Open to the public since 2014, this XNUMXth century keepth century is a true symbol of the city's medieval past. This monument houses an exhibition that has grown over the years and now attracts more than 4 visitors a year.
Built in 1204 by Philippe Auguste, the tower, built outside the city, had the function of strengthening its defenses and allowing the king to mark his domination. It was not until the second half of the Hundred Years War to see military events unfold there. She participated in the defense of the castle and, at the liberation of the city in 1449, suffered significant damage, especially on its roof. It was classified as a Historic Monument around 1811. With the remains of the ramparts located around the Abbey of Saint-Nicolas and behind the Trianon cinema, the tower is the only witness to Vernolian military architecture.
When we enter this building for the first time, what strikes us the most is the thickness of the walls : 4 meters made of a thick alloy of flint and ferruginous metals called grison. As a result, the atmosphere inside is cool and humid. A medieval song is played in the background, probably the voice of Luc Arbogast, this famous countertenor who performs throughout France and in particular for several consecutive years on the occasion of the Fête des Gueux in Verneuil-sur-Avre.
In the center of the room, whose diameter does not exceed 9 meters, a magnificent model is displayed in a window. It represents Verneuil-sur-Avre in the XIIIth century, with its 3 fortified districts, its ramparts, its castle and its 7 churches. Behind me, 3 armed soldiers in ceremonial clothes are staring at me with dull eyes. It is in fact famous Dukes of Normandy that are Rollo, William the Conqueror and Henri Ier Beauclerc. Here, you will find explanations about the Duchy of Normandy and its Dukes.
Further on, an imposing fireplace houses a treasure chest locked with a padlock. This is the Tower treasure. Visitors are invited to find the code during their visit to open it. The code and the theme of the treasure hunt vary during each school holiday. Young and old alike enjoy the game.
On this first piece we also find funny instruments that are cold in the back! In fact, horrifying tongs, chairs, cages and tables illustrate a speech on torture in medieval justice. It's up to you to imagine the ordeal that corresponded to each tool ...
Before opening the small door which opens onto a stone staircase, I notice on my right some rather unusual photos. We discover the Gray Tower there with a strange hat ... If you ask him, the young man who ensures the reception will tell you the story of Léon Duval-Lampérière. In 1889, this man bought the Gray Tower and transformed it into a hotel. He disfigures the historic monument with fanciful additions and modifications which led to its declassification in 1892. Indeed, looking up, we can still see busts, inscriptions and other architectural fantasies today. But this man who is said to be "proud and unbalanced" does not stop at this outrage. He is accused of "inciting minors to debauchery and outrages". Indeed, he will be condemned to close his establishment for having offered the services of young girls in the rooms. It was not until about 50 years later that the Gray Tower became the property of the City.
I take the stairs that lead to the " Battle room". What a battle, you will tell me? Well, one of the bloodiest of the Hundred Years' War which took place here, in Verneuil-sur-Avre, in 1424. At the time of the English occupation, 11 French and 000 Scots tried to reconquer the city. An attempt which will end in bitter failure. A model illustrates the movements of the troops and a video made by the famous youtuber Nota Bene explains the details of this story.
We are also surrounded by soldiers: English archer, French knight and arbalestier. Some kind of cannon catches my attention. It is a fire pit of the XIIIth century, as one of those that would have been used on the battlefield. Here, we also evoke this event by the painting of the virgin with the mantle, work adorning the walls of the Saint-Etienne church of Laval in Belledonne (Isère).
I continue my ascent and I again come across a kind of recess that allows me to admire the Battle Room from a little height.
A few more steps and I feel the wind rushing into the tower. I arrive at the rampart walk. Well sheltered from the elements under this roof, I observe a 360 ° C panorama over the city of Verneuil. At 45 meters high, I can see the countryside stretching out as far as the eye can see south of the city. I see many bell towers pointed towards the sky: the tower of the Sainte-Madeleine church, the bell tower of the Notre-Dame church, that of the Saint-Nicolas church, of the old chapel of the hotel- God, of the old Saint-Jean church… I can see the checkered facades of the library and the old court. I can see very clearly the east wing of the Abbey of Saint-Nicolas. Gray, half-timbered and flint intertwine in this veritable postcard landscape.
In addition to the historical exhibition, the Gray Tower also houses a Book. Books on the battle of 1424, the castle of Verneuil-sur-Avre or the Abbey of St-Nicolas are on sale there. For children, the game book "La route du Grison", swords or costumes will allow them to discover the medieval heritage of the territory while having fun. For those who want a souvenir or an object to offer, they will find placemats bearing the effigy of the tower, a Norman flag or even the 1424, a lager with oak chips designed by the Boujou brewery, located in Chennebrun. 14 km from here.
My visit to the Gray Tower lasted approximately 45 minutes. For those who wish to learn a little more about the monument, the thrilling chronicles of this building and its unusual reconversions over time, guided tours are possible on request from the Tourist Office.