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UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITES IN 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.

MONT-SAINT-MICHEL & BAY

Perched on a rocky islet in the midst of vast sandbanks exposed to powerful tides

between Normandy and Brittany stand the 'Wonder of the West', a Gothic-style

Benedictine abbey dedicated to the archangel St Michael, and the village that grew

up in the shadow of its great walls. Built between the 11th and 16th centuries, the

abbey is a technical and artistic tour de force, having had to adapt to the problems

posed by this unique natural site.

VERSAILLES PALACE & PARK

The Palace of Versailles was the principal residence of the French kings from the

time of Louis XIV to Louis XVI. Embellished by several generations of architects, sculptors, decorators and landscape architects, it provided Europe with a model of the ideal royal residence for over a century.

VEZERE VALLEY CAVES

The Vézère valley contains 147 prehistoric sites dating from the Palaeolithic and 25 decorated caves. It is particularly interesting from an ethnological and anthropological, as well as an aesthetic point of view because of its cave paintings, especially those of the Lascaux Cave, whose discovery in 1940 was of great importance for the history of prehistoric art. The hunting scenes show some 100 animal figures, which are remarkable for their detail, rich colours and lifelike quality.

VEZELAY CHURCH & HILL

Shortly after its foundation in the 9th century, the Benedictine abbey of Vézelay acquired the relics of St Mary Magdalene and since then it has been an important place of pilgrimage. St Bernard preached the Second Crusade there in 1146 and Richard the Lion-Hearted and Philip II Augustus met there to leave for the Third Crusade in 1190. With its sculpted capitals and portal, the Madeleine of Vézelay – a 12th-century monastic church – is a masterpiece of Burgundian Romanesque art and architecture.

AMIENS CATHEDRAL

Amiens Cathedral, in the heart of Picardy, is one of the largest 'classic' Gothic churches of the 13th century.

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.

ARLES ROMAN MONUMENTS

Arles is a good example of the adaptation of an ancient city to medieval European civilization. It has some

impressive Roman monuments, of which the earliest – the arena, the Roman theatre and the

cryptoporticus (subterranean galleries) – date back to the 1st century B.C. During the 4th century Arles

experienced a second golden age, as attested by the baths of Constantine and the necropolis of

Alyscamps. In the 11th and 12th centuries, Arles once again became one of the most attractive cities in the

Mediterranean. Within the city walls, Saint-Trophime, with its cloister, is one of Provence's major Romanesque monuments.

FONTENAY ABBEY

This stark Burgundian monastery was founded by St Bernard in 1119. With its church, cloister, refectory, sleeping quarters, bakery and ironworks, it is an excellent illustration of the ideal of self-sufficiency as practised by the earliest communities of Cistercian monks.

FONTAINEBLEU PALACE

Used by the kings of France from the 12th century, the medieval royal hunting lodge of Fontainebleau, standing at the heart of a vast forest in the Ile-de-France, was transformed, enlarged and embellished in the 16th century by François I, who wanted to make a 'New Rome' of it. Surrounded by an immense park, the Italianate palace combines Renaissance and French artistic traditions.

ROMAN THEATRE OF ORANGE

Situated in the Rhone valley, the ancient theatre of Orange, with its 103-m-long facade, is one of the best preserved of all the great Roman theatres. Built between A.D. 10 and 25, the Roman arch is one of the most beautiful and interesting surviving examples of a provincial triumphal arch from the reign of Augustus. It is decorated with low reliefs commemorating the establishment of the Pax Romana.

ROYAL SALTWORKS OF ARC-ET-SENANS

The Royal Saltworks of Arc-et-Senans, near Besançon, was built by Claude-Nicolas Ledoux. Its construction, begun in 1775 during the reign of Louis XVI, was the first major achievement of industrial architecture. This vast, semicircular complex was designed to permit a rational and hierarchical organization of work and was to have been followed by the building of an ideal city, a project that was never realized. See photo below.

CHURCH OF SAINT-SAVIN SUR GARTEMPE

Known as the 'Romanesque Sistine Chapel', the Abbey-Church of Saint-Savin contains many beautiful 11th- and 12th-century murals which are still in a remarkable state of preservation.

SCANDOLA NATURE RESERVE, CORSICA

The natue reserve, which is part of the Regional Natural Park of Corsica, occupies the Scandola peninsula, an impressive, porphyritic rock mass. The vegetation is an outstanding example of scrubland. Seagulls, cormorants and sea eagles can be found there. The clear waters, with their islets and inaccessible caves, host a rich marine life.

PLACE STANISLAS, NANCY

Nancy, the temporary residence of a king without a kingdom – Stanislas 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 succeeded in creating a capital that not only enhanced the sovereign's prestige but was also functional.

PONT DU GARD

The Pont du Gard was built shortly before the Christian era to allow the aqueduct of Nîmes (which is almost 50 km long) to cross the Gard river. The Roman architects and hydraulic engineers who designed this bridge, which stands almost 50 m high and is on three levels – the longest measuring 275 m – created a technical as well as an artistic masterpiece.

GRANDE ILE, STRASBOURG

Surrounded by two arms of the River Ill, the Grande Ile (Big Island) is the historic centre of the Alsatian capital. It has an outstanding complex of monuments within a fairly small area. The cathedral, the four ancient churches and the Palais Rohan – former residence of the prince-bishops – far from appearing as isolated monuments, form a district that is characteristic of a medieval town and illustrates Strasbourg's evolution from the 15th to the 18th century.

REIMS CATHEDRAL

The outstanding handling of new architectural techniques in the 13th century, and the harmonious marriage of sculptural decoration with architecture, has made Notre-Dame in Reims one of the masterpieces of Gothic art. The former abbey still has its beautiful 9th-century nave, in which lie the remains of Archbishop St Rémi (440–533), who instituted the Holy Anointing of the kings of France. The former archiepiscopal palace known as the Tau Palace, which played an important role in religious ceremonies, was rebuilt in the 17th century.

