UNESCO World Heritage Sites in 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

Béthune Belfry

The 47-metre-tall belfry is standing in the center of Béthune. The Belgian border can be seen from the top. The chime of the belfry is composed of thirty-six bells. A belfry has stood on the site since 1346. The current belfry plays melodies every 15 minutes, including the ch"ti (regional patois) children"s lullaby min p"tit quinquin (my little darling). In 2005, the belfry was inscribed on the UNESCO Worl ...
Founded: 1346 | Location: Béthune, 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. One year lat ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Boulogne-sur-Mer, France

Abbey Church of Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe

The Romanesque Abbey church was constructed in the mid-11th century and contains many beautiful 11th- and 12th-century murals which are still in a remarkable state of preservation. It has been a UNESCO World Heritage Site since 1983. The cruciform church carries a square tower over its crossing. The transept was built first, then the choir with its ambulatory with five radial chapels in the polygonal apse. In the next bu ...
Founded: c. 1050 | Location: Saint-Savin-sur-Gartempe, 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 defences, 'la Citadel ...
Founded: 1668-1711 | Location: Besançon, 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

Calais Town Hall

One of Calais’ finest landmarks is the Town Hall (1911-25) whose clock towering belfry can be seen for miles around. This magnificent neo-Flemish-style structure built of brick and stone was finally completed in 1925 after being interrupted by The Great War. Its purpose was to commemorate the merging of the cities of Calais and Saint Pierre in 1885 on a piece of barren land between the two towns. Today it dominates the ...
Founded: 1911-1925 | Location: Calais, France

Blaye Citadel

The fortified citadel at Blaye, standing on the opposite bank of the river Gironde to Fort Médoc, forms, along with Fort Paté, the region's 17th-century defence against river attack. Built by Vauban, together this group are named the Fortifications of Vauban and are classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The site of the citadel saw its first castle in the 7th century. Vauban's fortress though was built ...
Founded: 1689-1692 | Location: Blaye, 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

Alyscamps Necropolis

The Alyscamps is a large Roman necropolis, one of the most famous necropolises of the ancient world. Roman cities traditionally forbade burials within the city limits. It was therefore common for the roads immediately outside a city to be lined with tombs and mausoleums; the Appian Way outside Rome provides a good example. The Alyscamps was Arles' main burial ground for nearly 1,500 years. It was the final segment of the ...
Founded: 300-400 AD | Location: Arles, France

Belfry of Amiens

Constructed between 1406 and 1410, Amiens" massive square belfry has a mid-18th-century top reaching 52m, which was rebuilt after it was damaged in 1940 by German bombing. The tourist office runs two guided tours per month, one including a cathedral tour, plus night-time visits in July and August – check the website and reserve well ahead. Today the belfry is part of the UNESCO as a World Heritage Site The Belfri ...
Founded: 1406-1410 | Location: Amiens, France

Tour Vauban

The Tour Vauban (Vauban Tower), initially known as the tour de Camaret, is an 18m-high polygonal defensive tower built to a plan by Vauban on the Sillon at Camaret-sur-Mer, as part of the fortifications of the goulet de Brest. It has three levels and is flanked by walls, a guardhouse and a gun battery which can hold 11 cannons as well as a cannonball foundry added in the French Revolution period. Drafted in 1683, the tow ...
Founded: 1693-1696 | Location: Camaret-sur-Mer, France

Saint-Lizier Cathedrals

Saint-Lizier Cathedral can refer to either of the two former co-cathedrals of the town of Saint-Lizier, Notre-Dame Cathedral (Cathédrale Notre-Dame-de-la-Sède de Saint-Lizier) and St. Lizier"s Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Lizier de Saint-Lizier), dedicated to Saint Lycerius. Saint-Lizier falls into two quite separate parts, each with its own cathedral. The lower part contains the old village arou ...
Founded: 1117 | Location: Saint-Lizier, France

