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Chartres: a city rich in art and a splendid Cathedral

Chartres is a town of about forty thousand inhabitants located along the Eure river in north-western France, 95 km south-west of Paris. The city is the capital of the Eure-et-Loir department in the Center-Val de la Loire region.

In pre-Roman times it was the capital of the Carnutes population and the center of the Druidic cult. Then in Roman times it was an important city, called Autricum, with aqueduct, amphitheater, forum and numerous temples. In the Middle Ages the city developed considerably thanks to the wealth and power of local religious institutions. In the 10th century it became a county capital. The economic prosperity of the 12th and 13th centuries is attested by the quality of the churches that were built there, including the marvelous cathedral. The prosperity of the city suffered a severe blow during the Hundred Years War (1337-1453). In 1528 it was erected as a duchy by Francis I.

TOURIST ATTRACTIONS: WHAT TO VISIT IN CHARTRES

Chartres is a city rich in art treasures, among these, without a doubt, the most famous monument is the Gothic Notre-Dame Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres), it represents the highest level reached in France by Gothic art. In 1979, UNESCO included Chartres Cathedral on the list of world heritage sites.

THE GOTHIC CATHEDRAL

The church was built starting in 1145, thanks to the work of Bishop Fulbert. It was initially built in Romanesque style, but after the fire of 1194, which almost completely destroyed the old church, it was rebuilt. In 1220, the reconstruction of the naves began, which present characteristics that make it the first example of mature Gothic. The cathedral was inaugurated on October 24, 1260. In 1513 the flamed Gothic spire called Clocher Neuf was added to the north tower.

The western facade, called the Royal Portal, with a tripartite structure flanked by two towers, and a rose window from the thirteenth century, is what remains of the first construction of the eleventh century. It is particularly important for a series of sculptures from the mid-12th century. Between the two towers, the south tower has a Gothic base surmounted by a simple spire. While the north tower, built in later times, is of more complex architecture.

SCULPTURES AND PORTALS

Noteworthy are the three portals: the main or western portal also called “Portail Royal” (1145-1170), contains a magnificent relief of glorified Jesus Christ. The southern portal also called “Portail de l’Église” (1220-1230), has images of the New Testament concerning the Last Judgment. The north portal also called “Portail de l’Alliance” (1220-1230), is dedicated to the Old Testament and the coming of Christ and is famous for the sculptural group dedicated to the Creation.

The sculpture complex of the cathedral represents the most organic set of French Gothic sculpture between the mid-twelfth century and the mid-thirteenth century. The cathedral measures 130.20 meters in length, and between 32 and 46 meters in width. In the interior of the Cathedral there is a large nave in an ogival style, which is characterized by harmony and elegance of proportions. The nave reaches 37.50 meters in height and has a width of 16.40 meters.

STAINED GLASS WINDOWS

Inside the cathedral of Chartres there are 176 beautiful stained glass windows (2,600 m2), which illustrate the Bible and the lives of the saints, and which form the most beautiful complex of its kind produced in the Middle Ages. The oldest windows are those of the three western windows (second half of the twelfth century). While the windows of the main nave, the side aisles, those of the ambulatory, the cruise and the two rose windows of the transept are from the thirteenth century. A masterpiece is also the choir enclosure, a work by Jean de Texier from the 16th century, with the Stories of the Virgin depicted in 200 statues. In the Vendome Chapel there is the famous “Veil of the Virgin” (“Voile de la Vierge”), according to tradition it is the mantle that the Virgin Mary wore at the time of the Annunciation.

AN INTERESTING HISTORICAL CENTER

In addition to the famous cathedral, the city of Chartres is an interesting town with narrow, winding streets, full of other art treasures, including some Romanesque and Gothic churches (11th-13th centuries). The oldest part of the city preserves typical brick and wooden houses, worth mentioning, in the Place de la Poissonnerie, the “Maison du Saumon” (salmon house) from the 16th century decorated with wooden sculptures. In rue des Ecuyers there are numerous wooden buildings, one of which is flanked by the 16th century “Escalier de la Reine Berthe” (Queen Berta’s Stairway). At 29 Rue Chantault, you will find the oldest house in Chartres, which dates back to the 12th century.

STREETS MADE OF STAIRS

Characteristic are the “tertres” streets made of steps, which lead to the lower part of the city along the Eure river. Here there is a pedestrian path along the banks of the river that allows you to observe old bridges, water mills, and beautiful views of the upper city. Palaces of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries are located in the Baroque extension of the city.

Among the other remarkable churches of the city is that of Saint-Pierre, an ancient abbey. It is one of the masterpieces of Gothic art, its stained glass windows from the 14th century are very beautiful, its construction dates back to the 11th-13th century. Of great interest also the church of Saint-Aignan, a transition between the Gothic and the Renaissance (16th century), with rich stained glass windows from the 16th and 17th centuries, and located in a picturesque position on the River Eure. Finally, the collegiate church of Saint-André, dating back to the 12th century, today an exhibition center. A strange construction is the so-called “Maison Picassiette” dating from the twentieth century, which is a building in naive art.

CHARTRES MUSEUMS

The International Center of Glass (Center international du vitrail) is a laboratory-museum and cultural center dedicated to the art of colored glass. With a section dedicated to the stained glass windows of the Cathedral of Chartres. The Museum of Fine Arts (Musée des Beaux-Arts) which is located inside the old bishop’s palace. It exhibits rich collections of works of art including works by Zurbaran, Chardin, Vlaminck, Soutine. It also has a collection of harpsichords from the 17th and 18th centuries and a rich collection of pieces from the Pacific islands (New-Caledonia, New Hebrides (Vanuatu), Wallis and Futuna, French Polynesia).

The Archaeological Museum (Maison de l’Archéologie) is a museum that displays the pieces found in 30 years of excavations in the Chartres area. The Museum of Natural Sciences and Prehistory (Muséum des Sciences Naturelles et de Préhistoire). In the museum are zoological, botanical, geological and prehistoric collections. The Grenier de l’Histoire is a historical museum specializing in military uniforms, documents, weapons and accessories. Finally, the Conservatoire de l’Agriculture – Le COMPA, is a museum dedicated to agriculture.

The climate of Chartres.

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