Historic city squares, old towns and villages in France

Place de la Concorde

The octagonal Place de la Concorde is the largest square in Paris. It is situated between the Tuileries and the Champs-Elysées. In 1763, a large statue of king Louis XV was erected at this site to celebrate the recovery of the king after a serious illness. The square surrounding the statue was created later, in 1772, by the architect Jacques-Ange Gabriel. It was known as the place Louis XV. In 1792, during the French re ...
Founded: 1763 | Location: Paris, France

Historic Site of Lyons

The Historic Site of Lyons was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1998. The long history of Lyons, which was founded by the Romans in the 1st century B.C. as the capital of the Three Gauls and has continued to play a major role in Europe"s political, cultural and economic development ever since, is vividly illustrated by its urban fabric and the many fine historic buildings from all periods. The specific reg ...
Founded: 0-100 BC | Location: Lyon, France

Place Stanislas

Nancy, the temporary residence of a king without a kingdom – Stanislaw I Leszczynski, later to become Duke of Lorraine – is paradoxically the oldest and most typical example of a modern capital where an enlightened monarch proved to be sensitive to the needs of the public. Built between 1752 and 1756 by a brilliant team led by the architect Héré, this was a carefully conceived project that succee ...
Founded: 1756 | Location: Nancy, France

Village of Èze

Èze has been described as an “eagle"s nest” because of its location overlooking a high cliff. The earliest occurrence of the name 'Èze' can be found in the maritime books of Antonin as a bay called the St. Laurent of Èze. A hoard of ancient Greek silver phialae dating from the 3rd Century BC was found in Èze in the late nineteenth century. The area was subsequently occupied by not only the Romans b ...
Founded: 14th century | Location: Èze, France

Saint-Paul-de-Vence Village

One of the oldest medieval towns on the French Riviera, Haut-de-Cagnes is well known for its modern and contemporary art museums and galleries such as Fondation Maeght which is located nearby. The village is located just 15 minutes’ drive from the coastline on top of a large mound known as the Plateau du Puy, on top of which a Roman oppidum was built, followed by a medieval castle, which was then known as the cast ...
Founded: Middle Ages | Location: Saint-Paul-de-Vence, France

Tours Old Town

Tours is famous for its original medieval district, called le Vieux Tours. Unique to the Old City are its preserved half-timbered buildings and la Place Plumereau, a square with busy pubs and restaurants, whose open-air tables fill the centre of the square. The Boulevard Beranger crosses the Rue Nationale at the Place Jean-Jaures and is the location of weekly markets and fairs.
Founded: | Location: Tours, France

Yvoire Medieval Town

Located on the French shore of Lake Geneva, between Geneva and Evian, the village of Yvoire is nicknamed the “gem of the lake”. The town is well known for its medieval buildings and summer floral displays, as well as the Jardin des Cinq Sens, a garden in the center of the town. It called one of the 'most beautiful villages of France'. Many buildings date from the early 14th century.
Founded: 14th century | Location: Yvoire, France

Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert

Situated in the narrow valley of the Gellone river where it meets the steep sided gorge of the Hérault River, Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert is essentially a medieval village located on the St. James"s Way pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostella. Because of its isolation, in 806 Saint Guilhem established the monastery of Gellone here. Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert is one of the 'The most beautiful villages of Fr ...
Founded: 806 AD | Location: Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert, France

Minerve

The Minerve village is situated on top of the gorge of the River Cesse in a naturally strong defensive position. Near the village the river disappears underground in a large, naturally-carved tunnel. Minerve has been selected as one of The Most Beautiful Villages Of France. Historically, the village has been the capital of the Minervois wine region. The main bridge leading into the village is closed to all passenger ...
Founded: 9th century AD | Location: Minerve, France

La Couvertoirade Village

The well-preserved fortified town of La Couvertoirade was owned by the Knights Templar, under orders from the Commandery of Sainte-Eulalie, from the twelfth century. The Templars built the fortress there during the 12th and 13th centuries; its two upper floors have since been removed. Following their dissolution in 1312, the Templars" property in the causses was taken by the Knights of St John of Jerusalem who ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: La Couvertoirade, France

Chartres Old Town

Chartres old town is located to the banks of the Eure River, which at this point divides into three branches. The rives is crossed by several bridges, some of them ancient, and is fringed in places by remains of the old fortifications. The Porte Guillaume (14th century), a gateway flanked by towers, is the most complete specimen. The steep, narrow streets of the old town contrast with the wide, shady boulevards which enci ...
Founded: 9th century | Location: Chartres, France

Ainhoa Village

Ainhoa is a 'bastide' or walled village in the Basque country on the pilgrims’ route to Santiago de Compostela. The village is on the boundary of the provinces of Labourd and Navarre, just a few kilometres from Espelette and Sare. It boasts typical red and white-fronted houses along its only street.  The town has received an award from the Most beautiful villages in France, an award from an independent orga ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Ainhoa, France

