Cathedrals in France

Notre Dame de Paris

Construction history The Notre Dame de Paris stands on the site of Paris' first Christian church, Saint Etienne basilica, which was itself built on the site of a Roman temple to Jupiter. The first church was built by Childebert I, the king of the Franks, in 528, and was already the cathedral of the city of Paris in the 10th century. However, in 1160, having become the 'parish church of the kings of Europe,' Bishop Mauric ...
Founded: 1163 | Location: Paris, France

Strasbourg Cathedral

Strasbourg Cathedral de Notre-Dame is known as one of the most beautiful gothic cathedrals in Europe. The Cathedral stands on the exact site of a roman temple built on a little hill above the muddy ground. The first version of the church was starting to be built during 1015 by proposal of Bishop Werner von Habsburg, but fire destroyed most of the original Romanesque building. By the time that cathedral was being renovated ...
Founded: 1015-1469 | Location: Strasbourg, France

Avignon Cathedral

Avignon Cathedral is the seat of the Archbishop. The cathedral is a Romanesque building, built primarily in the second half of the 12th century. The bell tower collapsed in 1405 and was rebuilt in 1425. In 1670-1672 the apse was rebuilt and extended. The building was abandoned and allowed to deteriorate during the Revolution, but it was reconsecrated in 1822 and restored by the archbishop Célestin Dupont in 1835-1 ...
Founded: 1670-1672 | Location: Avignon, France

Chartres Cathedral

Partly built starting in 1145, and then reconstructed over a 26-year period after the fire of 1194, Chartres Cathedral marks the high point of French Gothic art. The vast nave, in pure ogival style, the porches adorned with fine sculptures from the middle of the 12th century, and the magnificent 12th and 13th century stained-glass windows, all in remarkable condition, combine to make it a masterpiece. The construction pr ...
Founded: 1145-1260 | Location: Chartres, France

Reims Cathedral

Notre-Dame de Reims (Our Lady of Reims) is the seat of the Archdiocese of Reims, where the kings of France were crowned. The cathedral replaced an older church, destroyed by fire in 1211, that was built on the site of the basilica where Clovis was baptized by Saint Remi, bishop of Reims, in AD 496. That original structure had itself been erected on the site of some Roman baths. A major tourism destination, the cathedral r ...
Founded: 13th century | Location: Reims, France

Lyon Cathedral

Lyon Cathedral was founded by Saint Pothinus and Saint Irenaeus, the first two bishops of Lyon. The cathedral is also known as a Primatiale because in 1079 the Pope granted to the archbishop of Lyon the title of Primate of All the Gauls with the legal supremacy over the principal archbishops of the kingdom. It is located in the heart of the old town, less than five minutes away from the banks of the Saône river, with a l ...
Founded: 1180 | Location: Lyon, France

Amiens Cathedral

Amiens Cathedral is one of the largest classic 13th century Gothic churches. It is notable for the coherence of its plan, the beauty of its three-tier interior elevation, and the particularly fine display of sculptures on the principal facade and in the south transept. Amiens Cathedral was originally built in 1152 in Romanesque style and destroyed by fire in 1218. Reconstruction was started around 1220 and the nave was c ...
Founded: c. 1220 | Location: Amiens, France

Rouen Cathedral

Rouen Cathedral is an imposing sample of Gothic architecture. The first cathedral was built in 396 by Bishop Victricius. This was destroyed by the invading Normans, who replaced it with a larger cathedral with a wooden vault. Consecrated in 1063 in the presence of William the Conqueror, all that remains of this building is the crypt beneath the choir. Rouen Cathedral was rebuilt in 1145 by Bishop Hugues d"Amiens base ...
Founded: 1202 | Location: Rouen, France

Nice Cathedral

Nice Cathedral was built between 1650 and 1699, the year of its consecration. It is dedicated to the Assumption of the Virgin Mary and Saint Reparata. On the site, the first cathedral was consecrated in 1049. In 1060, relics belonging to St. Reparate (For whom the current cathedral is named) arrived in the city of Nice. By the year 1075 there was construction of a chapel dedicated to St. Reparate. During the later h ...
Founded: 1650-1699 | Location: Nice, France

