Normandy's historic capital, Rouen, is known as the City of a Hundred Bell Towers and is a fascinating place. With an exceptional architectural and religious heritage, it is no surprise that it has earned City of Art and History certification! You can take a lovely stroll through the picturesque old neighbourhoods on cobbled streets lined with historic half-timbered houses. You will pass remarkable monuments such as the Cathedral of Our Lady (Notre-Dame), a Gothic masterpiece whose construction began in the 12th century. Built on the foundations of a 4th-century structure, it still has its episcopal palace and houses the tombs of the Dukes of Normandy. Culminating at 151 metres, its spire is the highest in France!
Endowed with a five-porch portal with carved wooden doors, the Church of St. Maclou is a perfect example of the Flamboyant Gothic style, making it another must-see monument in Rouen. Just like the Abbey Church of St. Ouen, built from the 14th to 16th centuries and formerly one of the most powerful Benedictine monasteries in Normandy. Inside, note the 80 stained glass windows adorning the abbey church on three levels. You may be interested to learn that the city hall is now based here, in what used to be the monks' dormitory.
Rouen also has one of the last medieval necropolises in Europe in its city centre: the Ossuary of St. Maclou. Founded during the Black Death plague of 1348, this former mass grave, now a listed Historic Monument, still has macabre ornaments on its galleries' half-timbered façades. Built in the 16th century to provide an ossuary, these galleries are set in a peaceful, tree-lined courtyard.
Another remarkable historical treasure is the Great Clock (Gros Horloge), consisting of a Gothic belfry, a Renaissance dial and a Louis XV fountain. This belfry contains the city's bells and clock, whose mechanism, operational until 1928, was one of the oldest in Europe!
We cannot talk about Rouen without mentioning Joan of Arc. Several buildings tell her story, from the Joan of Arc Tower, the old keep of the castle where her trial took place, to the Place du Vieux Marché where she was burned alive in 1431. A large cross also indicates the location where the stake stood. In the centre of this square, the Church of St. Joan of Arc has some remarkable 16th-century stained glass windows that come from the old Church of St. Vincent. To bring her whole story back to life, the Joan of Arc Historial, based in the archbishops' palace, offers a very interesting interactive journey.
France's largest Gothic civil monument, the Parliament of Normandy's origins date back to the late Middle Ages. If you look closely, you will see shell holes on the façades, a reminder of the 1944 bombing. Today, it houses the Law Courts. And below the courtyard of this building, you will find the Sublime House, a Romanesque Hebraic stone structure that is the oldest Jewish monument in the country. Discovered in 1976, it is named after a graffiti in Hebrew meaning "May this house be sublime".
Rouen will satisfy lovers of art, culture and traditions with the Fine Arts Museum and its superb collection of paintings, drawings, sculptures and objets d'art from the 15th century to the present day, the Ceramics Museum exhibiting remarkable, historic pieces made in Rouen, or the Le Secq des Tournelles Ironwork Museum, housed in the Church of St. Lawrence and dedicated to the art of wrought ironwork.
After all these visits, go for a stroll along the carefully landscaped banks of the Seine, or head for the Botanical Garden (Jardin des Plantes), which has both a French formal garden and an English garden. You will find many botanical varieties there as well as a beautiful rose garden.