The first thing that will strike you is the numerous well preserved Gothic architectural masterpieces still in existence in the historic centre of Rouen.
The Notre-Dame cathedral of Rouen, probably the most famous emblem of them all, towers above its medieval city to the hustle and bustle of everyday life. Framed by half-timbered houses and cobblestone streets, one could easily imagine that you stepped back into another time. Viking Warlords were converted to Christianity in this same cathedral and coronations and funerals of successive Duces and Kings of Normandy and England were held here. Its nave was sure to have attracted the gaze and wonder of warriors like Joan of Arc, heroes, artists, poets like Victor Hugo and Gustave Flaubert, and so many more. This is not just a building or a vestige of old; this is an international jewel worthy of our time. Even Claude Monet could not resist its charm, his Rouen cathedral series of 30 odd paintings produced at the end of the 19th century is considered to be a major factor in the advance of the Impressionist movement.
As one gazes on the facade itself, one can’t help but admire and feel insignificant in relative to its long and eventful history. Rouen has been occupied by humans since prehistoric times, 9000 years ago to be exact, as recent excavations show. It was only in the 4th century that the first stone cathedral was constructed, in the very centre of a Roman camp. Unfortunately, this vestige was lost in one of the reoccurring attacks by the Vikings during their raging invasions and land grabbing that followed.
During the 11th century it was replaced by a Romanesque-style church of which some parts are still visible today. Archaeological excavations undertaken, uncovered a Romanesque crypt, and can still be visited today.
The latter church existed only for a very short time, because less than a century after its construction it was replaced by the current foundations of the cathedral as we know it today. Being one of the richest cities in Western Europe and the second in France for its size at the time – enabled the city to start building its very own Gothic cathedral.
Construction of the site began with the façade, followed thereafter by the north tower and its side portals, that are shining examples of the Gothic era’s craftsmanship. Thereafter it was the turn of the Romanesque nave to be replaced with the current Gothic one seen today. The thing that strikes most visitors when visiting this architectural wonder, is its 14th and 15th century façade. Finely hand carved stone resembles delicate lace and decorates the portals, transepts and towers. Truly splendid!
The link between
Rouen and Chicago
As the Middle Ages ended, the last tower on the right-hand side of the cathedral was erected. Curiously they named it the Butter Tower and was given so due to the rich colour of its stone, that resembles the colour of one of Normandy’s best loved delicacies; butter. Equally, during lent people were allowed to eat butter and for the right to this indulgence, they payed a “pardon” tax. The wealth raised would eventually pay for this Flamboyant Gothic tower and is also a fine example of how much people would pay for good Normandy butter. To some in the USA the Butter Tower might seem rather familiar, and indeed it is, it was the architectural inspiration to the 140 meters tall Tribune Tower in Chicago.
Lastly in the 19th century, the construction of the current cast iron spire replaced the Renaissance spire, officially making it the tallest building in the world, standing tall at 151 meters. This record only stood for a very short while. In a matter of years this achievement was broken and went to the Eiffel Tower in Paris that towered at 324 meters.
A pure glimpse of its fascinating history in 700 words, but don’t just take our word for it. Come and discover The Notre-Dame Cathedral of Rouen for yourself. You are bound to be surprised; we guarantee it.