France

Must see locations, events and places to travel and enjoy in France.

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Getting in the swing in Occitanie

Strictly Come Dancing has inspired thousands to take up lessons, and for some, the chance comes with a trip across the Channel.

It is midnight in the holiday village of Les Portes du Roussillon, and the sound of another era is drifting into the still-balmy air. The salle de spectacle is not showing a traditional variety show, but has been transformed into a 1930s ballroom: dapper gents and elegant gals twirl, slide and spin across the dance floor as a six-piece band blasts out the swinging rhythms that will keep them going for several hours yet, intoxicated by the music. By morning, they will be back for more.

This is the Studio Hop Summer Camp, which attracts hundreds of swing aficionados from all over the world to southern France to learn, socialise, practise and, above all, to dance together. The camp runs for three consecutive weeks and focuses each week on a different swing style: Lindy Hop, Balboa and Blues. The camp is the largest of the swing dance events organised by international teachers Anne-Helene and Bernard Cavasa, founders of Toulouse- based dance school Studio Hop.

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Dance classes at Studio Hop

For more than a decade, the camp was held in rural Gers, but having outgrown the site, the location was switched to Le Barcares for 2016. This former fishing port lies on the stretch of the Occitanie coastline transformed by the state-inspired ‘Mission Racine’ tourism development drive of the 1960s.

Resorts like these are not on many British travellers’ hit lists, though the endless sandy beaches and almost guaranteed sunshine still draw thousands of domestic holidaymakers. There is a retro charm to the enthusiastic timetable of organised fun (anyone for aqua aerobics, beach volleyball and the flying trapeze?) and the faux-rustic decor of the all-you-can-eat buffet restaurants. And as this is France, the food is fine and the wine free-flowing.

For us, however, the sun, sea, sand and bottomless carafes of rose are merely a pleasant distraction from our true purpose, which is the rare chance to spend an entire week indulging our passion with fellow enthusiasts. For, if swing dancing is something of a niche interest, then Balboa is the niche within the niche, an elegant close-hold dance with small, shuffled steps, spins and slides that originated in the crowded dance halls of 1930s Southern California.

Beach shack jazz

With four sets of teachers from France, Russia, Sweden and the United States, there are multiple streams and classes happening simultaneously throughout the day in airy, open-sided marquees, where shorts and flip-flops are exchanged for shirts and leather-soled shoes as the students from as far afield as Australia, Japan and Russia diligently work on new moves. Come I’heure de Vapero, they will kick off their dance shoes over a beer in the nearest beach shack, while a handful of the resident musicians play jazz, with their bare feet in the sand. Although we come from over the world, we all speak the same language, connecting through music and dance. It’s a wonderful bubble to be in.

I get talking to Amanda, a wildlife conservationist, as we try on 1930s-style shoes and outfits in one of the pop-up vintage shops that take over the mezzanine of the main hall. “I got the swing bug after going to the 100 Club in London,” she tells me. “I’ve always loved dancing and tried lots of different kinds, but I think the two-tone shoes, zoot suits and music did it. I first heard about this camp through friends – it’s easy-going and excellent fun. I have been to several international camps and the sense of community, trust, inspiration and fun is common to them all, and what keeps me coming back.”

IT consultant Chris, who got into dancing West Coast Swing, Lindy Hop and Ceroc, began attending UK swing dance camps such as Goodnight Sweetheart and Camp Savoy before taking up Balboa – for which the UK scene had less of a reputation at the time. “The three friends I was learning with suggested we all go to the 2005 Frenchie Balboa Festival in Toulouse, and this kicked me off on a run of French Balboa events,” he says, listing numerous events from Paris to the Riviera. Chris is now an established teacher, and he and dance partner Janet also taught their own weekend workshop in Caen (“I was more the glamorous assistant though,” he confides, “as my French is tres limited) The Studio Hop event and others like it feel as much like a summer holiday as a dance camp, he says. “Being a week in length means there is less pressure to dance every minute of the day, which used to be the case with weekend events. I’m also more selective now as to the classes I attend – early-morning ones are definitely off the menu! A week also allows you to get to know other attendees and to experience wonderful scenery and food.”

Evening comes around again and there is no mistaking who is part of the dance crowd, as glamorous dancers emerge from their apartments, channelling the swing era style that characterises the scene: hair flowers and tea dresses, waistcoats and collared shirts. They flow on to the dancefloor as the band strikes up, and there they will stay until the music stops. They may be on holiday but there is no rest for these dancing feet – and that’s just how they like it.

DANCE IN FRANCE

More inspirational opportunities to get your body moving

En pointe in Paris

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Paris Marais Dance School

The opportunity to study ballet in Paris may sound like a romantic daydream, but the Paris Marais Dance School offers just that, with drop-in classes for all abilities. Housed in a stately 17th-century hotel particulier in the Marais district, the school uses the studios of the Marais Dance Centre and is run by Maggie Boogaart and Ghislain de Compreignac. They offer instruction (with translations into English if needed) in their respective specialist fields of contemporary and Martha Graham technique, and classical and neoclassical ballet. paris-marais-dance-school.org

Tango in Tam

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Tango-loving Dutch expatriates Peggy Spijkerman and Vincent Slemmer have created a dance haven every summer at their home in the Vallee du Tarn in Aveyron, turning their guest accommodation into a residential camp. Workshops in Argentinean tango take place for a few hours before lunch and again in the evenings, followed by a social milonga (forerunner of the tango) until late. Afternoons are used for private lessons, practice or to explore the local area (wild swimming in the nearby gorges is a popular option). tangovalley.com

Breton traditions

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The Saint-Loup festival of Breton

The Saint-Loup festival of Breton dancing and Celtic music takes place in Guingamp from 15-20 August. It is one of Brittany’s oldest festivals, originating from a grand public ball and a folk-dance procession. The Breton dancing world championship finals are a highlight of an event that also includes traditional music and costume competitions. Beginners’ workshops mean you can learn some of the steps yourself, festival-saint-loup.bzh

Dance in the DARC

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DARC Festival – Chateauroux

Around 65,000 enthusiasts from around the world descend on Chateauroux in the Indre department for the DARC Festival (Dance, Art, Rhythm, Culture), being held this year from 7-19 August. Concerts and dance workshops cover a multitude of disciplines, from flamenco to hip-hop, Indian to African and qigong to ragga jam. The festival ends with a huge showcase featuring the participants. www.danses-darc.com

Lyon Bienniale

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Lyon Biennale de la Danse

Alternating with the city’s contemporary art festival, the Lyon Biennale de la Danse is a month-long celebration (due next in 2018), with artists taking over venues and bringing the streets to life with parades and performances from circus to samba.

