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Mediterranean & Adriatic

About Rouen

Paris, France

Gracefully situated on the banks of the magical Seine River in the north of France, Rouen is the spiritual and historic capital of Normandy. The city is well known for such magnificent works of human ingenuity as the Gros Horloge astronomical clock and the Rouen Cathedral, which famously captured the imagination of Claude Monet. Sometimes called the “City of One Hundred Spires” for its many churches, Rouen is an important cultural touchstone for all of France, reaching back to the earliest pages of the country’s history.

Originally founded by Gauls, Rouen did not feel the influence of the Roman Empire until 744. Soon after, it was settled by the Vikings. The Norseman Rollo, also known as Robert I, was named Count of Rouen in the new Duchy of Normandy in 911. In 1204, Philip Augustus II of France annexed Normandy to his French Kingdom.

During the Hundred Years’ War, Rouen was forced to surrender to King Henry V of England, who then proclaimed Rouen the English capital of occupied France, On May 30, 1431, pro-English Bishop Pierre Cauchon famously burned Joan of Arc at the stake here for her role in the uprising against the English Crown.

At the beginning of the 16th century, Rouen became France’s major port for trade with Brazil. During this time, the city became a major importer of new cloth dyes. Rouen was occupied once again in 1870 by the Prussians. Later, during World War I, Rouen was used by British Forces mainly for medical purposes.

During World War II, Rouen suffered greatly; almost half the city was destroyed. In June 1940, the city blocks between the Notre Dame Cathedral and the Seine burned unrelentingly for a full 48 hours as German officers turned away firefighters. On August 30, 1944, almost three months after the D-Day Normandy landings, the Canadians liberated Rouen.

Rouen Sights and Landmarks

From 1876 to 1880, Rouen’s Notre Dame Cathedral was the tallest in the world. There is evidence to suggest that another church sat on this sacred site as early as the 4th century. That building was enhanced in 650, 950 and 1065, but today’s towering structure was not built until the 12th century. Its spire has suffered several calamities, including a lighting strike and a collapse by high winds. Impressionist painter Claude Monet famously captured the building’s façade in all manner of light in his Rouen Cathedral series.

Presiding over the pedestrian street of Rue du Gros-Horloge in a preserved Renaissance arch, the Gros Horloge clock is one of the oldest mechanisms in France. Its moving pieces were forged from cast iron and it is one of the largest devices of its type in the world. The façade depicts a sun with 24 rays on a starry backdrop. One revolution of the hour hand represents 24 hours. In the upper section of the dial, the phases of the moon rotate every 29 days. At the base of the clock, the days of the week are symbolized by allegorical characters.

Rouen Castle was the original fortification of the town, built to the north of the city’s medieval center. The castle was integral to the Hundred Years’ War; Joan of Arc was held here before her death. King Henry IV dismantled everything but the castle’s keep and it is now simply known as the Tour Jeanne d’Arc.

Rouen boasts many more medieval, Renaissance and 20th-century historic sites, including the Church of St. Maclou, the Museum of Fine Arts and Ceramics, and the Jardin des Plantes de Rouen Garden.

Rouen Activities and Culture

Downriver, near the mouth of the Seine, the picture-perfect port town of Honfleur graces the waters of the Seine. Its quaint slate houses date from the Middle Ages, lined up in a neat row along a colorful quay of shops and galleries. A painter’s daydream, Honfleur has been captured by many of France’s most deft brushes: Claude Monet, Gustave Courbet and Eugene Boudin among them.

In the dreamy Norman countryside, one of the most famous cheeses in the world is produced: Camembert. In its namesake village, you can visit the Camembert Museum and learn how the soft cheese that put this tiny village on the map is made. There’s lots to sample here – robust flavors, a rich farming history and the welcoming spirit of the Norman people. It is an experience you won’t soon forget.

About Paris

Paris, that long-cherished world capital of art and culture, is Rouen’s popular cousin upriver on the Seine, and it makes for a delightful day trip from the Norman capital. Over the centuries, Parisian culture has been built on the wings of inspiration. Music, film, architecture, literature, dance, and the visual arts are all well represented in the museums, theaters, bookstores and remarkably preserved buildings of this magnificent city.

The Parisian sense of culture did not happen overnight; Paris has been luring art and artists for centuries. The Louvre Museum houses arguably one of the greatest art collections in the world. Begun as the private collection of King Francis I, the Louvre opened its doors to the people after the French Revolution and has been enchanting the world ever since.

Traveling southeast from Rouen, the Palace of Versailles remains a stalwart reminder of the grand opulence of the French Kings. Versailles was the seat of French politics from 1682 until 1789, when the French Revolution changed the fate of the kings. The Palace was enlarged by each of its three residents, most notably King Louis XIV. Its wondrous buildings and apartments still evoke a fresh sense of glory. From the Hercules Drawing Room to the Hall of Mirrors, glittering chandeliers and glass fixtures brilliantly illuminate France’s royal past.

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