UNESCO World Heritage Sites in France

Château de Versailles

The Château de Versailles, which has been on UNESCO’s World Heritage List for 30 years, is one of the most beautiful achievements of 18th-century French art. The site began as Louis XIII’s hunting lodge before his son Louis XIV transformed and expanded it, moving the court and government of France to Versailles in 1682. Each of the three French kings who lived there until the French Revolution added impr ...
Founded: 1682 | Location: Versailles, France

Mont Saint Michel Abbey

The first written text about an abbey dates from the 9th century. When Christianity expanded to this area, around the 4th century, Mont Tombe, the original name of Mont Saint Michel, was part of diocèse d’Avranches. By the middle of the 6th century, christianism had a stronger presence in the bay. By this time, Mont Tombe was populated by religious devots, hermits (probably some Celtic monks) resupplied by th ...
Founded: 709 AD | Location: Le Mont-Saint-Michel, 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

Pont d'Avignon

The Pont Saint-Bénézet, also known as the Pont d"Avignon, is a famous medieval bridge in the town of Avignon. It was built between 1177 and 1185. This early bridge was destroyed forty years later during the Albigensian Crusade when Louis VIII of France laid siege to Avignon. The bridge was rebuilt with 22 stone arches. It was very costly to maintain as the arches tended to collapse when the Rhône ...
Founded: 1177-1185 | Location: Avignon, France

Mont Saint Michel Island

Mont Saint-Michel is an island commune which has held strategic fortifications since ancient times, and since the eigth century AD has been the seat of the monastery from which it draws its name. The structural composition of the town exemplifies the feudal society that constructed it. On top God, the abbey and monastery, below this the Great halls, then stores and housing, and at the bottom, outside the walls, fishermen ...
Founded: 8th century | Location: Le Mont-Saint-Michel, France

Pont du Gard

The Pont du Gard is an ancient Roman aqueduct that crosses the Gardon River in southern France. The bridge is part of the Nîmes aqueduct, a 50-kilometre system built in the first century AD to carry water from a spring at Uzès to the Roman colony of Nemausus (Nîmes). Because of the uneven terrain between the two points, the mostly underground aqueduct followed a long, winding route that called for a bri ...
Founded: 40-60 AD | Location: Vers-Pont-du-Gard, France

Villa Savoye

Villa Savoye is a modernist villa in Poissy, in the outskirts of Paris. It was designed by Swiss architects Le Corbusier and his cousin, Pierre Jeanneret, and built between 1928 and 1931 using reinforced concrete. A manifesto of Le Corbusier"s 'five points' of new architecture, the villa is representative of the bases of modern architecture, and is one of the most easily recognizable and renowned examples ...
Founded: 1928-1931 | Location: Poissy, France

Historic Fortified City of Carcassonne

Since the pre-Roman period, a fortified settlement has existed on the hill where Carcassonne now stands. In its present form it is an outstanding example of a medieval fortified town, with its massive defences encircling the castle and the surrounding buildings, its streets and its fine Gothic cathedral. Carcassonne is also of exceptional importance because of the lengthy restoration campaign undertaken by Viollet-le-Duc, ...
Founded: 333 AD | Location: Carcassonne, France

Cháteau Comtal

The Château Comtal (Count’s Castle) is a medieval castle within the Cité of Carcassonne, the largest city in Europe with its city walls still intact. The Château Comtal has a strong claim to be called a 'Cathar Castle'. When the Catholic Crusader army arrived in 1209 they first attacked Raymond-Roger Trencavel"s castrum at Bèziers and then moved on to his main stronghold at C ...
Founded: c. 1130 | Location: Carcassonne, France

Saint-Jacques Tower

Saint-Jacques Flamboyant Gothic tower is all that remains of the former 16th-century Church of Saint-Jacques-de-la-Boucherie, which was demolished in 1797, during the French Revolution, leaving only the tower. What remains of the destroyed church of St. Jacques La Boucherie is now considered a national historic landmark. The tower"s rich decoration reflects the wealth of its patrons, the wholesale butchers of the ne ...
Founded: 1509-1523 | Location: Paris, France

Fort Mont Louis

Located in the eastern Pyrenees at an altitude of 1600 metres, the stronghold of Mont-Louis was built from scratch by Vauban on granite terrain and is perfectly adapted to the geography of the site. Work started in 1679 and was completed in two years. The fortified ensemble was added as a complement to Villefranche-de-Conflent in securing the route from the Pyrenees. This ensemble consists of two square structures, in ti ...
Founded: 1679 | Location: Mont-Louis, France

Saint-Martin-de-Ré Citadel

The l"île de Ré, opposite La Rochelle, was subjected on several occasions to attack from British soldiers. Conscious of the need to protect access to La Rochelle and Rochefort, in 1681 Vauban started strengthening the island"s defences by building a citadel and fortified castle at Saint-Martin-de-Ré, on the North coast. Built on the site of a fortress where construction work had started in 1 ...
Founded: 1681 | Location: Saint-Martin-de-Ré, France

Abbey of Saint-Gilles

The Abbey of Saint-Gilles is included in the UNESCO Heritage List, as part of the World Heritage Sites of the Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France. According to the legend, it was founded in the 7th century by saint Giles, over lands which had been given him by the Visigoth King Wamba after he had involuntarily wounded the saint during a hunt. The monastery was initially dedicated to St. Peter and St. Paul: however, ...
Founded: 7th century | Location: Saint-Gilles, France