In addition to a packed bill of more than 40 shows, the programme includes daily taster sessions in different dances from visiting professionals, and actively engages with the community during the Defile, Europe’s biggest choreographed parade, which features 4,500 amateur performers. biennaledeladanse.com

Contemporary Cannes

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Festival de danse de Cannes

Since the opening of the Rosella Hightower International Dance Centre in the early 1960s, Cannes has been a hub for contemporary dance. The biennial Cannes Dance Festival, founded in 1985 and running from 8-17 December this year, showcases the work of new choreographers alongside more established dance companies. festivaldedanse-cannes.com

Ceroc in Corsica

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Modern jive (and its various names, branded or otherwise, such as Ceroc) is derived from swing, rock ‘n’ roll, salsa and other dance forms, but with simplified, minimal footwork to make it accessible to beginners. With clubs all over the UK and mainland Europe, it is an extremely social scene that loves its weekenders; some of the biggest events include Ceroc France’s early summer weekender at Cap d’Agde (19-22 May), and Jive Addiction’s week-long events with nightly freestyles (socials) in Corsica. cerocfrance.com, jiveaddiction.com

Dance in the Alps

Action-packed to say the least, ‘The Big One’ from Dance Action Holiday is a week-long dance and ski party in the French Alps. Guests enjoy doorstep skiing into the Paradiski, La Plagne/Les Arcs ski area and can build their ‘ski legs’ with classes in West Coast Swing, Argentine Tango and Blues from specialist instructors – and after-ski dances to cool down. danceholiday.co.uk

Song and dance

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Dances of Universal Peace

A worldwide, multi-cultural movement inspired by the world’s spiritual traditions, Dances of Universal Peace (DUP) is a form of celebration and meditation in sound and movement. It is inclusive and easy to learn (everything is taught at the beginning of each dance), with everyone participating in the circle. Events in France include workshops and retreats in Brittany, Ardeche, Ariege, Pays de la Loire and Paris. www.aladanse.fr

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Paris, France, For First-timers

France’s City of Light has stolen visitors’ hearts for centuries; prepare to be bowled over by some of the world’s finest bistros, grandest gardens and most exquisite architecture.

Why Go?

The allure of Paris, they say, is timeless…

What Is There to Do?

Dress up and show up. Paris is glamorous and ritzy, the home of haute couture, bohemian quarters, art treasures, historic architecture, and iconic cuisine in Michelin-starred restaurants and in cosy bistros.

Food & Drink

Le Miroir

It would be criminal to come to Paris and not spend time in pretty Montmartre, the hilly, bohemian area once notorious for its red light district that fed the Moulin Rouge. It can be tourist, so it’s a welcome surprise to find Le Miroir – a modern bistro smack in the middle of it all. It serves delightful patés and rillettes, and other well-prepared French staples.

Frenchie

Tucked down an inconspicuous alley, this bijou bistro with stonewalls and wooden tables is a classic. Frenchie is always packed and for good reason: excellent-value modern dishes prepared with just the right dose of unpretentious, creative flair. Book in advance, or try tapas across the street at the no-bookings-needed Frenchie Bar à Vins.

Ladurée

One of the oldest patisseries in Paris, Ladurée has been around since 1862 and was the original creator of the lighter-than-air macaron. Its tearoom is a top spot at which to indulge on the Champs-Elysées. Alternatively, pick up some pastries to go from croissants to those trademark macarons, it’s all quite heavenly.

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Ladurée, Paris

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Rocamadour – France

Pilgrims have flocked to Rocamadour since the discovery in 1166 of an ancient grave and sepulcher containing an undecayed body, said to be that of the early Christian hermit St. Amadour. King Louis IX, St. Bernard, and St. Dominic were among many who visited the site as a spate of miracles were heralded, it is claimed, by the bell above the Black Virgin and Child in the Chapel of Notre-Dame. Although the town suffered with the decline of pilgrimages in the 17th and 18th centuries, it was heavily restored in the 19th century. Still a holy shrine, as well as a popular tourist destination, the site above the Alzou valley is phenomenal. The best views of the town can be had from the hamlet of L’Hospitalet.

ST. AMADOUR

There are various stories about the life of St. Amadour. One legend claims that he was Zaccheus of Jericho, who knew and conversed with Jesus during his time on Earth. His wife, St. Veronica, gave Jesus a cloth to wipe his face during his journey to Calvary. After Jesus’ crucifixion, Zaccheus and his wife fled from Palestine to escape religious persecution. On their travels, the couple met St. Martial, Bishop of Limoges, in Aquitaine, France, who was preaching the Gospel. They continued to Rome, and while there they witnessed the martyrdoms of St. Peter and St. Paul. The death of his wife led Zaccheus back to France and the place later named after him, where he stayed until he died in AD 70.

CHAPEL OF NOTRE-DAME

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This Romanesque chapel was built in the 15th century close to the site where St. Amadour’s body was found. Considered the holiest of Rocamadour’s chapels, it houses the famous statue of the Black Virgin and Child Pilgrims who heard about the statue flocked to the shrine, often climbing the Grand Stairway on their knees as they prayed for the forgiveness of their sins. A 9th-century bell hangs in the chapel’s vault and is thought to ring when a mirade occurs. Saints and kings also made the journey to the chapel, including England’s King Henry II. Legend says that he was cured of an illness when he prayed before the Black Virgin and Child.

