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Rouen: the historical capital of Normandy

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Rouen is a town of over one hundred thousand inhabitants which is the historical capital of Normandy and the capital of the Seine-Maritime department. The city is located just over 80 km from Le Havre and the English Channel coast and only 130 km from Paris. Rouen is crossed by the Seine.

Called “the city of 100 bell towers”, it has preserved a first-rate artistic heritage, including the Notre-Dame cathedral, the abbey of Saint-Ouen, the church of Saint-Maclou and the Palace of Justice, all remarkable examples of Gothic art. While the Gros-Horloge, the aître of Saint-Maclou, the hotel de Bourgtheroulde represent the Renaissance art.

Rouen is a very nice city to walk in, thanks to the pedestrianized historic center. The city is rich in culture and historic buildings of great value.



Among the monuments, the first place is to be attributed to the Gothic Notre-Dame Cathedral, the highest in France (151 meters). Located in the historic center, it was built starting from 1145, but its work continued for a few centuries. It represents, in most of its aspects, the evolution of Gothic art.

The silhouette of this cathedral has become famous thanks to the works of the impressionist painter Claude Monet, who often immortalized it in his paintings.

Inside there are wonderful windows. Also worth visiting are the tombs of the Dukes of Normandy, including that of Richard the Lionheart, and the monumental mausoleum of the cardinals of Amboise, the work of Rouland Le Roux. Do not miss, during the summer evenings, the spectacle of the facade of the cathedral illuminated by the colors inspired by the paintings of Claude Monet.


In front of the cathedral is the building of the Finance Office, the oldest of the Rouen Renaissance buildings (16th century). Today home to the Tourist Office.

The road that starts in front of the facade of the Cathedral arrives at the Gros Horloge, an astronomical clock from the 14th century, composed of a Gothic bell tower and a Renaissance arch. A short distance from the cathedral square is the Palais de Justice (Palace of Justice), the ancient seat of the Normandy Parliament. This palace is undoubtedly one of the most important works of civil architecture of the late Middle Ages. Under the courtyard of the Palais de Justice is the Romanesque building of the Monument Juif or Maison Sublime (Monument of the Jews). This is the oldest Jewish construction in France.


From here you reach the place du Vieux Marche (Old Market Square), a place of historical memories. It was in fact in this square that, during the Hundred Years War, on 30 May 1431, Joan of Arc was burned alive.

Here we also find the church of Sainte-Jeanne d’Arc (S. Joan of Arc). A modern construction, built on the site of martyrdom. The wax museum of Joan of Arc and the museum of playwright Pierre Corneille, with an important library. In a nearby street is the magnificent Renaissance Gothic palace of the Hôtel de Bourgtheroulde.


Heading towards the Tower of Joan of Arc, the only remnant of the ancient castle where Joan was imprisoned, we find a series of museums. The Museum of Fine Arts (Musée des Beaux-Arts) with a rich collection of paintings, drawings and sculptures including paintings by Caravaggio, Velàzquez, Géricault, Modigliani, Monet and Sisley. The Ceramics Museum (Musée de la Ceramique) with an important collection of majolica and porcelain. The Le Seq des Tournelles museum, dedicated to the art of wrought iron. Also nearby is the Renaissance church of Saint-Patrice with beautiful stained glass windows and the Museum of Antiquities with Egyptian, Greek, Gallo-Roman, Merovingian and medieval archeology, Renaissance furniture and tapestries.


Finally we head to the Abbatiale Saint-Ouen (collegiate church of Saint-Ouen), which was one of the most powerful Benedictine monasteries in Normandy. Its majestic dimensions are proof of this. Immense building in beautiful Gothic style, whose work began in 1318 to be completed only in the fifteenth century. Do not miss the interior of the church with its slender architecture, its exceptional brightness, the stupendous series of eighty original stained glass windows and the large organ created by Cavaillé-Coll. Close to the collegiate church is the town hall (Hôtel de Ville) which, after the French Revolution, took its place in the ancient monks’ dormitory.

At the end of our tour of Rouen we just have to go back to the majestic cathedral. First, however, it is better to visit the church of Saint-Maclou, a true jewel of Gothic art built between 1437 and 1517, with a famous portal with five porticoes adorned with magnificent carved wooden doors that date back to the Renaissance. Next to it is the Aître Saint Maclou, an ancient cemetery dating back to the great black plague of 1348, today the building houses the Regional School of Fine Arts.

Other museums in Rouen: the National Museum of Education, the history of the child and his education from the 16th century illustrated through a choice of paintings and prints, student notebooks, children’s books, school furniture and materials pedagogic. The Flaubert and History of Medicine Museum. The Maritime, River and Port Museum, where the history of the port of Rouen is described.

To admire a beautiful view of the city it is better to climb the Sainte-Catherine hill, from here the spectacle of the river, the city and the hills is impressive. Among the means to be used to visit the city the most characteristic are: the tourist train, the horse-drawn carriage and the boat along the Seine.

The climate of Rouen.



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