UNESCO World Heritage Sites in France

Fontevraud Abbey

Fontevraud Abbey is a religious building hosting a cultural centre since 1975, the Centre Culturel de l'Ouest. It was founded by the itinerant reforming preacher Robert of Arbrissel, who had just created a new order, the Order of Fontevrault. The first permanent structures were built between 1110 and 1119. Philippa of Toulouse persuaded her husband William IX, Duke of Aquitaine to grant Robert of Abrissel land in Norther ...
Founded: 1110 | Location: Fontevraud-l'Abbaye, 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

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

Basilica of St. Sernin

The Basilica of St. Sernin is a former abbey church in Toulouse. Apart from the church, none of the abbey buildings remain. The current church is located on the site of a previous basilica of the 4th century which contained the body of Saint Saturnin or Sernin, the first bishop of Toulouse in c. 250. Constructed in the Romanesque style between about 1080 and 1120, with construction continuing thereafter, Saint-Sernin is t ...
Founded: 1080-1120 | Location: Toulouse, 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

Arras Town Hall

The Gothic town hall of Arras and its belfry were constructed between 1463 and 1554 and had to be rebuilt in a slightly less grandiose style after World War I. The belfry is 75 meters high and used to serve as a watchtower. Nowadays tourists can enjoy ascending the belfry. The belfry of the town hall is part of the UNESCO World Heritage site of The Belfries of Belgium and France (the group of 56 historical buildings).
Founded: 1463-1554 | Location: Arras, France

Saint Salvi Church

Dedicated to Saint Salvi, first Bishop of Albi from 574 to 584, the “Collégiale” of Saint Salvi associates elements of Romanesque (10th century) and Gothic (13th century) architecture, marked by the use of stone in the Romanesque elements and brick in the Gothic. The “Collégiale” is a collegiate church, a church where the daily office of worship is maintained by a college of canons; a non-monastic, or 'sec ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Albi, France

Abbey Church of Saint Foy

The Abbey Church of Saint Foy in Conques was a popular stop for pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago on their way to Santiago de Compostela in Spain. The main draw for medieval pilgrims at Conques were the remains of Saint Faith (St. Foy), a martyred young woman from the fourth century. The original monastery building at Conques was an eighth-century oratory built by monks fleeing the Saracens in Spain. The or ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Conques, France

Arras Citadel

Built by Vauban between 1667 and 1672, the purpose of Citadel of Arras was to protect the city from the attacks (Spanish troops coming from the Netherlands). It has been nicknamed La belle inutile (the beautiful useless one) by residents as it has never been directly involved in heavy fighting and didn"t keep the Germans form occupying the city in either Word War. Since 7 July 2008 it is part of the UNESCO World Heri ...
Founded: 1667-1672 | Location: Arras, France

Molitor Building

Immeuble locatif à la porte Molitor is the first appartment block in the world with with glazed façades. It was designed by Le Corbusier in 1931-1934. At the Fourth International Congress of Modern Architecture in Athens, Le Corbusier claimed that the elements of planning were: the sky, trees, steel and cement, and in that order and hierarchy. He claimed that the inhabitants of a city who lived with these el ...
Founded: 1931-1934 | Location: Boulogne-Billancourt, France

Thermae of Constantine

The Thermae of Constantine (Baths of Constantine), the Roman bathing complex, dates from the 4th century AD. Of the once-extensive series of buildings, which resembled a palace, only the Caldarium (warm bath) and parts of the Hypocaust (underfloor heating) and the Tepidarium (warm air room) remain. The Thermae of Constantine has been listed as World Heritage Sites since 1981.
Founded: 300-400 AD | Location: Arles, 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

Fourvière Roman Theatre

The Roman theatre is a Roman ancient structure in Lyon built on the hill of Fourvière, which is located in the center of the Roman city. The theatre was built in two steps: around 15 BC, a theatre with a 90 m diameter was built next to the hill. At the beginning of the 2nd century, the final construction added a last place for the audience. The diameter is 108 m, and there were seats for 10,000 people. Having been well ...
Founded: 15 BC | Location: Lyon, France