ROCAMADOUR’S MUSEUM

The Museum of Sacred Art is housed in the Bishop’s Palace, which was constructed by the abbots of Tulle in the 13th century. The museum was restored in 1996 and is dedicated to the French composer Francis Poulenc (1899-1963), who was inspired to compose Litanies to the Black Virgin after visiting Rocamadour. The museum’s collection of statues, paintings, and religious artifacts has been assembled from different sites around Rocamadour. Particularly interesting is the 17th-century statue of the prophet Jonah, carved in wood, and the fine lanterns, vases, and chalices that are still used in various religious ceremonies at Rocamadour.

A Station of the Cross

Pilgrims encounter the Cross of Jerusalem and 14 stations marking Jesus’ journey to the cross on their way up the hillside to the chateau.

Rocamadour Town

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Now a pedestrian precinct, the town’s main street is lined with souvenir shops to tempt the throngs of pilgrims and visitors.

General View

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Rocamadour is at its most breathtaking in the sunlight of early morning: the cluster of medieval houses, towers, and battlements seems to sprout from the base of the cliff.

Chapel of St. Michael

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Well-preserved 12th -century frescoes can be seen on the exterior of this chapel, which is sheltered by an overhanging rock.

Tomb of St. Amadour

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The body of the hermit from whom the town took its name (Rock of Amadour) was once held in this small sanctuary beneath the basilica.

Grand Stairway

Pilgrims would climb this broad flight of steps on their knees as they said their rosaries. The stairway leads to the church square on the next level, around which seven main pilgrim chapels are grouped.

Chateau

This stands on the site of a fort that once protected the sanctuary from the west.

Basilica of St-Sauveur

This 12th -century Romanesque-Gothic sanctuary backs on to the bare rock face.

St. Anne’s Chapel

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Built in the 13th century, this chapel has a fine 17th -century gilded altar screen

Chapel of Notre-Dame

The highly venerated 12th -century statue of the Black Virgin and Child, made of walnut wood and covered in blackened silver, stands on the altar.

Chapel of St. John the Baptist

The chapel faces the fine Gothic portal of the Basilica of St-Sauveur.

THE SPORTELL

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Crafted in either lead, bronze, tin, silver or gold, the Sportell was a medallion bearing an image of the Virgin Mary and Child that was carried by pilgrims who had visited Rocamadour. During the Middle Ages, it was often worn as an amulet, sewn onto a hat or coat, and served as a pass to cross certain war-torn regions.

KEY DATES

1166: The preserved body of Zaccheus, later renamed St. Amadou r, is discovered.
1172: The Book of Miracles is drafted, with the testimonies of miracles granted to pilgrims.
1193-1317: More than 30,000 pilgrims flock to the religious site.
1479: The Chapel of Notre-Dame (Miracles Chapel) is constructed.
1562: Rocamadour’s chapels are plundered by Protestants.
1858-72: Rocamadour’s restoration is supervised by abbot Jean-Baptiste Chevalt.

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Château de Chenonceau – France

Stretching romantically across the Cher River, this French Renaissance chateau was the residence of queens and royal mistresses, including Catherine de’ Medici and Diane de Poitiers. Transformed over the centuries from a modest manor and water mill into a castle designed solely for pleasure, it is surrounded by elegant formal gardens and wooded grounds. The interior rooms have been restored to their original style, and a small waxwork museum illustrates the building’s history. The site also includes a stable with a miniature train ride down the lovely tree-lined drive, and several restaurants.

THE FORMAL GARDENS

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As the mistress of Henri II, Diane de Poitiers wanted a surrounding fit for a king and set about creating her grand, formal gardens along the banks of the Cher River. Divided into four triangles and protected from flooding by elevated stone terraces, they were planted with an extensive selection of flowers, vegetables, and fruit trees. When Catherine de’ Medici arrived at Chenonceau, she created her own garden from a program devised by Bernard Palissy in his Drawings of a Delectable Garden (1563). Today, more than 4,000 flowers are planted in the gardens each year.

THE CREATION OF CHENONCEAU

Catherine Briconnet, wife of the royal chamberlain, was the first of many women who added her feminine touches to Chenonceau. During his reign (1547-59), King Henri gave the castle to his mistress, Diane de Poitiers, who went on to dramatically transform it. She redecorated its interiors, built a bridge over the Cher River and constructed a formal garden. When the king died, his wife, Catherine de’ Medici, reclaimed the chateau from Diane and set about erasing her presence. She redesigned the castle and built the Grande Galerie on the bridge above the Cher. Over the centuries, other women have shaped Chenonceau’s destiny and design, including Louise de Lorraine, who was bequeathed the castle in 1589, the enlightened Louise Dupin, friend of the writers Voltaire and Rousseau, in the 18th century, and Madame Pelouze in the 19th century.

THE INTERIOR

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The grand galerie – Chateau de Chenonceau

The elegant Grande Galerie, designed by Catherine de’ Medici to hold her festivities, dominates Chenonceau. Lit by 18 windows stretching from an exposed-joists ceiling, its enamelled tiled floor leads into royal bedrooms, including Diane de Poitiers’, covered in Flemish tapestries. The small tiles in the first floor hall are stamped with fleur de lys crossed by a dagger. Marble medallions brought from Italy by Catherine de Medici hang above the doors, including those of her bedroom, which is full of 16th-century furnishings and tapestries depicting biblical scenes.

Chapelle

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The chapel has a vaulted ceiling and pilasters sculpted with acanthus leaves and cockle shells. The stained glass, ruined by a bomb in 1944, was replaced in 1953.

The Three Graces

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Painted by Charles-Andre Van Loo (1705-65), The Three Graces depicts the pretty Mailly-Nesle sisters, all royal mistresses.

