The Old Mill (Le Vieux-Moulin, in French) in the commune of Vernon, in northern France, is a 16th century flour mill constructed on top of an ancient bridge that once spanned the Seine River. Originally the bridge had five mills that ground corn grown in the nearby Vexin Plateau. The underside of the mills were equipped with a waterwheel that could be lowered or raised depending on the water level. The bridge is mostly gone now —only a couple of piers remain standing. The Old Mill, the last remaining flour mill, straddles across the two extreme piers of the bridge on the right bank of the Seine.
The stone bridge was built in the 12th century by King Philip II, also known as Philippe Auguste, so that he could move his troops easily. King Philip was at war with English king, Richard I who reigned over the western half of France. The bridge was protected by a bridgehead on the bank —a simple square structure flanked by four 20-meter high towers, and surrounded by a moat and linked to the stone bridge by a wooden drawbridge.
Photo credit: Julius Reque/Flickr
Luckily for the townsfolk of Vernon, before the little fortress could get involved in warfare, the whole of Normandy become French in 1204 and war withdrew from the district for a century and a half. Having lost its military importance, King Philip sold the rights to set up watermills and fisheries on the bridge. Soon five mills were built, two on the right bank, including the one that can still be seen today, and three on the other side.
Neither the local authorities nor the royal family, however, were not up to the task of bridge maintenance. In 1651, floods swept away some of the piers and the supporting arches collapsed, rendering the bridge useless. Instead of repairing the bridge, ferries were put into service to transport people across the river. Vernon didn’t get another bridge until more than two hundred years later in 1860, when a new stone bridge was built a few tens of meters upstream. Ten years later it was blown to bits during the Franco-Prussian War, was rebuilt and then blown again in 1940, and yet again in 1944, during the Second World War.
The old mill was also damaged by the bombings of 1940 and 1944, and was about to fall into the Seine River when the city of Vernon undertook its salvage. The old mill is now restored and is a symbol of Vernon.
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Photo credit: Jean Pierre Belot/Flickr
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