Rouen: our day out

Time for another trip to England (purpose of visit: to attend several 60th birthday celebrations). We generally try to visit somewhere new to us on our journey back, but this time, we decided to spend time in a town we’ve passed through maybe dozens of times, without spending time in anything more exciting than a traffic jam.  Rouen was to be our mini-break destination.

Though inland, it’s still a thriving river port, and once it derived its wealth not simply from this industry, but from textiles. Even today, the city symbol is a sheep, a reminder that Rouen once owed its opulence to working with wool.
 
We really were on a very mini-break, so decided to focus on a Rouen which Joan of Arc and anyone living there up till about the 16th or 17th centuries would have recognised.  We knew we’d find a few ancient streets.   But we were totally unprepared for a city centre where street after street consists of half-timbered houses and buildings, the oldest of which date from the 13th century.   There amongst them were glorious Gothic churches: the cathedral of Notre Dame, the abbey church of Saint-Ouen (sadly closed, because it was a Monday), Saint Maclou church (sadly closed because it’s coming to the end of a massive restoration programme).  In among, though, were modern quarters, woven into the ancient fabric of the town in a way that reminded us that Rouen suffered terrible damage in the 2nd World War, when bombing tore irreparable holes through the city.
 
This was was not the first time that Rouen witnessed death and destruction.  It was here that folk-hero and later saint, Joan of Arc died.  She was a simple peasant girl who, claiming divine guidance, led the French army to several important victories during the Hundred Years War, But after being tried for heresy by the pro-English Bishop of Beauvais she was burnt to death in 1431.
 
Then there are the  grounds of the Aitre de St. Maclou.  They had been used as burial grounds since Roman times. However, during the Black Death of 1348 when three quarters of the area’s inhabitants died, the site became somewhere to throw the hundreds of corpses to whom an overwhelmed and diminishing  population could no longer give decent Christian burial.
 
But we were there on a glorious spring day.  We took away memories of a wonderful lunch eaten in the sunshine, walks along those characterful streets, and unexpected blossom of trees and flowers to lift our spirits.  Rouen, we know there’s so much more of you to discover.  We’ll be back.

4 thoughts on “Rouen: our day out”

  1. I feel like I just read a book that takes place in Rouen. Hmmmm. Maybe it’s because I’ve been to Rouen. It’s a weird place. Magnificent, and yet so much death in its history. So much horror. It sounds like you caught it on a beautiful day. It would be like visiting Auschewitz on a sunny day. Something kind of off, I’d imagine. Great post, Margaret.

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  2. We’ve visited Rouen on several occasions, it was a fairly easy weekend break for us at one stage. I do remember that a lot of the city felt quite oppressive and when I think of Rouen it’s this, and shadows, that I remember.

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    1. Perhaps we were lucky that we deliberately restricted our visit to the old centre. We do plan to get to know it better, so I’ll see what we feel next time.

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