Louise de Lorraine’s Room

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After the assassination of her husband, King Henri III, în 1589, Queen Louise had this room painted in black and decorated with monograms, tears, and knots in white.

Tour des Marques

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This tower is the only surviving part of the 15th -century castle of the Marques family.

Grande Galerie

Chenonceau’s Florentine-style Grande Galerie stretches across the Cher River from 200 ft (60m). Catherine de Medici added this elegant gallery to the bridge designed by Philibert de l’Orme in 1556-9 for Diane de Poitiers.

Cabined Vert

The walls of Catherine de Medici’s study were originally covered with green velvet.

Tapestries

As was the practice in the 16th -century, Chenonceau is hung with Flemish tapestries that both warm and decorate its well-furnished rooms.

THE FIRST FIREWORKS

After the death of her husband, King Henri II, in 1559, Catherine de’ Medici moved into Chenonceau and staged lavish balls in her goal to surpass his mistress, Diane de Poitiers. At a feast for her son Francois II and his wife Mary Stuart in 1560, the celebrations moved into the formal gardens, where guests were treated to the first fireworks display in France.

KEY DATES

1521: The medieval Chenonceau is acquired by Thomas Bohier. His wife, Catherine Bric;onnet, supervises the rebuilding of the chateau.
1526: The chateau is seized from the Bohier family by King Francois I for unpaid debts to the Crown.
1547: Diane de Poitiers, King Henri II’s lifelong mistress, moves into the chateau and lays out the gardens.
1559: On the death of King Henri II, Catherine de’ Medici takes the building from Diane de Poitiers.
1789: The castle is spared in the French Revolution thanks to its liberal owner, Madame Dupin.
1913: The Menier family buys Chenonceau and still owns it today.

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Chartres Cathedral – France

One of the greatest examples of French Gothic architecture, Chartres Cathedral was built around the remains of an earlier Romanesque church which had been partly destroyed by fire. The result is a blend of styles, with the original north and south towers, south steeple, west portal, and crypt enhanced by lofty Gothic additions.

Peasant and lord alike helped to rebuild the church in just 25 years. Few alterations were made after 1250, and fortunately Chartres was unscathed by the Wars of Religion and the French Revolution.

THE ROYAL PORTAL

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Following the devastating fire of 1194, a decision was taken to retain the magnificent, still-standing west entrance (Royal Portal), which was a survivor of the earlier Romanesque church. Although this created a variation in architectural styles, it was an astute decision that resulted in the survival of some of the finest sculpture of the early Middle Ages. The Royal Portal, carved between 1145 and 1155, is the most ornamental of the cathedral’s three entrances. The features of the statues in the portal are lengthened in Romanesque style and depict figures from the Old Testament. The portal represents the glory of Christ.

THE STAINED GLASS OF CHARTRES

Donated by aristocracy, the merchant brotherhoods and royalty between 1210 and 1240, the cathedral’s glorious array of stained-glass windows is world-renowned. More than 150 windows illustrate biblical stories and daily life in the 13th century. Each window is divided into panels, which are usually read from left to right and bottom to top (Earth to heaven). The bottom panel of the Blue Virgin Window depicts Christ’s conversion of water into wine. During both world wars, the windows were dismantled piece by piece and removed for safety. There is an ongoing program, begun in the 1970s, to restore the windows.

GOTHIC STATUARY

There are around 4,000 statues at Chartres Cathedral. Fortunately, having remained virtually untouched since being sculpted in the 13th century, they are in a remarkable state of preservation. Incredible examples, tracing the evolution of Gothic sculpture, are clustered around the north and south portals. The north porch is devoted to representations of such Old Testament figures as Joseph, Solomon, the Queen of Sheba, Isaiah, and Jeremiah. Scenes from Christ’s childhood and the Creation of the World are also illustrated. The South Porch portrays the Last Judgment, and episodes in the lives of the saints. The hundreds of figures decorating both portals were originally painted in bright colors.

Royal Portal

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The central tympanum of the Royal Portal (1145-55) shows Christ in Majesty.

Steeple

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The north tower’s steeple dates from the start of the 16th century. Flamboyant Gothic in style, it contrasts sharply with the solemnity of its Romanesque counterpart on the south tower.

Vaulted Ceiling

A network or ribs supports the vaulted ceiling.

Nave

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As wide as the Romanesque crypt below it, the Gothic nave reaches a soaring height of 121 ft (37 m).

Apsidal Chapel (left)

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This chapel houses the cathedral’s oldest treasure, the Veil of the Virgin relic. More artifacts can be seen in the St. Piat Chapel, whose lower level was once the chapter house.

Stained-Glass Window

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Chartres’ windows cover a surface area of more than 28,000 sq ft (2,600 sq m).

South Porch

The sculpture on the South Porch (1197-1209) reflects New Testament teaching.

Crypt

This is the largest crypt in France, most of it dating from the early 11th century. It compromises two parallel galleries, a series of chapels and the 9th -century St. Lubin’s vault.

West Front

The lower half of the west facade is a surviving part of the original Romanesque church.

VEIL OF THE VIRGIN

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The miraculous survival of this relic after the fire of 1194 made Chartres a pilgrimage site and attracted generous donations. The veil is said to have been worn by the Virgin Mary when she gave birth to Jesus.

THE LABYRINTH

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Set into the stone floor of the nave is a labyrinth (13th century), a feature often seen in Gothic churches. As a penance, piIgrirns would follow the tortuous route on their knees, echoing the Way of the Cross. The jouney of 859 ft (262 m), around 11 bands of broken concentric circles, took at least one hour to complete.

KEY DATES

1020: Works starts on a Romanesque basilica with a huge crypt.
1194: A fire partly destroys the Romanesque cathedral.
1220s: The cathedral is rebuilt, with new parts in the early Gothic style.
1260: The cathedral is formally consecrated.
1507: A Flamboyant Gothic steeple is added to the north tower.
1836: The cathedral’s wooden roof is damaged by fire.
1974: The cathedral is added to UNESCO’s World Heritage Site list.

