Description : Description : Description : E:\\promenadeurop_fichiers/cabarrus.jpgA European walk through Bordeaux 4


4 -      Fornoue’sVictory”. Porte Cailhau – 6 July 1495

Porte Cailhau.

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Porte Cailhau is not only a gate, embedded deep in the city wall and replacing the older gate of the same name located to the west. It is also and above all an arc de triomphe, a triumphal arch, that once stood opposite Palais de l’Ombrière. Erected in the late 15th century (1493-1496), it commemorates the victory of Charles VIII over the Italians at the Battle of Fornovo, during the Italian Wars of 1495.

Having travelled through Italy to Naples unopposed, the young King Charles VIII, aged 24, was compelled to abandon Naples and had to use force to open the way back. The battle took place on Monday 6 July 1495, near Fornovo di Taro, at the foot of the Apennines on the shores of the Taro, a tributary of the Po. He met the Holy League’s army of confederates led by the Marquis of Mantua. According to Commynes, who witnessed the battle, the fighting lasted an hour in total; a quarter of an hour was spent on the battle itself, and three-quarters of an hour were spent pursuing the retreating soldiers: “ sooner had they broken or threw down their spears, than they all fled.” Three thousand five hundred men died. The battle enabled Charles VIII to cross back over the Alps in November. By the end of October 1495, he had returned to France. Although he had not been successful in his recent conquests, it is said that a single convoy of the works of art brought back from Italyweighed 87,000 pounds.”

Both sides shouted victory. For the French, it was the “victory” of Fornovo, because they had killed twice as many soldiers as they had lost. For the Italians, it was the Vittoria di Fornovo, because by adopting a turning movement they had managed to plunder the French baggage and treasure, and because the Marquis of Mantua was able to display, triumphantly, all the trophies he had won. For Anglo-Saxon historians, it is instead considered a French defeat that put an end to Charles VIII’s Italian dream.

The Marquis of Mantua commissioned a commemorative painting of his triumph from Mantegna for the Santa Maria della Vittoria chapel in Mantua, in which, dressed in the armour he wore at Fornovo, he gives thanks for his success, kneeling at the feet of the Virgin, who is sitting under a triumphal canopy and extending an open hand to him in a gesture of blessing. The Mantegna painting was unveiled in the chapel on the first anniversary of the battle.

In Bordeaux, construction of the gate was already underway. However, the mayor, Jean Blanchefort, and his Jurats decided that instead of a gate, they would erect on the city’s port “a triumphal arch, on which would be placed the statue of King Charles VIII,” to immortalise this day of 5 July 1495 “as one of the most glorious in our history.” And so, for the first time, a statue of a king of France appeared in Bordeaux, placed in … …

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Mantegna, Le marquis de Mantoue, rendant grâce à la Vierge pour sa victoire, revêtu de son armure de Fornoue. (détail). Musée du Louvre.


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Le Roi Charles VIII, vainqueur de Fornoue. Bordeaux, Porte Cailhau.


Turn right after the gate and cross  Cours d’Alsace-Lorraine to reach the corner of

Cours d’Alsace-Lorraine and Rue Ausone.


© Bertrand Favreau and Tyché Editions 2014

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