can walk four miles per hour over long distances. Horses can’t do much better–maybe five mph—but a lot less if they’re pulling something or if roads are in awful condition. A horse can canter at 20 mph, but it can only do that for six to eight miles at a time, after which it will slow down and walk, or stop completely. So it would have taken a long time to get from place to place. Under the best conditions, a journey from Paris to Chambord would have taken three weeks.
But in fact, it took a lot longer than that. Because in the sixteenth century, the royal court didn’t just hop on a horse and head to their country home. They took everything and everyone with them, loading all the stuff onto the backs of horses and mules.
When Catherine de Medici was queen of France, she traveled with her ladies and gentlemen, foreign ambassadors, pet bears, servants, retainers, attendants, apothecaries, astrologists, tutors, musicians, cooking pots, food, clothing, portable triumphal arches, wall hangings, and furniture.
And the reason there were so many palaces is simply that the court in Renaissance times –thousands of people–had to move around from estate to estate so as to find new hunting grounds. Once they’d exhausted the food supply in the area, they moved on to the next estate. Also, the sanitation was dreadful. After thousands of people had taken up residence in and around a great estate for a few weeks, filth piled up, and with it, stench and disease.
The royal procession could be miles long. When Catherine de Medici’s court packed up and left for a new palace, the beginning of the royal caravan sometimes entered a town before those traveling at the back of it had left the last one.
Sara Albee's recent book is Why'd They Wear That?, published by National Geographic in 2015. Get ready to chuckle your way through centuries of fashion dos and don'ts! In this humorous and approachable narrative, you will learn about outrageous, politically-perilous, funky, disgusting, regrettable, and life-threatening creations people have worn throughout the course of human history, all the way up to the present day. For more information, click here.
MLA 8 Citation
Albee, Sarah. "Renaissance Road Trips." Nonfiction Minute, iNK Think Tank, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/renaissance-road-trips.
José Batlló’s house in Barcelona, Spain, was looking a little shabby. So, Batlló turned to Antoni Gaudí, the city’s most inventive architect—and got a house that astonished all Barcelona.
Its walls, studded with glittering blue and green shards, billowed like the sea. Some windows were egg-shaped, others had balconies resembling giant masks. The roof was more fanciful. Eerily iridescent, colors shifted from bluish green to golden orange. With scale-like tiles, it reminded people of a dinosaur’s backbone. Because of the oval windows, people called it the House of Yawns. Others, noticing columns that looked like shinbones, christened it House of Bones.
Born in 1852 into a family of coppersmiths, Gaudí grew up in a small town near Barcelona. As a boy he roamed the countryside making sketches, living in his own world of discovery and fantasy. Becoming an architect was his childhood dream.
He quickly developed a style entirely his own, drawing inspiration from nature rather than anything man-made. He was disdainful of straight lines. “They belong to men,” he used to say. “Curved lines belong to God.”
Near Casa Battló stands another Gaudi creation: Casa Mila, a six-story apartment building which, because of its soft swelling shapes, has been likened to human lips, pastries, and a hornet’s nest. Still, many people love it.
Among Gaudí’s accomplishments is what may be the world’s quirkiest park: Park Güell, a kind of fairy-tale fantasy, with two dancing gazelles flanking the entrance, a giant tile-encrusted lizard, and a roof topped with upturned coffee cups.
Deeply religious, Gaudí spent his last twenty years working on Sagrada Familia, a cathedral unlike any other, with eighteen towers symbolizing the apostles, evangelists, the Virgin Mary, and Christ. It became such an obsession with Gaudí that he set up residence at the worksite. Once something of a dandy, he became increasingly careless with his appearance. This neglect may have contributed to his death.
On a spring evening in 1926, taking one last loving look at a newly completed Sagrada Familia tower, he stepped off the sidewalk and was hit by a streetcar and knocked unconscious. Because of wretched clothing he was taken for a tramp and not immediately brought to a hospital. Gaudí was finally recognized, but was beyond help and died three days later.
Gaudi's Park Güell is one of the most famous sights of Barcelona. welcoming more than 4 million visitors a year.
Art by Roxie Munro.
The tile-encrusted salamander in Park Güell has become a symbol of Gaudí's work. Wikimedia
Check your favorite bookstore for Roxie's latest book coming out on February 6th. Rodent Rascals has already garnered three starred reviews with Roxie's fabulous actual-sized artwork accompanied by fascinating facts about 21 rodents who share our world.
Roxie is a member of Authors on Call where she can visit your classroom and show you her work herself. Read more about here here.
MLA 8 Citation
Munro, Roxie. "The Architect Who Hated Straight Lines." Nonfiction Minute`, iNK
Think Tank, 31 Jan. 2018, www.nonfictionminute.org/the-nonfiction-minute/
For Vicki Cobb's BLOG (nonfiction book reviews, info on education, more), click here: Vicki's Blog
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