Rouen, stretching beside the Seine, is Normandy’s cultured, historic, gastronomic, vibrant capital. Monet’s canvases of the cathedral have made it the best-loved building in town, but many other glories stand out, including fine museums and the church dedicated to tragic visitor Joan of Arc.
The Seine was key to Rouen’s development into one of France’s greatest ports down the centuries. Romans and Vikings gave prominence to this part of the Seine Valley. When Vikings settled and became Normans in the 10th century, Rouen became Normandy’s capital.
English medieval history is closely linked to Rouen. The Anglo-French kings kept a deep affection for the city. William the Conqueror often held court here. Richard the Lionheart was crowned Duke of Normandy in town, and left his heart to the city… as would Joan of Arc, much against her will, when, in the second half of the Hundred Years War, English forces occupied much of northern France, including Normandy and its capital. After Joan had inspired a lightning series of successes against the English army south along the Loire, she was captured by Burgundians and ransomed off at vast price to the English. Joan was tried by French churchmen in English-ruled Rouen in 1431, ending up on the funeral pyre here in 1431. A new museum in honour of Joan of Arc d’Arc, Historial Jeanne d'Arc, opens in Rouen in 2015, housed in the Archbishop's Palace, just next to the Cathedral. Further well-established, excellent museums cover different periods of the city’s history and focus on its strong artistic and craft traditions.
Discover Rouen's historic quarters
In medieval times, lords and the prosperous merchants of the city, as well as commissioning fine homes for themselves, supported the building of great religious buildings. Lined up in a row going from east to west through the centre of town is a string of tremendous church edifices – Saint-Ouen, Saint-Maclou, the cathedral, and the contemporary church to Joan of Arc. Victor Hugo famously described Rouen as the city of ‘a hundred spires’. In addition, don’t miss the Gros Horloge (a magnificent monumental town clock), the splendid Gothic Law Courts (Palais de Justice) and look out for the Aître Saint-Maclou, with its carved skull and crossbones counts among the most startling medieval cemeteries in Europe.
Rouen’s historic quarters are packed with tempting shops and restaurants. There are also glorious weekly markets. This being a university town, there is plenty of buzzing nightlife too.
The Seine and the riverbanks
Back with the Seine, attention is now turning to the river. Increasing numbers of initiatives have been put in place to open the riverbanks up to more visitors. Parks and gardens have recently been created along the south bank, whilst on the other side of the river, bars, restaurants and nightclubs line the quayside. The Panorama XXL is the latest grandiose new cultural attraction. In addition, from 6th to 16th June 2019, vast numbers of tall ships will gather on the Seine at Rouen for the Armada Festival.
Sites and attractions
Worth a visit
Excellent museums cover different periods of the city’s history