Puycelsi Village

The name of Puycelsi comes from the Celtic 'Celto Dun', a wooden fortress built on a hill, or oppidum, later transformed into 'Podium Celsium' by the Romans. The village itself was founded in a location close to the ancient prehistoric site by Benedictine Monks from the Aurillac Abbey in the 10th century. It stands high above the right bank of the Vère, which flows northwestward through the comm ...
Founded: 10th century AD | Location: Tarn, France

Sainte-Enimie Village

Sainte-Enimie is a former commune founded in the 7th century by Énimie (according a legend a daughter of the Merovingian king Clothar II), who started a convent there after being cured of leprosy in the surrounding waters. It was the site of several monasteries, some of which still remain. Located in the Gorges du Tarn, it is a member of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (“the most beautiful villages of Franc ...
Founded: 7th century AD | Location: Gorges du Tarn Causses, France

La Bastide-Clairence Village

A Navarrese fortified village of La Bastide-Clairence was founded in 1288 by Claire de Rabastens on a hillside next to the Aran river hence its Gascon name Bastida Clarença. 800 refugees, mainly from Bigorre, were granted a charter in July 1312 by Louis I of Navarre, the future Louis X of France. The birth of the village corresponds to a need for Navarre to create a strong town in the forested frontier area. La ...
Founded: 1288 | Location: La Bastide-Clairence, France

Historic Village of Olargues

Olargues is a good example of a French medieval town and rated as one of the most beautiful villages in France. It was occupied by the Romans, the Vandals and the Visigoths. At the end of the 11th century the Jaur valley came under the authority of the Château of the Viscount of Minerve. The following centuries saw a succession of wars and epidemics, and it was not until the 18th century that Olargues became re-establish ...
Founded: | Location: Olargues, France

Camon Village

Camon sprang up as a result of a 10th century abbey, later to become a fortified priory, being built in the hollow of a small valley in Ariège, where the River Hers makes a loop. Today, visitors enter into the village through the old arched door of the church and discover the signs of Camon’s religious past and its red curved roof tile houses. Nicknamed Little Carcassonne, Camon is described on the list of the most ...
Founded: 10th century | Location: Camon, France

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Hagios Demetrios

The Church of Saint Demetrius, or Hagios Demetrios, is the main sanctuary dedicated to Saint Demetrius, the patron saint of Thessaloniki. It is part of the site Palaeochristian and Byzantine Monuments of Thessaloniki on the list of World Heritage Sites by UNESCO since 1988.

The first church on the spot was constructed in the early 4th century AD, replacing a Roman bath. A century later, a prefect named Leontios replaced the small oratory with a larger, three-aisled basilica. Repeatedly gutted by fires, the church eventually was reconstructed as a five-aisled basilica in 629–634. This was the surviving form of the church much as it is today. The most important shrine in the city, it was probably larger than the local cathedral. The historic location of the latter is now unknown.

The church had an unusual shrine called the ciborium, a hexagonal, roofed structure at one side of the nave. It was made of or covered with silver. The structure had doors and inside was a couch or bed. Unusually, it did not hold any physical relics of the saint. The ciborium seems to have been a symbolic tomb. It was rebuilt at least once.

The basilica is famous for six extant mosaic panels, dated to the period between the latest reconstruction and the inauguration of the Byzantine Iconoclasm in 730. These mosaics depict St. Demetrius with officials responsible for the restoration of the church (called the founders, ktetors) and with children. An inscription below one of the images glorifies heaven for saving the people of Thessalonica from a pagan Slavic raid in 615.

Thessaloniki became part of the Ottoman Empire in 1430. About 60 years later, during the reign of Bayezid II, the church was converted into a mosque, known as the Kasımiye Camii after the local Ottoman mayor, Cezeri Kasım Pasha. The symbolic tomb however was kept open for Christian veneration. Other magnificent mosaics, recorded as covering the church interior, were lost either during the four centuries when it functioned as a mosque (1493–1912) or in the Great Thessaloniki Fire of 1917 that destroyed much of the city. It also destroyed the roof and upper walls of the church. Black-and-white photographs and good watercolour versions give an idea of the early Byzantine craftsmanship lost during the fire.

Following the Great Fire of 1917, it took decades to restore the church. Tombstones from the city"s Jewish cemetery - destroyed by the Greek and Nazi German authorities - were used as building materials in these restoration efforts in the 1940s. Archeological excavations conducted in the 1930s and 1940s revealed interesting artifacts that may be seen in a museum situated inside the church"s crypt. The excavations also uncovered the ruins of a Roman bath, where St. Demetrius was said to have been held prisoner and executed. A Roman well was also discovered. Scholars believe this is where soldiers dropped the body of St. Demetrius after his execution. After restoration, the church was reconsecrated in 1949.