River Seine and Normandy Part One. November 2019.
Helen Rose Outdoors
Paris by Night
There are some places on the River Seine in France I have been keen to see for some time. The best way to include all of them was on a river cruise departing from Paris to Normandy. Fortunately, the boat we were on was small enough to cruise up and down the river through Paris and we saw Paris by night including the Eiffel Tower lit up and the Statue of Liberty. The Statue of Liberty is twenty two metres high and facing west in the direction of its larger sibling in New York City. It was inaugurated by President Marie Francois Sadi Carnot on 4 July 1889, nearly three years after its US counterpart, it was donated to the city by the American expatriate community in Paris to mark the centennial of the French Revolution.
Notre Dame Cathedral
In Paris, we took the opportunity to go to Notre Dame Cathedral. The 850-year-old Gothic building’s spire and roof collapsed in a fire earlier this year and ongoing restoration work continues.
Shakespeare and Company.
Across the river from Notre Dame is Shakespeare and Company bookshop, an iconic institution. Opened in 1951 as “Le Mistral,” but was renamed “Shakespeare and Company” in 1964 on the 400th anniversary of William Shakespeare’s birth. Today, it continues to serve as a purveyor of new and second-hand books, as an antiquarian bookseller, and as a free reading library open to the public. Additionally, the shop houses aspiring writers and artists in exchange for their helping out around the bookstore. Since the shop opened in 1951, more than 30,000 people have slept in the beds found tucked between bookshelves. Perhaps, I will one day sleep there as a blogger!
Our first port of call on the cruise was at a delightful village La-Roche-Guyon where we travelled to Les Andelys to visit Chateau Gaillard, the medieval castle that guards it and was built in 1198 by Richard the Lionheart, King of England and feudal Duke of Normandy. He built it as a statement of dominance after he reconquered lands from the French King Phillip. The design of the Chateau uses early principles of concentric fortifications and stone projections on the top of the walls to drop objects onto the heads of enemy below. All that stands today is the ruin of the castle.
The following day we reached Rouen. This is a lovely little Normandy town with medieval half-timbered houses. It is the capital of Normandy and a port city on the River Seine. It was an important town during the Roman occupation and also in the Middle Ages as the Anglo French Kings had a deep affection for the city. William the Conqueror held court and Richard the Lionheart was crowned Duke of Normandy in Rouen. Many of the half-timbered buildings have been restored and there is a restaurant in one of them which claims to be the oldest restaurant in France!
One of the main attractions is the Gothic Cathedral known as Notre Dame and built on the remains of a 4th century basilica. The present structure dates from the 12th century although the building has evolved over the years. It was badly bombed in World War Two due to proximity to the river and some of the Gothic Rose windows were lost. Its 19th century cast iron spire rises to a height of 151 metres (the highest in France). The cathedral is also the only one in France to possess an adjoining archiepiscopal palace still occupied by an archbishop today. The cathedral contains the tombs of the Dukes of Normandy, including that of Rollon, founder of the duchy in 911, and the heart of Richard the Lionheart, King of England and Duke of Normandy. The most famous paintings of the cathedral were done by the Impressionist artist Claude Monet, who produced a series of Impressionist paintings of the building showing the same scene at different times of the day and in different weather conditions. Unfortunately, I could not see the interior of the cathedral as it is closed on Mondays.
St. Joan of Arc
On May 30th 1431, Joan of Arc was burnt at the stake for heresy on Place du Vieux Marché. In honour of this French National heroine, a memorial cross was erected on the square. She claimed to the last that she had received visions from God instructing her to recover France from English domination. All the buildings around the square are dedicated to Joan of Arc. She had a six month trial in Rouen but originally came from Orléans, south of Paris.
On the square, a new church was built dedicated to Joan of Arc in 1979 and although it is built in a circular modern style it incorporates traditional stained glass from the 16th century Church of Saint Vincent, whose ruins are located a few metres away. The old church was almost completely destroyed in 1944 during World War 2 but the windows had been removed and stored in a safe location during the war. They were then incorporated into the Church of Saint Joan of Arc. It is rumoured that the local congregation did not like the new building but then decided it was much warmer than the Notre Dame Cathedral to worship in!
There is too much to cover in one blog of this fascinating cruise so catch part two on the next blog in December 2019! Loved all the art including the art exhibition at La-Roche-Guyon which included life size figures in ceramic and fabric.
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