Besançon Fortress

Besançon"s Vauban citadel has been listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Louis XIV of France conquered the city for the first time in 1668, but the Treaty of Aix-la-Chapelle returned it to Spain within a matter of months. While it was in French hands, the famed military engineer Vauban visited the city and drew up plans for its fortification. The Spaniards built the main centre point of the city"s defen ...
Founded: 1668-1711 | Location: Besançon, France

Maison La Roche

Villa La Roche, also Maison La Roche, is a house in Paris, designed by Le Corbusier and Pierre Jeanneret in 1923–1925. It was designed for Raoul La Roche, a Swiss banker and collector of avant-garde art. Villa La Roche now houses the Fondation Le Corbusier. La Roche-Jeanneret house, is a pair of semi-detached houses that was Corbusier"s third commission in Paris. They are laid out at right angles to each other ...
Founded: 1923-1925 | Location: Paris, 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

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

Carcassonne Cathedral

Carcassonne Cathedral was built in the 13th century as a parish church, dedicated to Saint Michael. Following war damage in the 14th century it was rebuilt as a fortified church. In 1803 St. Michael"s was elevated to cathedral status, replacing the earlier cathedral dedicated to Saints Nazarius and Celsus, now the Basilica of St. Nazaire and St. Celse. The cathedral plan is characterised by its relative simplicity. ...
Founded: 14th century | Location: Carcassonne, 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

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Royal Palace of Aranjuez

Palacio Real de Aranjuez is a former Spanish royal residence. It was established around the time Philip II of Spain moved the capital from Toledo to Madrid. Aranjuez became one of four seasonal seats of government, occupied during the springtime (from about holy week). Thereafter, the court moved successively to Rascafría, El Escorial and wintered in Madrid. Aranjuez Cultural Landscape is an UNESCO World Heritage Site.

After the Christian conquest, Aranjuez was owned by the Order of Santiago and a palace was built for its Grand Masters where the Royal Palace stands today. When the Catholic Monarchs assumed the office of Grand Master of the Order of Santiago, Aranjuez became part of the Royal estate. This fertile land, located between the Tajo and Jarama Rivers, was converted into the Spanish monarchy's most lavish country retreat: during Spain's Golden Age, Aranjuez became a symbol for the perfection of nature by mortal hands, as El Escorial was for art.

Such excellence was based on strong Renaissance foundations, as Charles V envisaged this inherited estate as a large Italian-inspired villa, a desire continued by Philip II who appointed Juan Bautista de Toledo to design leafy avenues that ran through the gardens and farming land. A series of dams was constructed in the 16th century to control the course of the Tajo River and create a network of irrigation canals.

The splendour of the estate was only enhanced by the Bourbon monarchs, who would spend the whole spring, from Easter to July, at the Palace. Phillip V added new gardens and Ferdinand VI designed a new system of tree-lined streets and created a small village within the estate, which was further developed by Charles III and Charles IV. As Ferdinand VII and Isabella II continued to visit Aranjuez during the spring, the splendour of this site was maintained until 1870.

The Royal Palace, built by Phillip II on the site of the old palace of the Grand Masters of Santiago, was designed by the architect Juan Bautista de Toledo –under whom construction began in 1564– and later Juan Herrera, who only managed to finish half the project. Although glimpses of the original layout still remain, the building itself is more characteristic of the classicism favoured by the Hapsburg monarchs, with alternating white stone and brick. The original design was continued by Phillip V in 1715 but not finished until 1752 under Ferdinand VI. The rectangular layout that Juan Bautista de Toledo had planned, and that took two centuries to complete, was only maintained for 20 years, since in 1775 Charles III added two wings onto the Palace.

Real Casa del Labrador

As the Prince of Asturias, Charles IV was a frequent visitor to the pier pavilions built by Ferdinand VI and grew up playing in the Prince’s Garden. When he became King, he decided to build a new country house at the far end of these gardens, known as the Casa del Labrador (the labourer's house) due to its modest exterior that was designed to heavily contrast the magnificent internal decor. It was built by chief architect Juan de Villanueva and his pupil Isidro González Velázquez, who designed some of the interior spaces. These rooms, developed in various stages until 1808, are the greatest example of the lavish interior decor favoured by this monarch in his palaces and country retreats. Highlights at this Site include the combination of different types of art and the luxurious textiles, in particular the silks from Lyon, as well as wealth of original works on the main floor, where Ferdinand VII added various paintings and landscapes by Brambilla.

King's Garden, the Island Garden, Parterre Garden and the Prince's Garden

Phillip II, a great lover of gardens, paid special attention to this feature of the Aranjuez Palace: during his reign, he maintained both the Island Garden, designed by the architect Juan Bautista de Toledo, and the King's Garden, immediately adjacent to the Palace and whose current layout was designed by Philip IV. The majority of the fountains on this island were commissioned by Phillip IV, while the Bourbons added other features such as the Charles III benches.

Phillip V made two French-style additions to the existing gardens: the Parterre Garden in front of the palace and the extension at the far end of the Island Garden, known as the Little Island, where he installed the Tritons Fountain that was later moved to the Campo del Moro park by Isabella II.

The Prince's Garden owes its name and creation to the son and heir of Charles III who, in the 1770s, began to use Ferdinand VI's old pier for his own enjoyment. He also created a landscaped garden in the Anglo-French style that was in fashion at the time and which was directly influenced by Marie Antoinette's gardens at the Petit Trianon. Both Juan de Villanueva and Pablo Boutelou collaborated in the design of this garden.