Rouen – a Day Trip
During our “vacation” we made a day trip to Rouen last week, the capital of Normandy. The weather in late October was not at its kindest – trust us to chose the dampest day of the week – but we were still blown away by the beauty of the old town centre.
We parked in the car park of “le Vieux Tour” which is just a minute’s walk away from the Cathedral and the Rouen Tourist Office, which we caught before it closed for lunch. We hired a couple of audio-guide handsets and set off to explore the town – the video shows some of the sights we saw along the way. If this is your first visit to Rouen we recommend the audio tour as it is clear, concise and comes with one of the clearest route maps we’ve seen for visits of this type.
Video of Rouen Town Centre Walk
Rouen’s Famous Sites
Rouen is justly famed for the magnificent Notre Dame Cathedral, which was the subject of over thirty paintings by Claude Monet – he secretly hid in lodgings above a ladies lingerie shop in the cathedral square in order to have the best view of the main façade of the Cathedral. The shop in question, formerly the House of the Exchequer, has an ornate facade and now houses the Rouen Tourist Office.
Outside, Rouen cathedral walls are smothered in fine stone sculptures, and the astonishing cathedral spire is the highest in France at over 150 metres tall. The interior of the cathedral is remarkably airy and light, the soaring spaces of the nave pierced by windows and arcades on four levels -the dimensions are truly stunning. The cathedral choir houses the tomb of Duke Rollon and another containing the heart of Richard the Lionheart, King of England and Duke of Normandy. The zig-zag stone staircase near the doorway to the library courtyard is wonderfully, ornately decorated.
Wandering medieval streets from the cathedral took us past tempting antique and art shops in the Rue Saint-Romain and into the Quartier Saint Maclou. Three-quarters of the population of the Saint Maclou quarter were wiped out by the Plague of 1348. Near the flamboyant Gothic church of Saint Maclou is the necropolis of the Aître Saint Maclou, a macabre courtyard, formerly an ossuary where the bones of plague victims were stacked. The black timberwork and gory carvings of skulls, bones and gravediggers tools are an unforgettable sight; a window at the entrance to the courtyard displays the mummified remains of a medieval cat that was found in the wall there – presumably as a charm against evil spirits.
Passing more timber-framed medieval buildings, we came to the Abbey Church of Saint-Ouen. The exterior was undergoing some restoration work but inside, the stained glass windows were stunning, even in watery sunlight.
In the Rue des Juifs we saw the fabulous former Parliament of Normandy, now the Palais de Justice. Built mainly between 1300 and 1600, the buildings are adorned with superb stone carvings which have recently been restored to their former glory.
In the Place du Vieux Marché we saw the spot where Joan of Arc was burned at the stake following her trial and imprisonment in Rouen. Nearby a museum beneath the Church of Joan of Arc houses a museum with over 50 waxworks tracing the story of the Maid of Orléans. The Church is a large, modern structure which dominates the square, its unusual angular form representing the pyre on which Joan of Arc was burnt. Every year a weekend festival commemorates the trial and execution of Saint Joan at Rouen.
Not included in the audio-guide itinerary, but a short way off in the direction of the railway station, in the rue du Donjon, is the Tour Jeanne d’Arc, where Joan of Arc was brought in 1431 to be threatened with torture. Contrary to popular belief, she was imprisoned not in the tower but in a different part of the castle, of which this tower used to be a part.
The Museum of Fine Arts and Ceramics in the adjoining rue Morand contains a splendid collection of faïence and decorative porcelain, for which Rouen was renowned during the 16th to 18th centuries. There are many shops in the old town selling decorative Rouen faïence to this day.
In the same quarter is the Musée des Beaux-Arts de Rouen, an art museum with pictures of famous artists including Claude Monet, Sisley, Velazquez and Géricault. It includes examples of the Monet cathedral series.
Another museum in the Tour Jeanne d’Arc sector of the town, which unfortunately we did not visit (we hope to do so soon) is Le Secq des Tournelles, or Wrought Ironwork Museum. We’ve got a thing about decorative ironwork (yes, weird) but only found out about this place when we got home and read some of the brochures from the Rouen Tourist Office.
Continuing our audio-guide walk from the Place du Vieux Marché we passed by the Hôtel de Bourgtheroulde; according to the guide this is a “magnificent town house” (now a luxury hotel) whose courtyard contains “two sculptures of inestimable artisitc and historic value, the Triumphs of Petrarch and the Field of the Cloth of Gold”. We could not see these as the building is shrouded in scaffolding and does not reopen until spring 2010.
Heading back towards the Tourist Office we passed beneath the Gros Horloge, an astronomical clock whose present day features date back to the16th century but whose movement is even older (1389). We plan to return to see the interior, a guided tour of which takes 40 minutes and is said to take in superb views over the old town from the top of the adjoining bell tower.
Place de la Cathédrale
Tel. 02 43 33 28 04
May to September Mon-Sat 9am to 7pm, Sunday 9.30am to 12.30pm and 2pm to 6pm
October to April Mon-Sat 9.30am to 12.30pm and 1.30pm to 6pm, closed Sunday except special events
Access to Rouen:
Rouen is 1 hour 45 minutes (180km) north of our Bed & Breakfast Accommodation in Lower Normandy