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

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

Arles Amphitheatre

The two-tiered Roman amphitheatre is probably the most prominent tourist attraction in the city of Arles, which thrived in Roman times. Built in 90 AD, the amphitheatre was capable of seating over 20,000 spectators, and was built to provide entertainment in the form of chariot races and bloody hand-to-hand battles. Today, it draws large crowds for bullfighting as well as plays and concerts in summer. The building measure ...
Founded: 90 AD | Location: Arles, France

Palais des Papes

The Palais des Papes is one of the largest and most important medieval Gothic buildings in Europe. Once a fortress and palace, the papal residence was the seat of Western Christianity during the 14th century. Six papal conclaves were held in the Palais, leading to the elections of Benedict XII in 1334, Clement VI in 1342, Innocent VI in 1352, Urban V in 1362, Gregory XI in 1370 and Antipope Benedict XIII in 1394. The pal ...
Founded: 1252 | Location: Avignon, 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

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

Arles Roman Theatre

Arles Roman Theatre was built in the time of Augustus and. It had a capacity of seating for 8,000 on 33 tiers of steps. In the early Middle Ages the theater was used as a quarry, and with the material it provided the town wall was erected. Of the rear wall of the stage only a few stumps of pillars and two more or less complete columns remain. Since the theater is now used again during the summer it is protected on the out ...
Founded: 90 AD | Location: Arles, 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 Carcassonne. The castle with rectangular ...
Founded: c. 1130 | 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

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

St. Trophime Church

The Church of St. Trophime (Trophimus) is former cathedral built between the 12th century and the 15th century in the city centre of Arles. According to legend, Trophimus of Arles becomes the first bishop of Arles around 250 AD. The church was built upon the site of the 5th century basilica of Arles, named for St. Stephen. The apse and the transept were probably built first, in the late 11th century, and the nave and bel ...
Founded: c. 1100 | Location: Arles, 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

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

Arles Obelisk

The Obélisque d"Arles is a 4th-century Roman obelisk, erected in the center of the Place de la République, in front of the town hall of Arles. The obelisk is made of granite from Asia Minor. It does not feature any inscription. Its height together with its pedestal is approximately 20 m. The obelisk was first erected under the Roman emperor Constantine II in the center of the spina of the Roman circus ...
Founded: 300-400 AD | Location: Arles, 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

Arles Cryptoporticus

The cryptoporticus (covered corridor or passageway) of Arles, dating from the 1st century BC was built as foundation for the forum, which has since been replaced by the Chapel of the Jesuit College and the City Hall. Three double, parallel tunnels arranged in the form of a U are supported by fifty piers. Masons' marks on the stonework indicate that it was built by Greeks, probably from Marseille. Similar structures in Nar ...
Founded: 0-100 BC | Location: Arles, 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

Château de Fontainebleau

The architecture and decor of the Fontainebleau palace exerted considerable influence on the artistic evolution not only of France but also of Europe. François I intended to make a new Rome of this royal residence. It was in this spirit that he brought artists of renown from Italy, whose intervention marks the decisive stage in the introduction of the aesthetic formulas of the Renaissance into France. Used by the kings ...
Founded: 1528 | Location: Fontainebleau, 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

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Porta Nigra

The Porta Nigra (Latin for black gate) is the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. It is designated as part of the Roman Monuments, Cathedral of St. Peter and Church of Our Lady in Trier UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Porta Nigra originated in the Middle Ages due to the darkened colour of its stone; the original Roman name has not been preserved. Locals commonly refer to the Porta Nigra simply as Porta.

The Porta Nigra was built in grey sandstone between 186 and 200 AD. The original gate consisted of two four-storied towers, projecting as near semicircles on the outer side. A narrow courtyard separated the two gate openings on either side. For unknown reasons, however, the construction of the gate remained unfinished. For example, the stones at the northern (outer) side of the gate were never abraded, and the protruding stones would have made it impossible to install movable gates. Nonetheless, the gate was used for several centuries until the end of the Roman era in Trier.

In Roman times, the Porta Nigra was part of a system of four city gates, one of which stood at each side of the roughly rectangular Roman city. The Porta Nigra guarded the northern entry to the Roman city, while the Porta Alba (White Gate) was built in the east, the Porta Media (Middle Gate) in the south, and the Porta Inclyta (Famous Gate) in the west, next to the Roman bridge across the Moselle. The gates stood at the ends of the two main streets of the Roman Trier, one of which led north-south and the other east-west. Of these gates, only the Porta Nigra still exists today.

In the early Middle Ages the Roman city gates were no longer used for their original function and their stones were taken and reused for other buildings. Also iron and lead braces were broken out of the walls of the Porta Nigra for reuse. Traces of this destruction are still clearly visible on the north side of the gate.

After 1028, the Greek monk Simeon lived as a hermit in the ruins of the Porta Nigra. After his death (1035) and sanctification, the Simeonstift monastery was built next to the Porta Nigra to honor him. Saving it from further destruction, the Porta Nigra was transformed into a church: The inner court of the gate was roofed and intermediate ceilings were inserted. The two middle storeys of the former gate were converted into church naves: the upper storey being for the monks and the lower storey for the general public. The ground floor with the large gates was sealed, and a large outside staircase was constructed alongside the south side (the town side) of the gate, up to the lower storey of the church. A small staircase led further up to the upper storey. The church rooms were accessible through former windows of the western tower of the Porta Nigra that were enlarged to become entrance doors (still visible today). The top floor of the western tower was used as church tower, the eastern tower was leveled, and an apse added at its east side. An additional gate - the much smaller Simeon Gate - was built adjacent to the East side of the Porta Nigra and served as a city gate in medieval times.

In 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte dissolved the church in the Porta Nigra and the monastery beside it, along with the vast majority of Trier"s numerous churches and monasteries. On his visit to Trier in 1804, Napoleon ordered that the Porta Nigra be converted back to its Roman form. Only the apse was kept; but the eastern tower was not rebuilt to its original height. Local legend has it that Napoleon originally wanted to completely tear down the church, but locals convinced him that the church had actually been a Gaulish festival hall before being turned into a church. Another version of the story is that they told him about its Roman origins, persuading him to convert the gate back to its original form.

In 1986 the Porta Nigra was designated a World Heritage Site, along with other Roman monuments in Trier and its surroundings. The modern appearance of the Porta Nigra goes back almost unchanged to the reconstruction ordered by Napoleon. At the south side of the Porta Nigra, remains of Roman columns line the last 100 m of the street leading to the gate. Positioned where they had stood in Roman times, they give a slight impression of the aspect of the original Roman street that was lined with colonnades. The Porta Nigra, including the upper floors, is open to visitors.