Rouen History A Preserved City with a Foot in the Past

Written by on August 1, 2015 in Normandy


Rouen is the capital of Normandy in northern France. What makes this city unique is its incredible Gothic architecture coupled with half timbered medieval street houses that blend effortlessly and its long, turbulent history whose traces can be seen in the present…

The City of Rouen

rouen-half timbered houses

There are more than 2000 original half-timbered houses in the town, around 200 of them date back to the Middle Ages. They mingle easily with the grandest of structures and create a municipal culture almost unique to Normandy. Most of the properties are protected by local bylaws and yet are rented as houses for everyday use.


The Palace of Justice used to be the Parliament of Normandy, nowadays it is a principal court of the region. In 1976, a major Jewish monument was discovered under the palace courtyard that dates back to the 12th century. rouen-clockThe entrance to this place is named in Hebrew and translates as ’Sublime Abode.’ Even now, archaeologists are not certain whether it was a college or a synagogue or even the residence of a wealthy merchant or trader.

One of the most alluring sites in the city is the beautifully preserved and shining, gold faceted Gros Horloge. This functioning street clock symbolises the great city’s wealth, created by the powerful wool industry that was so dynamic in past centuries.  A trip to the top will reveal a panoramic view over Rouen – an extraordinary sight.

There is a lively Sunday Market in the centre with a great selection of fresh food from vegetables to  fish. You’ll find that the quality of the gastronomy in the numerous restaurants is equal to anywhere in France; indeed the oldest restaurant in the country is to be found here.

Rouen’s history of commerce, wealth and patriotic past is bought back to life using incredible contemporary digital technology somehow making you feel part of all that has gone before…

Rouen Cathedral

rouen cathedral light show

There cannot be an ecclesiastical structure more photogenic anywhere else in Europe. Monet, the great impressionist artist, had captured Notre Dame in more than thirty paintings by 1894. Many of his ‘sittings’ took place from a room in what is now the tourist office. Look up to the first floor and you’ll discover the easel that is still there, just by the window. The style of Monet’s work had little to do with Christianity however. He wanted to project the colour and light of all things that sustain human life in the vivacious new age of impressionism. That epoch of art is just as vibrant today and all can find it for themselves in this vibrant city.

In the summer months, a brilliant son et lumiere show projects the history of Rouen against the west face of the City’s Notre Dame Cathedral. The wide space in front provides an uninterrupted and astonishing view. It covers the vastness of the cathedral frontage in clear and penetrating light. Displays include ‘First Impressions’ with the sound of laughing children and conversation from the nineteenth century.

The imagery is quite overwhelming and seems to have found a particular renaissance emerging from the very womb of the cathedral.

Read more about Rouen: Saint Maclou Church, Joan of Arc remembered in Rouen, Abbey Saint Ouen and Panorama XXL….

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