Notre Dame du Haut

The chapel of Notre Dame du Haut in Ronchamp is one of the finest examples of the architecture of Franco-Swiss architect Le Corbusier and one of the most important examples of 20th century religious architecture. It was built between 1953 and 1955. The chapel is a working religious building and attracts 80,000 visitors each year. Notre Dame du Haut is commonly thought of as a more extreme design of Le Corbusier’s l ...
Founded: 1953-1955 | Location: Ronchamp, France

Longwy Fortress

The original Longwy village developed on a widened plateau and was eventually linked to the Chiers valley, divided into two towns: Longwy-Haut (the Old Longwy) and Longwy-Bas (in the valley of the river). In the 15th century, the castle of Longwy was one of the most important in the region. It was partially destroyed in 1646 during the Thirty Years War, during which Longwy became French. The town and the castle all disapp ...
Founded: 1678 | Location: Longwy, France

Sainte Marie de La Tourette

Sainte Marie de La Tourette is a Dominican Order priory on a hillside near Lyon designed by architects Le Corbusier and Iannis Xenakis. It was constructed between 1956 and 1960. Le Corbusier"s design of the building began La Tourette is considered one of the most important buildings of the late Modernist style. In July 2016, the building and several other works by Le Corbusier were inscribed as UNESCO World Heritage ...
Founded: 1956-1960 | Location: Lyon, France

Villefranche-de-Conflent Fortress

Built by Vauban in 1681 and fortified by Napoleon III, the fortress dominates the city of Villefranche-de-Conflent with its ramparts, counterscarp galleries, bastions, chapel, archaeology and caving museum and a 734 steps underground staircase. The ramparts - major site built by Vauban- are registered on the list of the Unesco World Heritage.
Founded: 1681 | Location: Villefranche-de-Conflent, 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

Briançon Fortress

The historical centre of Briançon is a strongly fortified town, built by Vauban to defend the region from Austrians in the 17th century. Its streets are very steep and narrow, though picturesque. Briançon lies at the foot of the descent from the Col de Montgenèvre, giving access to Turin, so a great number of other fortifications have been constructed on the surrounding heights, especially towards the ...
Founded: 1692 | Location: Briançon, France

Boulogne-sur-Mer Belfry

The oldest monument of Boulogne-sur-Mer was built in three stages, in the 12th, 13th and 18th centuries. In fact, this belfry was originally a seigniorial prison, transferred to the community in 1230. 38 years later, Saint-Louis ordered the destruction of the tower’s second floor, as well as of the community’s charter of freedom and the town’s seal, as it was refusing to pay a tax on the eighth crusade. ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Boulogne-sur-Mer, France

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

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 receives about one million visitors annually.

History

Excavations have shown that the present building occupies roughly the same site as the original cathedral, founded c. 400 under the episcopacy of St Nicaise. That church was rebuilt during the Carolingian period and further extended in the 12th century. On 19 May 1051, King Henry I of France and Anne of Kiev were married in the cathedral.

On May 6, 1210 the cathedral was damaged by fire and reconstruction started shortly after, beginning at the eastern end. Documentary records show the acquisition of land to the west of the site in 1218, suggesting the new cathedral was substantially larger than its predecessors, the lengthening of the nave presumably being an adaptation to afford room for the crowds that attended the coronations. In 1233 a long-running dispute between the cathedral chapter and the townsfolk (regarding issues of taxation and legal jurisdiction) boiled over into open revolt. Several clerics were killed or injured during the resulting violence and the entire cathedral chapter fled the city, leaving it under an interdict (effectively banning all public worship and sacraments). Work on the new cathedral was suspended for three years, only resuming in 1236 after the clergy returned to the city and the interdict was lifted following mediation by the King and the Pope. Construction then continued more slowly. The area from the crossing eastwards was in use by 1241 but the nave was not roofed until 1299 (when the French King lifted the tax on lead used for that purpose). Work on the west facade took place in several phases, which is reflected in the very different styles of some of the sculptures. The upper parts of the facade were completed in the 14th century, but apparently following 13th century designs, giving Reims an unusual unity of style.