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Chateâu de Versailles – France

A magnificent palace with sumptuous interiors and splendid gardens, Versailles represents the glory of Louis XIV’s reign. Starting in 1668 with his father’s modest hunting lodge, the king commissioned the largest palace in Europe, with 700 rooms, 67 staircases, and 1,800 acres (730 ha) of landscaped parkland. Architect Louis Le Vau built a series of wings that expanded into an enlarged courtyard. They were decorated with marble busts, antique trophies, and gilded roofs. Jules Hardouin-Mansart took over in 1678 and added the two immense north and south wings. He also designed the chapel, which was finished in 1710. Charles le Brun planned the interiors and Andre Le Notre redesigned the gardens.

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RESIDENTS OF VERSAILLES

In 1682, Louis XIV declared Versailles the official seat of the French government and court. During his reign, life in this sumptuous Baroque palace was ordered by rigid etiquette. Under Louis XV (1715-74), it became increasingly opulent with the help of Madame de Pompadour, the king’s mistress, who set a taste for elegance that soon spread across Europe. In 1789, Louis XVI was forced to leave Versailles when it was invaded by a Revolutionary Parisian mob. The palace was subsequently looted and left until the reign of Louis-Philippe (1830-48), who converted part of it into a museum of French history.

THE GARDENS

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Andre Le Notre (1613-1700), France’s greatest landscape gardener, created magnificent chateau gardens. His superb architectural orchestration, Classical vision and sense of symmetry are seen in the sweeping vistas of Versailles, his greatest triumph. The gardens are styled into regular patterns of flowerbeds and box hedges, paths and groves, ornate pools of water, and fountains. Geometric paths and shrubberies are features of the formal gardens. The Petit Trianon, a small chateau built as a retreat for Louis XV, is found in the gardens.

INSIDE THE CHATEAU

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The lavish main apartments are on the first floor of the vast chateau complex. Around the Marble Courtyard are the private apartments of the king and queen. On the garden side are the state apartments, where official court life took place. These were richly decorated by Charles Le Brun with colored marble, stones, and wood carvings, murals, velvet, silver and gilded furniture. Starting with the Salon d’Hercule, each state room is dedicated to an Olympian deity. The Salon d’Apollon, dedicated to the god Apollo, was Louis XIV’s throne room. The climax is the Hall of Mirrors, stretching 230 ft (70 m) along the west facade. Great state occasions were held in this room, where 17 mirrors face tall, arched windows. Another highlight is the Chapelle Royale, with the first floor reserved for the royal family and the ground floor for the court.

South Wing

The wing’s original apartments for great nobles were replaced în 1837 by Louis-Philippe’s museum of French history.

Louis XIV statue

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Erected by Louis-Philippe in 1837, this bronze equestrian statue of Sun King stands where a gilded gateway once marked the beginning of the Royal Courtyard.

Clock

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Hercules and Mars flanks the clock overlooking the Marble Courtyard.

Marble Courtyard

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Paved in black and white marble, this inner courtyard is surrounded by Louis XII’s old chateau, the facades of which were enhanced by le Vau and Hardouin-Mansart. The three arched windows of the king’s first-floor bedroom are fronted by a glided balcony.

L’Opera

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The palace’s main opera house and theatre was completed in 1770, in time for the marriage of the future Louis XVI and Marie Antoinette. It was intended for lavish spectacles.

Royal Courtyard

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Separated from the Ministers’ Courtyard by elaborate grille work during Louis XIV’s reign, this narrow space was accessible only to the royal family.

North Wing

The chapel, opera and picture galleries occupy this wing, which originally housed royal apartments. Masses, concerts and operas are still held in this extravagant setting.

Chapelle Royale

Mansart’s last great work, this two-storey Baroque chapel was Louis XIV’s final addition to Versailles.

Main Gate

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Mansart’s original gateway grille, surmounted by the royal arms, is the entrance to the Ministers’ Courtyard.

PURSUIT OF QUEEN MARIE-ANTOINETTE

On 6 October 1789, a Parisian mob invaded Versailles seeking the despised Marie-Antoinette, whose frivolous behavior had earned her fierce public criticism. The queen fled through the anteroom known as the Oeil-de-Boeuf to the king’s rooms. She and the king, Louis XVI, were later removed to Paris by the cheering and triumphant mob.

KEY DATES

1668: Le Vau starts the construction of the chateau.
1671: Decorator Charles Le Brun begins work on the chateau’s interiors.
1833: Louis-Philippe turns the chateau into the Museum of the History of France.
1919: The Treaty of Versailles is signed in the Hall of Mirrors, ending World War I.

arc-de-triomphe

Arc de Triomphe – Paris, France

After his greatest victory, at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805, Napoleon promised his men, “You shall go home beneath triumphal arches.” The first stone of what was to become the world’s most famous and largest triumphal arch was laid the following year. However, disruptions to architect Jean Chalgrin’s plans, and the demise of Napoleonic power, delayed the completion of this monumental building until 1836. Standing 164 ft (50 m) high, the arch is now the customary starting point for victory celebrations and parades.

CARVED RELIEFS

The west facade of the arch is adorned with colossal reliefs. The Resistance of the French in 1814 is depicted on the right. Here, a soldier defends his family and is encouraged by the embodiment of the future. The Peace of 1815, on the left, shows a man, protected by Minerva, Goddess of Wisdom, returning his sword to its scabbard. These reliefs are by the sculptor Antoine Etex. Above them are two bas-reliefs. The left frame depicts the Capture of Alexandria (1798), as General Kleber urges his troops forward. The right frame shows the Passage of the Bridge of Areola (1796), with Napoleon advancing against the Austrians. The south facade details the Battle of Jemmapes (1792).