Metz Cathedral

Saint-Étienne de Metz, also known as Metz Cathedral, is built on the site of an ancient the 5th century church dedicated to Saint Stephen protomartyr. According to Gregory of Tours, the shrine of Saint Stephen was the sole structure spared during the sack of 451 by Attila's Huns. The construction of the Gothic cathedral began in 1220 within the walls of an Ottonian basilica dating from the 10th century. The integration i ...
Founded: 1220 | Location: Metz, France

Albi Cathedral

Albi Cathedral is the seat of the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Albi a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It was built as a fortress in the aftermath of the Albigensian Crusade. Begun in 1287 and under construction for 200 years, it is claimed to be the largest brick building in the world. The present cathedral was preceded by other buildings. The first dated from the fourth century and in 666 was destroyed by fire. The second i ...
Founded: 1287-1480 | Location: Albi, France

Bayeux Cathedral

Bayeux Cathedral is a Norman-Romanesque style cathedral built originally in the 11th century. It was the original home of the Bayeux Tapestry and is a national monument of France. The site is an ancient one and was once occupied by Roman sanctuaries. The present cathedral was consecrated on 14 July 1077 in the presence of William, Duke of Normandy and King of England. It was here that William forced Harold Godwinson to ta ...
Founded: 1077 | Location: Bayeux, France

Bourges Cathedral

Bourges Cathedral of St. Etiénne, one of the finest Gothic cathedrals, was built mainly between 1195 and 1260. The unknown architect designed it without transepts, which, combined with the interior’s unusual height and width, makes it seem much lighter than most Gothic cathedrals. Structural problems with the South tower led to the building of the adjoining buttress tower in the mid-14th century. The North to ...
Founded: 1195-1260 | Location: Bourges, France

Saint-Malo Cathedral

Saint-Malo Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Vincent-de-Saragosse de Saint-Malo) is a Roman Catholic cathedral dedicated to Saint Vincent of Saragossa. It was formerly the seat of the Bishop of Saint-Malo. The cathedral was built in 1146 when Jean de Châtillon, Bishop of Aleth, transferred his bishopric to the growing town of Saint-Malo on a more secure site across the river. The Benedictine monastery of Saint Malo ...
Founded: 1146 | Location: Saint-Malo, France

Orléans Cathedral

Orléans Cathedral (Cathédrale Sainte-Croix d'Orléans) is a Gothic catholic cathedral in the city of Orléans, France. It is the seat of the Bishop of Orléans and it was built from 1278 to 1329 and 1601-1829 (after partial destruction in 1568). The cathedral is probably most famous for its association with Joan of Arc. The French heroine attended evening Mass in this cathedral on May 2, 1 ...
Founded: 1278-1329 | Location: Orléans, France

Lille Cathedral

The construction of the Lille Cathedral began in 1854. The church takes its name from a 12th-century statue of the Virgin Mary. It was built to the Neo-Gothic 13th century style. The initial project was massive: 132 metres long, with spires reaching up to over 115 metres. However, wars and financial difficulties soon put an end to these plans. With the creation of the bishopric of Lille in 1913, the basilica became a cath ...
Founded: 1854 | Location: Lille, France

Le Mans Cathedral

Le Mans Cathedral is dedicated to Saint Julian of Le Mans, the city"s first bishop, who established Christianity in the area around the beginning of the 4th century. The cathedral, which combines a Romanesque nave and a High Gothic choir, is notable for its rich collection of stained glass and the spectacular bifurcating flying buttresses at its eastern end. Nothing is known about the form of the original church fou ...
Founded: 834 AD | Location: Le Mans, France

Antibes Cathedral

Antibes Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-la-Platea d"Antibes) has been gradually built from the 5th or 6th century on the site of a pagan temple. The remains of this temple can be seen in the Chapel of the Holy Spirit. It is said that St Paul was arrested here on a journey to Spain in 63 AD. Destroyed by the barbarians in 1124, the church was rebuilt in the early 13th century. The plan is with three naves. The c ...
Founded: 13th century/1747 | Location: Antibes, France