Unusually the names of the cathedral's original architects are known. A labyrinth built into floor of the nave at the time of construction or shortly after (similar to examples at Chartres and Amiens) included the names of four master masons (Jean d'Orbais, Jean-Le-Loup, Gaucher de Reims and Bernard de Soissons) and the number of years they worked there, though art historians still disagree over who was responsible for which parts of the building. The labyrinth itself was destroyed in 1779 but its details and inscriptions are known from 18th century drawings. The clear association here between a labyrinth and master masons adds weight to the argument that such patterns were an allusion to the emerging status of the architect (through their association with the mythical artificer Daedalus, who built the Labyrinth of King Minos). The cathedral also contains further evidence of the rising status of the architect in the tomb of Hugues Libergier (d. 1268, architect of the now-destroyed Reims church of St-Nicaise). Not only is he given the honor of an engraved slab; he is shown holding a miniature model of his church (an honor formerly reserved for noble donors) and wearing the academic garb befitting an intellectual.

The towers, 81 m tall, were originally designed to rise 120m. The south tower holds just two great bells; one of them, named “Charlotte” by Charles, Cardinal of Lorraine in 1570, weighs more than 10,000 kg.

During the Hundred Years' War the cathedral was under siege by the English from 1359 to 1360. After it fell the English held Reims and the Cathedral until 1429 when it was liberated by Joan of Arc which allowed the Dauphin Charles to be crowned king on 17 July 1429.

In 1875 the French National Assembly voted £80,000 for repairs of the façade and balustrades. The façade is the finest portion of the building, and one of the great masterpieces of the Middle Ages.

German shellfire during the opening engagements of the First World War on 20 September 1914 burned, damaged and destroyed important parts of the cathedral. Scaffolding around the north tower caught fire, spreading the blaze to all parts of the carpentry superstructure. The lead of the roofs melted and poured through the stone gargoyles, destroying in turn the bishop's palace. Images of the cathedral in ruins were used during the war as propaganda images by the French against the Germans and their deliberate destruction of buildings rich in national and cultural heritage. Restoration work began in 1919, under the direction of Henri Deneux, a native of Reims and chief architect of the Monuments Historiques; the cathedral was fully reopened in 1938, thanks in part to financial support from the Rockefellers, but work has been steadily going on since.

Exterior

The three portals are laden with statues and statuettes; among European cathedrals, only Chartres has more sculpted figures. The central portal, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, is surmounted by a rose window framed in an arch itself decorated with statuary, in place of the usual sculptured tympanum. The 'gallery of the kings' above shows the baptism of Clovis in the centre flanked by statues of his successors.

The facades of the transepts are also decorated with sculptures. That on the North has statues of bishops of Reims, a representation of the Last Judgment and a figure of Jesus (le Beau Dieu), while that on the south side has a modern rose window with the prophets and apostles. Fire destroyed the roof and the spires in 1481: of the four towers that flanked the transepts, nothing remains above the height of the roof. Above the choir rises an elegant lead-covered timber bell tower that is 18 m tall, reconstructed in the 15th century and in the 1920s.

Interior

The interior comprises a nave with aisles, transepts with aisles, a choir with double aisles, and an apse with ambulatory and radiating chapels. It has interesting stained glass ranging from the 13th to the 20th century. The rose window over the main portal and the gallery beneath are of rare magnificence.

The cathedral possesses fine tapestries. Of these the most important series is that presented by Robert de Lenoncourt, archbishop under François I (1515-1547), representing the life of the Virgin. They are now to be seen in the former bishop's palace, the Palace of Tau. The north transept contains a fine organ in a flamboyant Gothic case. The choir clock is ornamented with curious mechanical figures. Marc Chagall designed the stained glass installed in 1974 in the axis of the apse.

The treasury, kept in the Palace of Tau, includes many precious objects, among which is the Sainte Ampoule, or holy flask, the successor of the ancient one that contained the oil with which French kings were anointed, which was broken during the French Revolution, a fragment of which the present Ampoule contains.

Notre-Dame de Reims cathedral, the former Abbey of Saint-Remi, and the Palace of Tau were added to the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 1991.