Vauban Tower

In 1692 the naval Battle of La Hougue took place between the English and the French close to the island of Tatihou. The so-called Vauban Tower (Tour Vauban de Tatihou) was built in 1694. In 1756 the surroundings of La Hougue were defended by many batteries and forts, but the lack of regular maintenance ensured that these quickly fell into disrepair. In 1720 Tatihou was used for quarantining plague victims from Marseilles. ...
Founded: 1694 | Location: Tatihou, 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

Pont du Diable

The Pont du Diable on the Hérault River is one of many bridges in France with this name (it means Devil"s bridge). Constructed by Benedictine monks in the first half of the 11th century, it provided a link between the abbey at Aniane and the Gellone Abbey at Saint-Guilhem-le-Désert. Though subsequently widened and raised several metres around 1770, it has retained its original shape. Vehicular traffic i ...
Founded: 11th century | Location: Saint-Jean-de-Fos, France

Neuf-Brisach

Neuf-Brisach is a fortified town intended to guard the border between France and the Holy Roman Empire and, subsequently the German states. It was built after the peace of Ryswick, in 1697, that resulted in the loss to France of the town of Breisach, on the opposite bank of the Rhine. The town"s name means New Breisach. Work began on the fortified town in 1698, to plans drawn by Vauban, a military engineer at the se ...
Founded: 1698 | Location: Neuf-Brisach, France

Abbeville Belfry

The belfry of Abbeville is one of the oldest in France, built in 1209. On 20 May 1940, during a bombing, its roof was damaged and it was only in 1986 that it was rebuilt. The belfry is one of the fifty-six belfries of Belgium and France registered in 2005 by the World Heritage Committee of UNESCO in recognition of its testimony to the rise of municipal power in the region and its architecture. It has housed the museum of ...
Founded: 1209 | Location: Abbeville, France

Agen Cathedral

Agen Cathedral's (Cathédrale Saint-Caprais d'Agen) visible structure dates back to the 12th century. It was built as a collegiate church of canons dedicated to Saint Caprasius, on the foundations of a basilica sacked by the Normans in 853 but thereafter restored. Sacked again in December 1561 during the Wars of Religion, by two years after the countrywide coup d'état that took place in 1789, the cathedral had come to s ...
Founded: 12th century | Location: Agen, France

Quartiers Modernes Frugés

Quartiers Modernes Frugès is a housing development located in Pessac. It was designed by noted architect Le Corbusier as both an architect and a town planner. It contained some 70 housing units. The building was built as experimental housing for workers. Le Corbusier took into account prevailing social and economic factors, and was determined to build the plan to provide people with low-cost, predetermined, homoge ...
Founded: 1920-1924 | Location: Pessac, France

Featured Historic Landmarks, Sites & Buildings

Historic Site of the week

Château d'Olhain

The Château d'Olhain is probably the most famous castle of the Artois region. It is located in the middle of a lake which reflects its picturesque towers and curtain walls. It was also a major stronghold for the Artois in medieval times and testimony to the power of the Olhain family, first mentioned from the 12th century.

The existence of the castle was known early in the 13th century, but the present construction is largely the work of Jean de Nielles, who married Marie d’Olhain at the end of the 15th century.

The marriage of Alix Nielles to Jean de Berghes, Grand Veneur de France (master of hounds) to the King, meant the castle passed to this family, who kept it for more than 450 years. Once confiscated by Charles Quint, it suffered during the wars that ravaged the Artois. Besieged in 1641 by the French, it was partly demolished by the Spaniards in 1654, and finally blown-up and taken by the Dutch in 1710. Restored in 1830, it was abandoned after 1870, and sold by the last Prince of Berghes in 1900. There is also evidence that one of the castles occupants was related to Charles de Batz-Castelmore d'Artagnan, the person Alexandre Dumas based his Three Musketeers charictor d'Artagnan on.

During the World War I and World War II, the castle was requisitioned first by French troops, then Canadian and British soldiers. The current owner has restored the castle to its former glory.