THE BATTLE OF AUSTERLITZ

Napoleon commissioned the arch in 1806 to honor his soldiers, who had achieved a masterful victory at the Battle of Austerlitz in 1805. Heavily outnumbered, Napoleon led the Allies to believe that his army was weak and successfully lured them into a vulnerable position. Fierce battle ensued, forcing the Allies to retreat across frozen Lake Satschan in Austria. It is believed that Napoleon’s army fired on the ice in an attempt to drown the fleeing enemy. The armies of Russia and Austria, members of the Third Coalition alliance against France in the Napoleonic Wars, were destroyed.

NEO-CLASSICAL STYLE

The power, might and learning of Western Europe was represented in the 18th and the first half of the 19th centuries by architecture inspired by that of ancient Greece and Rome. The traditional principles of the Classical style were extended and adapted as the culture of the ancient world was increasingly revealed, documented and disseminated. This new Classicism was seen as an ideal match for the ambitions of the powerful European states, whether autocratic or witnessing the birth pangs of democracy, and also of the young United States of America. The Neo-Classical style is defined by elaborate details and a refined sense of proportion: hallmarks of ancient Classical architecture that could be adapted for every conceivable purpose.

Departure of the Volunteers in 1792

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Francois Rude’s work, shows French citizens leaving to defend the nation. This patriotic relief is commonly known as “La Marseillaise”.

General Marceau’s Funeral

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Marceau defeated the Austrians in 1795, only to be killed when fighting them the following year.

Place Charles de Gaulle

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Twelve avenues radiate from the triumphal arch at the center of this busy road junction. Some bear the names of important French military leaders. Baron Haussman, in charge of urban planning under Napoleon III, created the star-shaped configuration.

Frieze

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Running around the arch is a frieze executed by Rude, Brun, Jacquet, Laitie, Caillouette, and Seurre the Elder. The east facade shows the departure of the French armies for new campaigns. The west side shows their victorious return.

Battle of Aboukir

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A bas-relief by Seurre the Elder depicts a scene of Napoleon’s victory over the Turkish army in 1799.

Triumph of Napoleon

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J.P. Cortot’s high-relief celebrates the Treaty of Vienna peace agreement of 1810. Victory, History, and Fame surround Napoleon.

Tomb of the Unknown Soldier

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A symbolic “eternal flame” burns over the grave of this French victim of World War I.

Thirty Shields

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Just below the top of the arch is a row of 30 shields, each of which carries the name of a victorious Napoleonic battle.

Viewing Platform

The top of the arch, reached via an elevator or by climbing the 284 steps, affords one of the best views in Paris.

Battle of Austerlitz

Another battle victory is depicted on frieze on a frieze on the north side of the arch. Napoleon’s army is seen breaking up the ice on Lake Satschan – a tactic that led to the drowning of thousands of enemy troops.

Officers’ names

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The names of 558 French generals of the Imperial Army are engraved on the inner face of the arch

NAPOLEON’S NUPTIAL PARADE

Napoleon divorced Josephine in 1809 because she was unable to bear him children. A diplomatic marriage was arranged in 1810 with Marie Louise, daughter of the Austrian emperor. Napoleon wanted to pass through the Arc on the way to the wedding at the Louvre, but work had barely begun. So Chalgrin built a full scale model on the site for the couple to pass beneath.

THE BATTLE OF VERDUN

On the day this World War I battle started in 1916, the sword carried by the figure representing France broke off from Departure of the Volunteers in 1792. The relief was covered up so that the public would not interpret it as a sign of misfortune.

KEY DATES

1806: Napoleon commissions Jean Chalgrin to build the triumphal arch.
1815: With Napoleon’s downfall, the construction of the arch ceases.
1836: The arch is finally completed: 15 years after Napoleon’s death.
1885: The body of French poet and novelist Victor Hugo is laid in state beneath the arch.
1920: An unknown World W&r I soldier is buried at the center of the arch.

notre-dame-paris

Notre-Dame – Paris, France

No other building is so strongly associated with the history of Paris as the cathedral of Notre-Dame. It stands majestically on the Ile de la Cité, in the heart of the city. When the first stone was laid in 1163, it marked the start of 170 years of toil by armies of medieval architects and craftsmen. Since then, a succession of coronations and royal marriages has taken place within its walls. Built on the site of a Roman temple, the cathedral is a masterpiece of Gothic architecture. When it was completed, in about 1330, it was 430 ft (130 m) long and featured flying buttresses, a large transept, a deep choir, and 228-ft (69-m) high towers.

THE HUNCHBACK OF NOTRE-DAME

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Quasimodo became a famous Disney’s character

The novel Notre-Dame de Paris (1831), published in English as The Hunchback of Notre-Dame, was written by the Romantic French novelist Victor Hugo (1802-85).

The hunchback of the title is the bell-ringer Quasimodo, ward of the cathedral, and the novel tells the story of his doomed love for a dancer, Esmeralda. Notre-Dame features strongly in the work and Hugo used his book to rail against its neglect, declaring that medieval cathedrals were “books in stone” and should be treasured. The novel aroused widespread interest in the restoration of the cathedral.

THE INTERIOR

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Notre-Dame’s interior grandeur is strikingly apparent in its high-vaulted central nave. This is bisected by a huge transept, at either end of which is a medieval rose window, 43 ft (13 m) in diameter. Works by famous sculptors adorn the cathedral Among them are Jean Ravy’s choir screen carvings, Nicolas Coustou’s Pieta, which stands on a gilded base sculpted by Francois Girardon, and Antoine Coysevox’s statue of Louis XIV. The 13th-century stained-glass North Rose Window depicts the Virgin encircled by figures from the Old Testament. A 14th-century statue of the Virgin and Child stands against the transept’s southeast pillar.

