It was very pleasant to sit outside on 30 May under La Pinte Contheysanne’s restaurant awnings in Sion Old Town, in perfect spring weather, and enjoy lunch with 21 other BRA members. Some of us might have been disappointed to see Madame Fumeaux, our indomitable guide, appear on the dot at 14:00 to take us on a walking tour of some of Sion’s historic sites: to sit and continue to enjoy the beautiful weather and drink some very pleasant Valaisan wine would have been a very congenial and tempting alternative.
Our first stop was the town square to admire the statue of St. Catherine de la Planta, the Patron Saint of Sion. Erected in 1915, on the occasion of the hundredth anniversary of the entry of Valais into the Swiss Confederation, it is the work of sculptor, James Vibert, (1872-1942), a pupil of Rodin.
A short walk followed to the Church of St. Theoduls, built around 1100 AD, destroyed and rebuilt several times, where in an ancient alcove, our guide slid back an inconspicuous door, whence appeared a flight of steps descending into the depths of the ground. In front of us appeared 2,000 years of history. The remains of Roman baths, a Roman sewer system, even a Roman lavatory. Built on top of that were the remnants of a Carolingian era church, a dynasty which had Charlemagne as its King from 800 to 814 AD. We lingered within this cocooned time capsule, immersed in our own personal thoughts as to people, events, and history that had gone before us.
Sion was a walled fortress city and one of its towers still survives, which in the past was used as a prison. We had time to sit and view a large town model of Sion as it existed in the mid-17th century when the hill castles of Valere, and Tourbillon were inhabited by bishops, medieval burghers and their subservient retinues. This model, beautifully and accurately made in 1996, was part of Sion’s presentation package in its unsuccessful bid to host the 2006 Winter Olympics.
In 1 1/2 hours we had just scratched the surface of Sion’s history and monuments. There are 14 listed monuments in the city; we only saw four which included the town hall, probably because we asked our guide too many piercing questions. However, much was learnt about Sion, not least the existence of a beautiful 14th century organ in the castle of Valere, which I for one am determined to visit and listen to recital.