Last month I took you all on a tour of Rouen Gare to show you my own neighbourhood. Today I’m heading into the ‘Centre Ville’ to shop you what a fantastic city Rouen is.
This tour starts at the ‘Gare’ or central station, only five minutes walk from the hyper centre.
The first notable point of interest is the Tour Jean d’Arc less than a minute into our walk, the tower (of which there were four) made part of the Chateau of Rouen in 1204.
This tower, or Le Donjon as it is often referred to, is said to have been the place of imprisonmant of Joan of Arc. In reality she was actually imprisoned in one of the other slightly smaller towers, now not in existance, but of the same chateau. For a small fee it is possible to visit the interior.
Jean of Arc features strongly in Rouen with squares, and roads named after her. But before we head to the Eglise Jean D’Arc, pause and admire the intricate stonework of the Palais de Justice, before giving a few moments thought, provoked by the many signs of artillary damage, to the effects of the war on this vibrant city and its historic buildings and its people.
The Vieux marché is another site profoundly affected by the war. Stop and take in the ruins of the old Eglise St Vincent in the centre of the square.
Admire the oldest auberge in France decked in flags and geraniums, before visiting the new Eglise St Jean D’Arc which spans the square.
The Vieux marché houses its own small market of meat, fish, vegetables and regional produce under the shadow of the Eglise St Jean d’Arc. This recent church, which was built in 1979 houses the amazing stained glass safely removed from the existing Eglise St Vincent formerly on the same site, and which was stored before the the church was completely destroyed by a direct bomb blast in the second world war.
A short amble through the cobbled streets takes us past excellent shops and boutiques to the Gros Horloge, a small tower with its one-armed clock which is open to visitors.
The Rue du Gros Horloge ends at the cathedral square where the Cathedrale de Notre Dame de Rouen dominates, and the first stones of which were laid in the middle ages. It is considered a legacy of the gothic style. Monet obsessed over this edifice and painted it no less than 30 times in a six year period. To celebrate his genius, the city projects each of his wonderful renderings of the cathedral onto its facade from 10pm every summer evening. An event worth watching!
Another short stroll takes us to the river Seine which passes through the centre of the city. During the “summer of impressionists” the Pont Boieldieu hosted it’s wonderful sculpture by artist Arne Quinze.
Every five years the city hosts the Armada, the next being in 2013 when the Pont Flaubert, the highest lift bridge in the World, raises the road to allow the Tall Ships to moor on the Quayside in the city centre.
But for now we must stop wistfully thinking about the events of the summer and return to our tour, where we move on to the Rouen historic quarter.
I suggest a stop at this wonderful Salon de Thé, just in the Rue de la Cathedrale, on the north wall of the cathedral for a cake or two!
And now refreshed, let’s visit the antiques quarter with its quirky and lopsided colombage architecture.
Trapped behind a glass screen in the walls of the courtyard of the Ecole de Beaux Arts is a mumified cat. Take a minute to absorbe the quirky angles and leaning aspect of the buildings that surround it; look at the fabulous french antiques in the surrounding boutiques; and visit Les Halles, the large market just a stones throw from Eglise St Maclou.
Then refresh with a glass of Kir at the Cafe les Espelettes in its cobbled square. There is time still to take in a few more boutiques as we head back through the main shopping thoroughfare and on to the Musee de Beaux Arts. This majestic building dominates the small Square Verdrel with its pond, trees and grassy lawn. Take time to enjoy the museum’s temporary collection, which changes month by month, or enjoy one of their mid-day lecture series and mini tours (in French). The museum holds many works that the Louvre has no room for, including some delights by Monet and manyof the other Impressionists.
But now my feet are tired and its time to head home. Lucky then that I can already see the copper clad tower of the station building a few hundred metres further up the hill!