23 July 2015

The Leaning Tower of...

...Etampes. Maybe you've been there — it's the terminus of an RER line. The small city of Etampes (pop. 25,000) is just about 50 kilometers (an hour) south of Paris, right on the border between the urban sprawl to the north and the open countryside to the south. I was there on June 1, and had a nice lunch with CHM, P, and M in a restaurant in the middle of town.

One of the landmarks (a curiosity, really) in the town, which is very ancient, is the bell tower at the church called Saint-Martin-d'Etampes. Etampes and the former village of Saint-Martin, now a neighborhood in the town, existed in the Gallo-Roman period, as long as 2000 years ago. The remains of a Roman villa have been found in Saint-Martin by archeologists.

There has been a church on the site of the current Eglise de Saint-Martin-d'Etampes since the time of Clovis, the first Frankish king to become a Christian. That puts it about 1500 years ago. The current church was built "only" in the 1100s, after the village was destroyed during the Viking invasions of the tenth century and subsequently rebuilt.

This church was built between 1142 and 1170, but the tall, leaning bell tower in front of it dates back only to the year 1537. It was under construction at the time when the big Loire Valley châteaux, including Chambord and Chenonceau, were being built, during the French Renaissance.

Construction of the tower, which is about 50 meters (165 feet) tall, was briefly interrupted when the ground it was being built on settled or "subsided", leaving the partially built structure leaning to the west, away from the older church building. Construction continued, and it appears that the tower was given a slight curve to compensate for and counter-balance the one-meter lean.

Imagine someone stepping out of the local café ("The Leaning Tower", of course) after enjoying a drink or two. If he hadn't looked closely at the church tower before going in, he might not believe his eyes.


  1. "The current church was built "only" in the 1100s, after the village was destroyed during the Viking invasions of the tenth century and subsequently rebuilt"
    We understand why the king "gave" Normandy to these terrible Vikings !

  2. I don't know if the church is open to religious services, but everytime I was there with my friends, it was always closed, except once when we were treated to a thorough visit by someone who seemed to be in charge of the monument. The romanesque interior is absolutely beautiful and I didn't see any danger of falling stones which would explain why it is closed.

  3. Interesting, and I had not heard of this church :)

  4. That is wonder-making...
    why haven't the town made themselves as famous as Pisa...
    I thought for a moment that you'd taken the pix from very close up and the curve was a wide-angle aberation!
    It is certainly as much fun to look at as Pisa...
    but it seems to be....
    a "Local leaning tower...for local people!"

    That curve is a far more subtle way of correcting the lean than at Pisa...
    a much better tribute to the masons' skills!

  5. He will feel like he had too much to drink ! :)

  6. The first picture, that shows the gap between the church and tower, really highlights the degree of tilt. If you just look at the top of the tower, it appearst to be correct or straight. Since it changes direction mid stream, I guess attempts to correct the foundation would leave the top tilted. Still it's an attractive building.


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