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Romans Defeat Vercengetorix and Cistercians Invent the Pneumatic Hammer
From Montbard we head directly to the Abbaye de Fontenay, the oldest surviving Cistercian abbey in the world. The Cistercian order was founded by St Bernard as a direct response to the luxurious lifestyle of the monks at Cluny.
The setting is a beautiful river valley, and the monks were self-sufficient, growing medicinal herbs for their own hospital and mining local iron ore for their own forge. They even managed to invent the world's first pneumatic hammer. An industrious lot, and Michelin give Fontenay the maximum 3*** rating, 'worth a journey in itself'.
We then follow the Canal du Bourgogne to Alise-Ste-Reine, where there is a giant statue of Vercengetorix erected by Napolean III. Fleeing the Romans, Vercengetorix and the gauls made camp on top of Mont Auxois, only to be surrounded by Ceasar's army.
A far larger Gaul army was on its way from Clermont Ferrand, so Ceasar built two sets of parallel defences around the hill, the first to keep Vercengetorix in, and the second to keep out the Gaulish rabble . After six weeks Vercengetorix surrendered, only to be paraded in Rome and subsequently strangled.
There is some dispute as to the site of Alésia, but the erection of the huge bronze statue of the man himself has settled the issue as far as the local tourist board are concerned.
We follow the canal again before climbing to the beautiful walled town of Semur-en-Auxois. There is some irony in this name as Semur derives from the latin sine muros, without walls.
The town is surrounded on three sides by steep cliffs carved by the river Armancon, and is a truly beautiful little town. Tonight we stay at the 3*** Hotel d'Aussois where the menu includes several Burgundy classics.