Nantes Cathedral

The construction of Nantes Cathedral of St. Peter and St. Paul (Cathédrale Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul de Nantes) began in 1434 on the site of a Romanesque cathedral and took 457 years to finish, finally reaching completion in 1891. The cathedral"s foundation stone was laid on 14 April 1434, by John VI, Duke of Brittany and Jean de Malestroit, Bishop of Nantes (1417-1443). The first architect in charge was Guil ...
Founded: 1434 | Location: Nantes, France

Narbonne Cathedral

Narbonne Cathedral,dedicated to Saints Justus and Pastor, was the seat of the Archbishop of Narbonne until the Archbishopric was merged into the Diocese of Carcassonne under the Concordat of 1801. The church was declared a basilica minor in 1886. The building, begun in 1272, is noted for being unfinished. The site has a long history as a place of worship. In 313, just after the Edict of Milan, a Constantinian basilica wa ...
Founded: 1272 | Location: Narbonne, France

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte

The Château de Vaux-le-Vicomte is a baroque French château built between 1658-1661 for Nicolas Fouquet. It was made for Marquis de Belle Île, Viscount of Melun and Vaux, the superintendent of finances of Louis XIV, the château was an influential work of architecture in mid-17th century Europe. At Vaux-le-Vicomte, the architect Louis Le Vau, the landscape architect André le Nôtre, and the painter-decorator Charles Le Brun worked together on a large-scale project for the first time. Their collaboration marked the beginning of the 'Louis XIV style' combining architecture, interior design and landscape design. The garden's pronounced visual axis is an example of this style.

To secure the necessary grounds for the elaborate plans for Vaux-le-Vicomte’s garden and castle, Fouquet purchased and demolished three villages. The displaced villagers were then employed in the upkeep and maintenance of the gardens. It was said to have employed eighteen thousand workers and cost as much as 16 million livres. The château and its patron became for a short time a focus for fine feasts, literature and arts. The poet La Fontaine and the playwright Molière were among the artists close to Fouquet. At the inauguration of Vaux-le-Vicomte, a Molière play was performed, along with a dinner event organized by François Vatel, and an impressive firework show.

After Fouquet was arrested and imprisoned for life, and his wife exiled, Vaux-le-Vicomte was placed under sequestration. The king seized, confiscated or purchased 120 tapestries, the statues, and all the orange trees from Vaux-le-Vicomte. He then sent the team of artists (Le Vau, Le Nôtre and Le Brun) to design what would be a much larger project than Vaux-le-Vicomte, the palace and gardens of Versailles.

The Marshal Villars became the new owner without first seeing the chateau. In 1764, the Marshal's son sold the estate to the Duke of Praslin, whose descendants would maintain the property for over a century. It is sometimes mistakenly reported that the château was the scene of a murder in 1847, when duke Charles de Choiseul-Praslin, killed his wife in her bedroom, but this did not happen at Vaux-le-Vicomte but at the Paris residence of the Duke.

In 1875, after thirty years of neglect, the estate was sold to Alfred Sommier in a public auction. The château was empty, some of the outbuildings had fallen into ruin, and the famous gardens were totally overgrown. The huge task of restoration and refurbishment began under the direction of the architect Gabriel-Hippolyte Destailleur, assisted by the landscape architect Elie Lainé. When Sommier died in 1908, the château and the gardens had recovered their original appearance. His son, Edme Sommier, and his daughter-in-law completed the task. Today, his descendants continue to preserve the château, which remains privately owned by Patrice and Cristina de Vogüé, the Count and Countess de Vogüé. It is now administered by their three sons Alexandre, Jean-Charles and Ascanio de Vogüé. Recognized by the state as a monument historique, it is open to the public regularly.