BANKS OF THE SEINE, PARIS

From the Louvre to the Eiffel Tower, from the Place de la Concorde to the Grand

and Petit Palais, the evolution of Paris and its history can be seen from the River

Seine. The Cathedral of Notre-Dame and the Sainte Chapelle are architectural

masterpieces while Haussmann's wide squares and boulevards influenced late

19th- and 20th-century town planning the world over.

BOURGES CATHEDRAL

The Cathedral of St Etienne of Bourges, built between the late 12th and late 13th

centuries, is one of the great masterpieces of Gothic art and is admired for its

proportions and the unity of its design. The tympanum, sculptures and stained-

glass windows are particularly striking. Apart from the beauty of the architecture,

it attests to the power of Christianity in medieval France.

AVIGNON

In the 14th century, this city in the South of France was the seat of the papacy.

The Palais des Papes, an austere-looking fortress lavishly decorated by Simone

Martini and Matteo Giovanetti, dominates the city, the surrounding ramparts and

the remains of a 12th-century bridge over the Rhone. Beneath this outstanding

example of Gothic architecture, the Petit Palais and the Romanesque Cathedral

of Notre-Dame-des-Doms complete an exceptional group of monuments that testify to the leading role played by Avignon in 14th-century Christian Europe.

CANAL DU MIDI

This 360-km network of navigable waterways linking the Mediterranean and the Atlantic through 328 structures (locks, aqueducts, bridges, tunnels, etc.) is one of the most remarkable feats of civil engineering in modern times. Built between 1667 and 1694, it paved the way for the Industrial Revolution. The care that its creator, Pierre-Paul Riquet, took in the design and the way it blends with its surroundings

turned a technical achievement into a work of art.

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,

one of the founders of the modern science of conservation.

MONT PERDU, PYRENEES

This outstanding mountain landscape, which spans the contemporary national borders of

France and Spain, is centred around the peak of Mount Perdu, a calcareous massif that rises

to 3,352 m. The site, with a total area of 30,639 ha, includes two of Europe's largest and

deepest canyons on the Spanish side and three major cirque walls on the more abrupt

northern slopes with France, classic presentations of these geological landforms. The site is

also a pastoral landscape reflecting an agricultural way of life that was once widespread in

the upland regions of Europe but now survives only in this part of the Pyrénées. Thus it

provides exceptional insights into past European society through its landscape of villages,

farms, fields, upland pastures and mountain roads.

LYONS

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.

SANTIAGO DE COMPOSTELA

Santiago de Compostela was the supreme goal for countless thousands of pious pilgrims who converged there from all over Europe throughout the Middle Ages. To reach Spain pilgrims had to pass through France, and the group of important historical monuments included in this inscription marks out the four routes by which they did so.

BELFRIES OF BELGIUM & FRANCE

Built between the 11th and 17th centuries, the twenty-three belfries in the north of France and thirty-two in Belgium showcase the Roman, Gothic, Renaissance, and Baroque styles of architecture. Originally, a belfry was erected as a sign of communal independence obtained by charter, and as the very symbol of freedom. Compared to the keep (symbol of the seigneurs, i.e. feudal lord) and to the bell-tower (symbol of the Church), the belfry, the third tower in the urban landscape, symbolizes the power of the aldermen. Over the centuries, they came to represent the influence and wealth of the towns.

SAINT EMILION

Viticulture was introduced to this fertile region of Aquitaine by the Romans, and intensified in the Middle Ages. The Saint-Emilion area benefited from its location on the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela and many churches, monasteries and hospices were built there from the 11th century onwards. It was granted the special status of a 'jurisdiction' during the period of English rule in the 12th century. It is an exceptional landscape devoted entirely to wine-growing, with many fine historic monuments in its towns and villages.

LOIRE VALLEY

The Loire Valley is an outstanding cultural landscape of great beauty, containing historic towns and villages, great architectural monuments (the châteaux), and cultivated lands formed by many centuries of interaction between their population and the physical environment, primarily the river Loire itself.

PROVINS

The fortified medieval town of Provins is situated in the former territory of the powerful Counts of Champagne. It bears witness to early developments in the organization of international trading fairs and the wool industry. The urban structure of Provins, which was built specifically to host the fairs and related activities, has been well preserved. See photo below.

LE HAVRE

The city of Le Havre, on the English Channel in Normandy, was severely bombed during the Second World War. The destroyed area was rebuilt according to the plan of a team headed by Auguste Perret, from 1945 to 1964. The site forms the administrative, commercial and cultural centre of Le Havre. Amongst many reconstructed cities, Le Havre is exceptional for its unity and integrity. It combines a reflection of the earlier pattern of the town and its extant historic structures with the new ideas of town planning and construction technology. It is an outstanding post-war example of urban planning and architecture based on the unity of methodology and the use of prefabrication, the systematic utilization of a modular grid, and the innovative exploitation of the potential of concrete.

BORDEAUX

The historic centre of Bordeaux, Port of the Moon, the port city in south-west France, is inscribed as an inhabited historic city, an outstanding urban and architectural ensemble, created in the age of Enlightenment, whose values continued up to the first half of the 20th century, with more protected buildings than any other French city, except Paris. It is also recognized for its historic role as a place of exchange of cultural values over more than 2,000 years, particularly since the 12th century due to commercial links with Britain and the Low Lands. Urban plans and architectural of the early 18th century onwards place the city as an outstanding example of innovative classical and neo-classical trends and give it an exceptional urban and architectural unity and coherence. Its urban form represents the success of philosophers who wanted to make towns into melting pots of humanism, universality and culture.