GOTHIC STYLE

The Gothic style emerged in France around the end of the 12th century with the Basilica of St-Denis (1137-1281), north of Paris, where most of the French monarchs are buried. The pointed arch, the ribbed vault, tracery, and the rose window were all used to great effect there and were important features of the Gothic style. The desire to build taller, ever more magnificent, light-filled ecclesiastical buildings grew. Another key feature emerged with the use of flying buttresses, which provided support for high walls and helped redistribute their weight. With its soaring interior and stained- glass filtered light from the large rose windows, Notre-Dame Cathedral is one of the best-known and most impressive examples of the Gothic style. Across Europe in many countries, architects took to the style with enthusiasm.

West Facade and Portals

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Two huge towers, three main doors, superb statuary, a central rose window and an openwork gallery are impressive features of the cathedral’s west facade.

South Rose Window

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This window depicts the Virgin in a medallion of rich reds and blues.

Portal of the Virgin

The Virgin surrounded by saints and kings is a fine composition of 13th -century statues.

Galerie des Chimeres

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The cathedral’s famous 16th -century gargoyles (chimeres) hide behind a large upper gallery between the towers.

King’s Gallery

This is a line of statues of the 28 kings of Judah and Israel.

Flying Buttresses

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Jean Ravy’s spectacular flying buttresses at the east end of the cathedral have a span of 50ft (15m).

South Tower

The cathedral’ famous Emmanuel bell is housed in this tower.

Spire

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Designed by Viollet-le-Duc this soars to a height of 295ft (90m).

View of the Interior

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From the main entrance, the high-vaulted central nave, choir, and high altar give impression of great height and grandeur.

“May” Paintings

These religious paintings, by Charles Le Brun and Le Sueur, among others, were presented by Paris guilds every May 1 from 1630 to 1707.

Transept

This was built at the start of Philippe-Auguste’s reign, in the 13th century.

South Rose Window

The south facade window has 84 panes of glass divided into two circles that radiate out from a central depiction of Christ.

Treasury

The cathedral’s holy artifacts, which include ancient manuscripts and reliquaries, can be viewed from here.

CORONATIONS

Notre-Dame has seen a number of coronations in its long history. Henry VI of England was crowned here in 1430, and Mary Stuart became queen of France after her marriage to Frangois II in the same year. In 1804, Napoleon became emperor of France, crowning first himself, and then his wife Josephine, here.

KEY DATES

1163: Work begins when Pope Alexander III lays the foundation stone.
1793: Revolutionaries loot the cathedral and rename it the Temple of Reason.
1845: Architect Viollet-le-Due undertakes restoration work on the cathedral.
1991: Notre -Dame becomes a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

mont-st-michel

Mont-St-Michel – France

Shrouded by mist and encircled by sea, the enchanting silhouette of Mont- St-Michel soars proudly above glistening sands. Now linked to the mainland by a causeway, the island of Mont-Tombe (Tomb on the Hill) stands at the mouth of the Couesnon River, crowned by an abbey that almost doubles its height.

This superb example of a fortified abbey ranks as one of the most significant sites of pilgrimage in Christendom. Lying strategically on the frontier between Brittany and Normandy, Mont-St-Michel grew from a humble 8th-century oratory to become a Benedictine monastery of great influence. Pilgrims known as miquelots journeyed from afar to honor the cult of St. Michael, and the monastery was a renowned center of medieval learning. After the French Revolution, the abbey became a prison. It is now a national monument that draws one million visitors a year.

BISHOP AUBERT

For centuries, the Mont was recognized as a sacred site of devotion, where both Druids and Romans worshiped. In 708, Aubert, Bishop of the nearby town of Avranches, had a vision in which the Archangel Michael commanded t hat a chapel be built in his honor on Mont-St- Michel. In response, Bishop Aubert had an oratory erected on the summit, his belief inspiring one of Christianity’s most spectacular holy sites. The faithful came to appeal for the archangel’s protection and Mont-St-Michel soon became an important place of pilgrimage. Although nothing remains of Bishop Aubert’s original oratory, it is thought to have been situated on the west side of the rock, on the ground where St. Aubert’s Chapel now stands.

THE ABBEY

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The three levels of the abbey reflect the monastic hierarchy. The monks lived at the highest level, in the enclosed world of the church, the refectory and the elegant columns of the cloister. In 1776, three bays in the church’s nave were pulled down to create the West Terrace, which has fine views of the coastline. Monks ate in the long, narrow refectory, which is flooded with light through its tall windows. On the middle level, the abbot entertained his noble guests. Soldiers and pilgrims further down the social scale were received at the lowest level of the abbey, in the almonry. The three-story complex of La Merveille (The Miracle), added to the north side in the early 13th century, is a Gothic masterpiece.

THE MONT PRISON

The monastery first served as a prison in the 15th century under the reign of Louis XI whose political opponents were kept here in famously severe conditions. During the French Revolution, the monks were dismissed and the abbey once again functioned as a penitentiary, with aristocrats, priests, and political adversaries imprisoned within its walls. Prominent figures, including writers such as Chateaubriand and Victor Hugo, protested against this practice, but Mont-St-Michel remained a state prison for 73 years until October 20, 1863, when a decree was passed returning the abbey to divine worship.

Abbey

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Protected by high walls, the abbey and its church occupy an impregnable position on the island.

Gautier’s Leap

At the top of the inner staircase, this terrace is named after a prisoner who leaped to his death.

Gabriel Tower

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This was built in 1524 by the military engineer Gabriel du Puy.

Ramparts

Fortified walls with imposing towers were built to withstand attacks by the English during the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453).

Tides of Mont-St-Michel

Extremely strong tides in the Baie du Mont-St-Michel act as a natural defense. They rise and fall with the lunar calendar and can reach speeds of 6 mph )10 km/h) in spring.

St. Aubert’s Chapel

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This small 15th -century chapel, built on an outcrop of rock, is dedicated to St. Aubert, the founder of Mont-St-Michel.

Eglise St-Pierre

A dramatic statue of St. Michael slaying a dragon can be seen in the elaborately carved side chapel of this medieval church.

Grand Rue

Now crowded with restaurants, the pilgrims’ route, followed since the 12th century, climbs up past Eglise St-Pierre to the gates of the abbey.

