Monday, March 17, 2008

An Italian in France

One of the best things about traveling is that it affords you the opportunity to find amazing treasures you weren't even looking for. For example, while on this past weekend's trip to the Loire Valley, I expected to find breathtaking châteaux, green countryside, and large groups of Japanese tourists. What I didn't expect to find was the grave site of Leonardo da Vinci in the chapel of the Amboise castle.

Now, I consider myself to be your average Leonardo da Vinci fan. I've seen the Mona Lisa, read the da Vinci code, and can easily visualize his famous drawing, The Vitruvian Man. But I had absolutely no knowledge of his final resting place, nor, frankly, had I ever wondered where it was. He's such a large, mythical figure that imagining him in a regular burial plot the same as mere mortals doesn't exactly come naturally. Nevertheless, he was indeed buried, and visitors to the Loire Valley should not miss the opportunity to see his eternal home.

According to the castle's brochure, da Vinci spent the last years of his life living and working on the grounds of Amboise. After his death in 1519 he was buried in the chapel of Saint-Hubert - a small, unassuming house of worship that, despite its charm, seems almost ill-equipped for the task of housing the great man that lies within it. From the lack of visitors in the chapel, one can easily assume that his grave receives far fewer admirers than his most famous work, Mona Lisa. That smaller-than-you-think painting is nearly impossible to get close to as The Louvre is filled with tourists trying to catch a glimpse of it. I, however, found this somewhat macabre da Vinci sighting to be far more enjoyable. Maybe it was because of the idyllic setting, or the crowd-free chapel. Or maybe because it was just so unexpected.

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