We returned from the Normandy Beaches the night before and was treated to a wonderful Normandy inspired dinner. (More in the food later…. I promise) As we indulged in the meal the Tapestry2 began sailing east towards the city of Rouen. We docked approx 11pm and woke up the next morning ready for an exciting day.
Every cruise seems to feature a place that leaves me feeling like I want more… a lot more. Places like Nice, Villefranche, Edinburgh, London…. are all my list to make a longer return trip in order to spend a few days soaking up the history and atmosphere because the time I spent just wasn’t enough.
Today Im adding Rouen, France to the list.
The city is now the capitol of Upper Normandy and has a population of over 110,000 and over 520,000 over the entire metropolitan area. Its history dates back to 744 AD when the Roman Catholic Archdiocese was established in Rouen and it has seen a lot of history. William the Conqueror held court here, the Vikings raided and occupied the area, as well as a long list of turbulent happenings in the centuries since, including fires, World wars and the death of Joan of Arc.
More on that later too…
Todays included (free) shore excursion was a morning 2-hr walking tour to get the lay of the land and see the main spots. Then you could return to the ship in the afternoon, or enjoy the city on your own till the 4 pm all aboard time. Some people decided not to do the tour and just went to explore, but Im so glad I did otherwise I could have easily walked past some of the places that ended up being the real gems. The walking tour began with a saunter up a few modern streets to an alley that revealed the city in all its middle ages glory.
…. That opened up to a courtyard.
On the surface, it seemed like an inviting place to relax with coffee in hand and ponder the tasks for the day.
Then you look a little closer… and you find yourself in Aître Saint Maclou (Atrium of Saint Maclou) was established in 1348 as a mass graveyard to house the bodies of the Black Plague that took out approx. three quarters of the villages citizens. As the threat subsided the city began to sprout up around the courtyard and when the plague returned in the 16th century the bones were exhumed and placed into a cloister surrounding the courtyard, so that the ground could be reused to bury the new dead.
The cloister is decorated with macabre scenes of skulls, crossbones, coffins and other grave digger items that can be clearly seen today.
It’s even guarded by the bones of a cat and a mouse to keep it company. (Ill omit that pic for now.)
Even though every European city once had a similar place to house the dead, this is reportedly the only medieval ossuary of its kind left standing intact. And want to know the story turned out on this one? The buildings now house a fine Arts School.
After the dark and twisty side of me stopped jumping up and down internally from such an amazing find… It was time for the announcer to break in and say ..
But wait! There’s more!
At the end of the first street stands the stunning Rouen Cathedral.
The first cathedral at Rouen was built in 396 but was destroyed by the Viking Normans and rebuilt then consecrated in 1063 in the presence of William the Conqueror. The crypt beneath the choir is all that remains of that structure. In the years to follow the cathedral experienced lightning strikes, fires and structural additions resulting in the Flamboyant Gothic style we see now which was famously painted by Claude Monet to detail the changing lighting reflecting on the building at various times of the day.
The Butter Tower was added in the 15th century, so named for its funding by donations from wealthy citizens in return for the privilege of continuing to eat butter during Lent. The tallest spire was added in 1876, making it the tallest building in the world, holding the record until 1880).
Inside the cathedral lies several tombs including one where Richard the Lionheart’s heart is kept.
Yup.. just his heart. The rest is buried next to his father in another cathedral in another town.
The originals of some of the stone statues that once adorned the facade outside now stand inside the cathedral.
You can see the replacements in the pic below. Really gives you an idea of the size.
After the visit to the cathedral, the group walked down a charming pedestrian street. An amazing mix of old of new with the medieval buildings that feature the latest in 21st century shopping… Here is an eclectic mix of images from a 10 minute walk.
This is a dog friendly town.. lots of them, everywhere.
Randomly drawn on a step….
yes… they are doing what you think they are doing…
He really is everywhere…
And its our favorite hamburger… (AKA to many the “other” American Embassy)
Spot the hidden Donald?
This one may be easier…
Le Gros Horloge – Or The Great Clock – is a 14th century astronomical clock that was made in 1389 and considered one of the oldest in France. It was restored in 1997 and you can even climb up for a captivating view.
The last stop on the official tour was to visit the Church of Saint Joan of Arc . Its a new structure completed in 1979 in the center of the market square. A large monument with a cross at the top marks the exact spot where Joan of Arc was burned alive for heresy in 1431.
The trial that convicted her was held in a building just behind the Cathedral. She had over 70 charges leveled against her including witchcraft and dressing like a man. The beautiful stained glass windows that can be admired today are from the 16th century and were saved from another church that was destroyed by a round of WW2 bombings in 1944.
It was an easy 10 minute walk back to the ship for a bite to eat (yup… there’s the food again) and digest everything we saw today.
OH! Including this little beauty that we spotted over the door of the center building below — If you are a Disney fan, you will immediately understand.
This city is history come to life. So many centuries to take in over the course of a few blocks.. so much medieval eye candy. Its a must do when in Normandy.