Arcade Tower

This provided lodgings for the abbot’s soldiers.

Abbey Cloister

Insside the abbey is a 13th -century Anglo-Norman covered gallery. It surrounds an open-air garden where the monks would meditate.

THE FORTIFICATION

Mont-St-Michel became a symbol of French national identity when its defensive 15th-century walls protected it against fierce cannon attacks in the Hundred Years’ War. The whole of Normandy was conquered by the English, except this well-fortified island.

OVER THE CENTURIES

The 10th -century abbey: Richard I, Duke of Normandy, founded this great Benedictine abbey in 966.
The 11th -century abbey: The Romanesque church was built between 1017 and 1144.
The 18th -century abbey: The number of monks slowly dwindled, and in 1790 the abbey was disbanded and turned into a political prison.

KEY DATES

708: St. Aubert builds an oratory dedicated to St. Michael on Mont-Torn be.
966: Duke Richard I founds the Benedictine abbey.
1446-1521: A flamboyant Gothic choir replaces the Romanesque one in the abbey church.
1863-74: The prison closes and the abbey is declared a national monument.
1977-9: A causeway is built, linking Mont-St-Michel and mainland France.
1895-7: The belfry, spire, and statue of St. Michel are added.
1922: Religious services resume in the abbey church.
1979: Mont-St-Michel is added to UNESCO’s World Heritage Site list.

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amiens-cathedral

Amiens Cathedral – France

A masterpiece of engineering and Gothic architecture carried to a bold extreme, Amiens’ Notre-Dame Cathedral is also the largest cathedral in France. Building work started around 1220 and took just 50 years, financed by profits from the cultivation of woad, a plant valued for its blue dye. Built to house the head of St. John the Baptist brought back from the Crusades, which is still on display, the cathedral became a magnet for pilgrims. After restoration by the architect Viollet-le-Duc in the mid- 19th century, and miraculously surviving two world wars, the cathedral is famous for its wealth of statues and reliefs.

GOTHIC ORNAMENTATION

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Like all Gothic churches, Amiens Cathedral is richly decorated. Sculpture served to detract attention from structural features, making a virtue out of a necessity, as with grotesque gargoyles that disguise waterspouts, or natural forms decorating columns. Even where the carvings would not be seen at close hand, they were still produced with tremendous skill and care Amiens’ choir stalls alone are decorated with more than 4,000 wooden carvings of figures, many representing local trades of the day, residents of Amiens and biblical figures.

VIOLLET-LE-DUC

The renowned architect and theorist Eugene Emmanuel Viollet-1e-Duc (1814-79) worked on the restoration of the cathedral in the 1850s. Trained in both architecture and medieval archeology, he was a leading figure in France’s Commission for Historical Monuments, which undertook early restoration work on many architectural landmarks, including Notre-Dame in Paris. Today, he is best known for his encyclopedic writings on French architecture and design, especially the Analytical Dictionary of French Architecture from the 11th-16th Centuries (1854-68).

BUILDING AMIENS CATHEDRAL

The cathedral was designed by the French architect Robert de Luzarches, and inspired by the Gothic cathedral at Reims, France. Work began in 1220 and by 1236, the facade, Rose Window, and portals were complete. By this stage, the architect Thomas de Cormont had taken over from de Luzarches, who had died prematurely in about 1222. De Cormont directed the building of the choir and apse. The cathedral was finished by 1270 and this speed of execution perhaps explains the building’s coherence and purity of style. Research has shown that the figures on the beautiful west portal would originally have been brightly painted. Modern laser technology has enabled experts to assess the original coloring of the sculptures, and a light show is put on periodically to illuminate the portal, re-creating how it would have looked over 700 years ago.

Choir Screens

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Vivid scenes from the lives of St. Firmin and St. John, carved in the 15th – 16th centuries, adorn the walkway.

Towers

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Two towers of unequal height of unequal height frame the cathedral’s west front. The south tower was completed in 1366, the north in 1402. The spire was replaced twice, in 1627 and 1887.

West Front

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The King’s Gallery, a row of colossal statues representing the kings of France, spans the west front. They are also thought to symbolize the kings of Judah.

St. Firmin Portal

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This portal is decorated with figures and scenes from the life of St. Firmin , the martyr who brought Christianity to Picardy and became the first bishop of Amiens.

Calendar

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Sculptures in the north portal depict the signs of the zodiac and their corresponding monthly labors – from-seed-sowing to grape-treading – offering an insight into everyday life in the 13th century.

Rose Window

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This immense, 16th -century window has a diameter of 43 ft (13m) and features flamboyant tracery.

Central Portal

Above the doors are scenes from the Last Judgment and there is a statue of Christ between the doors.

Flying Buttresses

A double row of 22 elegant flying buttresses support the cathedral.

Nave

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Soaring 130ft (42m) high, with support from 126 slender pillars, the airy, brightly lit nave is a hymn to the vertical.

Choir Stalls

The 110 oak choir stalls (!508-19) are delicately carved with more than 3,500 biblical, mythical and real-life figures.

Flooring

Originally laid down in 1288, this was reassembled in the late 19th century. The faithful followed its labyrinthine path on their knees.

Weeping Angel

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Sculpted by Nicolas Blasset in 1628, this sentimental statue in the ambulatory became a popular image during World War I.

ST. FIRMIN

The patron saint of Amiens, St. Firm in was born in Pamplona, Spain, in around 272. After ordination, he was sent to northern France, where he pursued his mission boldly, unafraid of persecution, and soon settled in Amiens. His persuasive preaching led to his beheading by the Romans in around 303.

KEY DATES

1220: Bishop Evrard de Fouilly begins work on the foundation of the cathedral.
1279: The relics of St. Firm in and St. Ulphe are presented, atten ded by the kings of France and England.
1849: Restoration of the cathedral takes place underthe direction of the architect Viollet-le-Duc.
1981: Amiens Cathedral joins the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites.