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

Place de la Bourse

Place de la Bourse is a square in Bordeaux, France and one of the city's most recognisable sights. Built from 1730 to 1775 along the Garonne River, it was a multi-building development designed by architect Ange-Jacques Gabriel. It is within the historic part of the city that has been recognized on the UNESCO World Heritage List as 'an outstanding urban and architectural ensemble' of the 18th century. In the original plan ...
Founded: 1730-1775 | Location: Bordeaux, 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 regions ...
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

Place des Quinconces

The Place des Quinconces, located in Bordeaux, is among the largest city squares in Europe. It was laid out in 1820 on the site of Château Trompette and was intended to prevent rebellion against the city. Its guns were turned towards the centre. Its current shape (lengthened rectangle rounded off with a semicircle) was adopted in 1816. Trees were planted (in quincunxes, hence the name of the square) in 1818. The two 21 ...
Founded: 1820 | Location: Bordeaux, 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

Port City of Bordeaux

The Port of the Moon, port city of Bordeaux in south-west France, is inscribed as an inhabited historic city, an outstanding urban and architectural ensemble, created in the age of the Enlightenment, whose values continued up to the first half of the 20th century, with more protected buildings than any other French city except Paris. It is also recognized for its historic role as a place of exchange of cultural values ove ...
Founded: 18th century | Location: Bordeaux, 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

Vichy Spa Town

Vichy is a city in the Allier department of Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes in central France, in the historic province of Bourbonnais. It is a spa and resort town and in World War II was the seat of government of Vichy France from 1940 to 1944. The term Vichyste indicated collaboration with the Vichy regime, often carrying a pejorative connotation. In 2021, the town became part of the transnational UNESCO World H ...
Founded: 17th century | Location: Vichy, 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 commune. The first cast ...
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

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Lorca Castle

Castle of Lorca (Castillo de Lorca) is a fortress of medieval origin constructed between the 9th and 15th centuries. It consists of a series of defensive structures that, during the Middle Ages, made the town and the fortress an impregnable point in the southeast part of the Iberian Peninsula. Lorca Castle was a key strategic point of contention between Christians and Muslims during the Reconquista.

Archaeological excavations have revealed that the site of the castle has been inhabited since Neolithic times.

Muslim Era

It has not been determined exactly when a castle or fortress was first built on the hill. The first written documentation referring to a castle at Lorca is of Muslim origin, which in the 9th century, indicates that the city of Lurqa was an important town in the area ruled by Theudimer (Tudmir). During Muslim rule, Lorca Castle was an impregnable fortress and its interior was divided into two sections by the Espaldón Wall. In the western part, there was an area used to protect livestock and grain in times of danger. The eastern part had a neighbourhood called the barrio de Alcalá.

After Reconquista

Lorca was conquered by the Castilian Infante Don Alfonso, the future Alfonso X, in 1244, and the fortress became a key defensive point against the Kingdom of Granada. For 250 years, Lorca Castle was a watchpoint on the border between the Christian kingdom of Murcia and the Muslim state of Granada.

Alfonso X ordered the construction of the towers known as the Alfonsina and Espolón Towers, and strengthened and fixed the walls. Hardly a trace of the Muslim fortress remained due to this reconstruction. Muslim traces remain in the foundation stones and the wall known as the muro del Espaldón.

The Jewish Quarter was found within the alcazaba, the Moorish fortification, separated from the rest of the city by its walls. The physical separation had the purpose of protecting the Jewish people in the town from harm, but also had the result of keeping Christians and Jews separate, with the Christians inhabiting the lower part of town.

The remains of the Jewish Quarter extended over an area of 5,700 square m, and 12 homes and a synagogue have been found; the synagogue dates from the 14th century and is the only one found in the Murcia. The streets of the town had an irregular layout, adapted to the landscape, and is divided into four terraces. The synagogue was in the central location, and around it were the homes. The homes were of rectangular shape, with various compartmentalized rooms. The living quarters were elevated and a common feature was benches attached to the walls, kitchens, stand for earthenware jars, or cupboards.

Modern history

With the disappearance of the frontier after the conquest of Granada in 1492, Lorca Castle no longer became as important as before. With the expulsion of the Jews by order of Ferdinand and Isabella, Lorca Castle was also depopulated as a result. The castle was abandoned completely, and was almost a complete ruin by the 18th century. In the 19th century, the castle was refurbished due to the War of Spanish Independence. The walls and structures were repaired or modified and its medieval look changed. A battery of cannons was installed, for example, during this time. In 1931 Lorca Castle was declared a National Historic Monument.

Currently, a parador (luxury hotel) has been built within the castle. As a result, archaeological discoveries have been found, including the Jewish Quarter.