Saturday, February 1, 2014

Rouen from the Vikings to Emma Bovary

 This Spring, Enchanted France Normandy and Loire Valley Tour will be visiting Rouen, the historical capital of Haute Normandie.  This is a recommended destination in France for its historical, cultural and gastronomic delights.  For more information on the spring tour visit us here.  Let me share here some highlights.

Rouen is situated on the curve of the Seine River, 140 km northwest of the French capital.
Its long and rich history dates back to its founding by a Gaulish tribe, the Veliocasses who named  it Ratumacos.  When the Roman conquered Gaul, they changed its name to Rotomagus and it became a thriving gallo-roman settlement.  Flash forward a few centuries, in the late 10th century, the Vikings overrun the Lower Seine Valley and took over Rouen. In 911 Rouen became the capital of the duchy of Normandy until William the Conqueror built his castle in Caen in 1060.

For a time, Rouen was a prosperous town of a thriving independent Norman duchy until 1204 when the King of France, Philip Augustus entered Rouen and annexed it to the French crown thus ending Normandy  sovereignty status.  Two centuries later, during the Hundred Years War Rouen surrendered to the King Henry V of England in 1419 who  reclaimed Normandy back to the Plantagenet Dynasty.  As the capital of English power in occupied France, Rouen became the site of Joan of Arc's trial and execution.  She was burnt at the stake on Place du Marche May 1431.  Rouen was recaptured by the French King Charles VII in 1449, ending 30 years of English occupation.

Over the centuries, Rouen  thrived as a  commercial  and artistic center.  In the Renaissance and throughout the 17th century it was renowned for its cloth, ceramics and naval capabilities.  During WWII Rouen suffered much destruction as a number of  historical monuments were heavily damaged during the Battle of Normandy that took place between March and August 1944.  The city was liberated by the Canadian on  August 30,  1944 ending a four year German occupation.  In modern times the historic center of Rouen has been meticulously restored and since 2002 has been labelled by France's ministry of Culture and Patrimony as  a City of Art and History.  

Its mainly pedestrian core is fun to explore  starting with the gothic Cathedral Notre Dame dating from the 12th century and  remodelled in the 15th and 16th  century,  its two assymetric towers- Butter tower and Saint Romain and the central Lantern Tower  dominate the city skyline.  The intricately carved facade has been the favorite subject of painter Claude Monet in his 30 painting series of the cathedral executed between 1892-93 at different time and light of the day.  The paintings can be viewed at the Orsay museum in Paris.

Palais de Justice
The Justice court (Palais de Justice) was once the seat of Normandy Parliement.  Its architecture dates from the  early 16th century.  Heavily damaged during allied bombings in 1944, it has been restored to its gothic flamboyant magnificence.

Maison Sublime
It is interesting to note, that under the right staircase of the Palais de Justice courtyard, a hebrew inscription was discovered thirty years ago.  Experts believe  this site  was occupied by a renowned medieval yeshiva (rabinic school)  built around 1100 making this the oldest Jewish monument in France.  The Maison Sublime as it is known can be visited on Tuesday at 3PM and every last Fridays of each month.  

Gros Horloge- OT Rouen
Rouen's historic core features a number of restored timber-frame houses notably on rue Saint Romain, rue Martainville and rue Damiette.  On rue du Gros-Horloge you will find the clock Tower- an astronomical time-piece dating back to the 16th century.

Musee des Beaux Arts-OT Rouen
Rouen counts a number of worthy museums like the Musee des Beaux Arts  which holds paintings by great masters like Rubens, Veronese, Caravaggio, Velazquez and Delacroix as well as the second largest collection of Impressionist paintings in France.  The Ceramic museum, housed in the beautiful Hocqueville mansion (17-18th century)   displays an impressive collection of earthenware from local makers as well as from Delft and Nevers.

Gustave Flaubert
Rouen is the birthplace of many illustrious people  and notably painter   Gericault (Raft of the Medusa) and literature greats like  Pierre Corneille, the 17th century dramatist and 19th century novelist Gustave Flaubert.   The latter one, featured Rouen in his classic novel Madame Bovary; it is  here that the  bored and spoiled provincial housewife, Emma Bovary  conducts her adulterous affair with Leon. Of note also, French President Francois Hollande is a native of Rouen.

La Couronne
Rouen is also worth a stop for its renowned gastronomy as Julia Child experienced when she first set foot in France, driving from Le Havre to Paris.  She remembered fondly many years later in her memoirs the meal she so enjoyed at the restaurant La Couronne,  possibly the oldest inn in France and a still thriving gastronomic establishment in Rouen where you can savor classics like Breton Oysters, Sole Meuniere and Canneton a la Rouennaise


Join Enchanted France small group tour to Normandy and Loire Valley Castles this spring for a visit of Rouen .Click here for details.

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