Architecture

The chateau is situated near the northern end of a 1.5-km long north-south axis with the entrance front facing north. Its elevations are perfectly symmetrical to either side of this axis. Somewhat surprisingly the interior plan is also nearly completely symmetrical with few differences between the eastern and western halves. The two rooms in the center, the entrance vestibule to the north and the oval salon to the south, were originally an open-air loggia, dividing the chateau into two distinct sections. The interior decoration of these two rooms was therefore more typical of an outdoor setting. Three sets of three arches, those on the entrance front, three more between the vestibule and the salon, and the three leading from the salon to the garden are all aligned and permitted the arriving visitor to see through to the central axis of the garden even before entering the chateau. The exterior arches could be closed with iron gates, and only later were they filled in with glass doors and the interior arches with mirrored doors. Since the loggia divided the building into two halves, there are two symmetrical staircases on either side of it, rather than a single staircase. The rooms in the eastern half of the house were intended for the use of the king, those in the western were for Fouquet. The provision of a suite of rooms for the king was normal practice in aristocratic houses of the time, since the king travelled frequently.

Another surprising feature of the plan is the thickness of the main body of the building (corps de logis), which consists of two rows of rooms running east and west. Traditionally the middle of the corps de logis of French chateaux consisted of a single row of rooms. Double-thick corps de logis had already been used in hôtels particuliers in Paris, including Le Vau's Hôtel Tambonneau, but Vaux was the first chateau to incorporate this change. Even more unusual, the main rooms are all on the ground floor rather than the first floor (the traditional piano nobile). This accounts for the lack of a grand staircase or a gallery, standard elements of most contemporary chateaux. Also noteworthy are corridors in the basement and on the first floor which run the length of house providing privacy to the rooms they access. Up to the middle of the 17th century, corridors were essentially unknown. Another feature of the plan, the four pavilions, one at each corner of the building, is more conventional.

Vaux-le-Vicomte was originally planned to be constructed in brick and stone, but after the mid-century, as the middle classes began to imitate this style, aristocratic circles began using stone exclusively. Rather late in the design process, Fouquet and Le Vau switched to stone, a decision that may have been influenced by the use of stone at François Mansart's Château de Maisons. The service buildings flanking the large avant-cour to the north of the house remained in brick and stone, and other structures preceding them were in rubble-stone and plaster, a social ranking of building materials that would be common in France for a considerable length of time thereafter.

The main chateau is constructed entirely on a moated platform, reached via two bridges, both aligned with the central axis and placed on the north and south sides. The moat is a picturesque holdover from medieval fortified residences, and is again a feature that Le Vau may have borrowed from Maisons. The moat at Vaux may also have been inspired by the previous chateau on the site, which Le Vau's work replaced.

Gardens

The château rises on an elevated platform in the middle of the woods and marks the border between unequal spaces, each treated in a different way. This effect is more distinctive today, as the woodlands are mature, than it was in the seventeenth century when the site had been farmland, and the plantations were new.

Le Nôtre's garden was the dominant structure of the great complex, stretching nearly a mile and a half (3 km), with a balanced composition of water basins and canals contained in stone curbs, fountains, gravel walks, and patterned parterres that remains more coherent than the vast display Le Nôtre was to create at Versailles.

Le Nôtre created a magnificent scene to be viewed from the house, using the laws of perspective. Le Notre used the natural terrain to his advantage. He placed the canal at the lowest part of the complex, thus hiding it from the main perspectival point of view. Past the canal, the garden ascends a large open lawn and ends with the Hercules column added in the 19th century. Shrubberies provided a picture frame to the garden that also served as a stage for royal fêtes.

From the top of the grand staircase, this gives the impression that the entire garden is revealed in one single glance. Initially, the view consists of symmetrical rows of shrubbery, avenues, fountains, statues, flowers and other pieces developed to imitate nature – these elements exemplify the Baroque desire to mold nature to fit its wishes, thus using nature to imitate nature. The centerpiece is a large reflecting pool flanked by grottos holding statues in their many niches. The grand sloping lawn is not visible until one begins to explore the garden, when the viewer is made aware of the optical elements involved and discovers that the garden is much larger than it looks.