Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Lost And Found In The Ancient Gallic Citadels Of Burgundy

Water squirts from seven sacred springs. Towering trees sway. The placid view from leafy Bibracte takes in forests, pastures, lakes, stone-built villages and distant cloud-snagging mountaintops. Somnolence seems guaranteed. But wait: the sweeping prospects pulse with 2,000+ years of bloody history, mystery and bizarre, only-in-France nationalistic lore.
Bibracte? You won't find it on a map, not a current map anyhow. Bibracte is the most celebrated "lost city" of the Celts, the pre-Roman inhabitants of Gaul. Here, somewhere beneath the contorted beech trees, Julius Caesar dictated the perennial bestseller The Conquest of Gaul, etched into tablets in the year 52 B.C.
Bibracte is also where the valiant Gallic warrior Vercingétorix rallied the Celtic tribes of Gaul to face Caesar nearby at Alésia. That's the other celebrated lost city of Gaul's green heartland. "Lost" is the operative word. Caesar drubbed the Celts, marched Vercingétorix to Rome, and imprisoned then murdered him before cheering crowds. End of story? No. This is Gaul, meaning France. The past lives on. And on.

A riot of evocative rubble and vegetation, the remains of Bibracte spread atop Mount Beuvray. Happily you can geo-locate this handsome hill: at 2,500 feet it is one of the highest in Burgundy, sited in an unsung region west of France's finest vineyards in the Côte d'Or.

Granted, neither Bibracte nor Alésia is really lost these days: during the reign of President Francois Mitterrand, the Museum of Celtic Civilization was built on the flanks of Mount Beuvray. This year the spanking new MuséoParc Alésia has opened to crowds of spear-shaking young defeatists. The pair of government-subsidized memorials is linked by an official hiking trail and many roller-coaster meandering two-lane roads on which contemporary Gallic road warriors pilot their turbo-charged diesel chariots.