Rouen is located in Upper Normandy, and is pronounced Rue-on. Except that you have to spit on the rue and snort on the on, and you may as well pronounce it ruin, since that’s what you’re going to do to the French language, even with your best efforts to get it right.
Rouen is known as the City of a Hundred Spires. Besides its most famous Cathedral de Notre-Dame, built in various stages (of destruction, renovation and additions), dating from 396-1876, there are many other church spires that grace the skyline, such as these:
I already know my post is going to be way too long, but I want to cover the church of Joan of Arc, the old market, the giant renaissance clock, and the famous cathedral, as well as a tiny bit of the town itself, so let’s dig right in.
Joan of Arc
To quote from Fodor’s guide, where I got much of my information,
“O Rouen, art thou then to be my final abode!” was the agonised cry of Joan of Arc as the English dragged her out to be burned alive on May 30, 1431.
Joan of Arc died in this exact spot.
Just outside of the Eglise Jeanne d’Arc, which was built in the 1970’s in her honour, and has a roof in the shape of flames.
Many don’t like it, but I do for some reason.
Here is the interior of the church
and the 16th century stained-glass windows, which were taken from the St Vincent church that was bombed out in the 2nd World War. You can see the architecture in the form of flames more clearly in the first photo under the Joan of Arc heading, as well as the exterior of the stained glass windows, which give no hint as to their vibrancy.
I don’t know how much you know about Joan, but she was an illiterate farmer’s daughter who had visions, made a vow of chastity and led the French forces against the English during the 100-year war. She successfully had the French prince crowned, but later suffered defeat, was led to trial, burned at the stake as a witch, and died at the age of 19.
Though she was not canonised until 1920, she was long considered a saint, and her influence is everywhere in the town.
Le Vieux Marché
Joan of Arc’s church is located in the old market – the vieux marché. This is the older, more charming part of town with pedestrian cobblestone streets, and many medieval half-timber houses that miraculously survived the heavy bombing of Rouen during the war. Take a look.
This is where you find La Couronne, the oldest inn in France dating back to 1345, where you can get a pricey menu in a deliciously antiquated setting.
We ate in a more modest pub
but had a delicious cozy lunch as a family.
Juliet is trying to make herself sneeze with pepper. She is growing up, but still very much our girl (thankfully).
And the Ferris Wheel of Rouen Givré (frosty Rouen) is located in the vieux marché every year from November 28 to January 4.
From the top, you can catch a glimpse of the famous cathedral.
But before we get there, let’s take a look at the renaissance clock since it’s on the way!
This is it walking towards the old market.
And this is the view walking towards the cathedral.
Or, a closer look …
In 1527 the townspeople had a beautiful arch built to hold it.
And there you can wait to climb up into the belfry and see the inner workings of the clock.
But when you’re with kids on a day trip (Rouen is 1.5 hours from Paris by car, and quite easy to get to by train), you forego such an interesting visit and head towards the cathedral.
Le Cathédrale de Notre-Dame
You probably know that Notre-Dame means “Our Lady” and William cracked us up by asking, “Quelle dame?” What lady?
In addition to Fodor, and various plaques onsite, I got my information from this website. The first cathedral was built in 396, and was destroyed by Normans. It was replaced by a larger cathedral, and was consecrated in 1063 with William the Conqueror in attendance.
I don’t know how that one was destroyed, but it was rebuilt in the Gothic style in 1145. And then, in 1200, a fire destroyed all but the St Romain tower on the left side (and part of the portal). The tower was built in a more mature Gothic style in 1250.
In the 16th century, flamboyant Gothic touches were added, as was the Butter Tower – the right-hand tower that looks a little like a rook from a chess set. This was paid for by people who wanted the privilege of eating butter during lent.
And then in 1876, the Lantern Tower in the middle was completed, making it the tallest building in the world for a whole of four years.
The cathedral (decidedly out of luck) was partially destroyed from WWII bombing.
But the bombs did not hit key pillars, so we are able to enjoy its splendour today. Here are some views from the inside:
I should say a word here about the Vikings. They arrived in the 9th century and ravaged Rouen in 841. In 911, the king of France gave (what is now) Normandy to the Viking chief Rollo to protect Paris as the next target. It was called the treaty of St Clair sur Epte. Rollo was baptised and buried in the cathedral.
It’s all very fine. Rouen is so beautiful, even apart from its famed cathedral. I really didn’t expect such charm.
They specialise in porcelain (in French it’s Faience).
Here is someone decorating the porcelain onsite.
They also have art galleries.
And of course you should expect delicious patisseries. I was so enchanted by the outside of this tiny café
as much as I was by the wares within.
And to top off our day trip as a family – we who rarely get off our butts to go somewhere –
we ended with the crowning pleasure of barbe à papa. Papa’s beard.
As far as the kids were concerned, that was all that was needed to declare Rouen a resounding success.