Header image by Natalie Rapoport. Antoni Gaudi. Sagrada Familia. Barcelona.

Friday, December 14, 2012


Rouen is beautiful.  A medieval treasure of Normandy a bit NW of Paris.
August, noon, empty streets as if towners deserted it completely, leaving behind a fantastic decoration after the finished play.  Strange feeling of overwhelming quietness after overflown Paris.
Only between Cathedral and Market Place a few groups of tourists, mostly German, filled narrow street with sound presence.

Otherwise the whole city is asleep, paused in time like  castle inhabitants in Sleeping Beauty. Stopped on the move: store doors open, flowers blooming, sweet aroma from pastry shops whiffing  and almost no people around. The restaurants where closed by 2pm probably until evening, open only for drinks.
The quiche, croque monsieur and mille-feuille gateaux available  at the pastry shop for take out under café umbrella were fantastic.

Maybe it was traditional vacation time and everyone  is blown away with travel rush. Or maybe it was rain on and off all day long, light or heavy at times. It made me juggling with umbrella and camera and still it was wonderful. We had the city to ourselves. The same impression was with Bourges.
Please walk with me, touch the walls of maisons de bois -  half-timber houses. They are real. So many where destroyed during the WWII in heavy fires and bombing, almost a half was gone and the scars left forever. What could be saved is restored lovingly like a magnifiscent landmark Palais de Justice.  Built at the very end of XVth century  with all attributes of flamboyant gothic architecture  it was almost destroyed in the XXth but slowly revived to be sincerely admired.

The city today is beautiful as ever even if it took the tromp l’oeil murals to bring back the Market Place  close to the original look. Today this square is dominated by a huge  ultra modern chapel/museum  of Joan of Arc. Gigantic structure for this space. It makes surrounding buildings look like pigmies theme park maquette.  It’s beautiful but it’s just the scale that is utterly wrong.

Poor courageous girl Jeanne d’Arc. She was what today is defined as a charismatic leader with obviously paranormal abilities. A brave girl with military talents eager to save her beloved France from English occupation and stop an endless war. She wasn’t only cowardly betrayed by a miserable king Charles VII, she was actually sold to English for money by duke of Burgundy. The tragic end of her short life in May 1431 is well known. She became a legend for eternity.

And Rouen, the capital city of Normandy since medieval times, a prosperous trading city on the Seine then, today is capitalizing on this legend heavily.
500 years later the heroic  girl was proclaimed the Saint  Jeanne d’Arc. Her images are everywhere slightly varying between Mila Yovovich and Barbarella, most of the time it’s a sexy Barbie in shining armor with angelic face, or Xena the warrior with the triumphant look of Amazon winner. Usually it’s a funny kitsch, but whatever it takes to help sell the goods. St. Jeanne became a trade mark.
Street signs are antique and touching traditional, some are modern designed logos over the chic windows.
Contemporary urban sculpture interacts so well with medieval square. I like when present doesn’t dismiss but respects the past, they made pretty good friends in here.

Famous for it’s traditional faience and porcelain production Rouen carries on. There’re many shops around town with artists in the windows  mastering their craft, richly ornamenting with delicate flowers plates and cups and saucers right in front of by passers’ eyes. There’re many beautiful fragile pieces to admire. The same style for ages. This tradition is very much alive despite the slow demand I believe. The craftsmanship is amazing.
Hidden narrow passages and tiny courtyards covered in unstoppable vines are very cute and cozy.  Several beautiful churches grace the sky with their spires. I’ve posted about Notre Dame de Rouen Cathedral here. This is the heart of the city along with the Rue du Gros Horloge. The huge golden gilded and ornated clock is tirelessly ticking since 1389. And the rhythm of life obviously hasn’t change much since.

Rouen is relatively a small city today but well loved and cared by Rounnaises.
It’s historical core is a wonderful day walk not far from Paris.

*All images © Natalie Rapoport


  1. It's on my list Natalie...hope I get to visit Rouen...it looks like the sort of place that I'd love. A bientot.

  2. The building in the top image looks as cute as a gingerbread house! Love the little geraniums in the window boxes. And I often think the smaller towns have the greatest treasures. xx


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