French cities: development history, attractions and architecture
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The 10 most architecturally interesting cities in France
Some of these French cities have remained victims of the fashion of their time. Today they are the guardians of the architecture of the era that created them. Visiting these cities is a real lesson in history and urban planning. Whether you like the way they look or not… Here are 10 of the most architecturally interesting cities in France that you won’t forget when you visit them!
The 10 most stylish French cities
Bordeaux and its 18th-century architecture (Aquitaine).
Listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the magnificent buildings in the center of Bordeaux bear the grand imprint of the Enlightenment . At the time it became the first French colonial port, the city emerged from its ramparts, turned toward the Garonne and built hundreds of private mansions that appeared along straight avenues. Even today, from the quays to the famous “golden triangle”, one can observe the architectural evolution of this period. The Place de la Bourse, built in Louis XV with its rockeries, mascarons and wrought iron balconies is a floral rococo, while the Grand Théâtre, built in 1780 in neoclassical style, already heralds Napoleonic architecture.
- To continue your immersion in history, visit the Museum of Decorative Arts and Design (39 rue Bouffard; www.madd-bordeaux.fr), housed in the magnificent hôtel de Lalande, built in 1779. rich in 18th-century furniture.
2. Saint-Quentin and Art Deco (Picardy)
The town of Saint-Quentin in Haute Picardy, badly destroyed during World War I, was rebuilt in the early 1920s in the Art Deco style. Today it brings together 3,000 buildings that conform to this style. This heritage was little appreciated until recently, when the municipality undertook an active restoration policy. In addition to the train station, the music school or the Le Carillon cinema, fine examples of architecture can be found in the streets of Lyon and in the Sous-Prefecture.
- A map listing the most notable buildings can be downloaded from the website of the tourist office, which also offers audio guides for themed tours.
3. Le Havre, post-war period (Normandy)
The city center of Le Havre is inseparable from the name of Auguste Perret. The architect, a champion of reinforced concrete, was indeed the main contractor for the reconstruction of France’s main port, 80% destroyed by Italian bombing in 1940 and by the British in 1944. Perret designed an orthogonal rational plan for the city, imposing and airy. If the abandonment of decorations may seem austere, we must give credit to Perret for refusing to build skyscrapers so that the city would leave the human dimension and move toward the sea. The experience of modern urban planning, conceived on the basis of receptivity and intelligence, and the uniqueness of such a project in France, earned Le Havre the right to be inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List in 2005.
- Back to the fifties! Fitted kitchen and bathroom, practical furniture, garbage disposals, collective heating… The Perret model apartment testifies to the high standards of functionality that inspired the post-war designers.
- Guide to Le Havre
4. Les Arcs, the architect’s vision (Savoie)
When it was decided in the 1960s to build ski resorts from the ground up to support the development of winter sports, the town of Bourg-Saint-Maurice had the rich idea of attracting the talented architect and designer Charlotte Perriand. The latter supervised the Arcs 1600 and 1800 projects for twenty years, leaving her mark on them: Urban functionality (pedestrian stations) and habitat (optimization of living spaces), internal harmony / exterior (large bay windows and balconies), use of prefabricated structures (bathrooms in molded polyester)… And above all, this Savoie native, in love with mountains and Japanese culture, tried to integrate buildings into the environment by making them follow the slope and decorating with local materials (larch, lausa…).
- One of the best examples is the residence La Cascade (Arcs 1600). In summer, the tourist office organizes free trips to the resort (www.lesarcs.com).
- Les Arcs.
5. In bastide country (Dordogne, Aquitaine, Occitanie)
Today Montpasier, Beaumont, Aymet or Domme, small “picturesque” villages with two or three parallel streets, their squares surrounded by houses with arcades, their fortified church and their ramparts, create the charm of the Black Perigord. Things were different in the 13th century. These “new towns” were definitive. Over a hundred years (1250-1350) between 300 and 500 bastids were founded according to a clear architectural plan to settle the population in one place, create trade (fairs, markets) and, for kings, mark their territory. Thanks to the preserved architecture and markets today, the bastids will make you go back in time.
- The Sarla Tourist Office lists and presents the history of the most beautiful bastidas in the Perigord.
- Bastide Cities
- Bastide country: the most beautiful bastide cities
- Top 10 best bastide towns in France
6. Nancy and Art Nouveau or Art Nouveau (Lorraine)
If Nancy symbolizes Art Nouveau, it is because it was here that the birth of this artistic movement in the early 19th century began. Indeed, it was in this Lorraine city that Emile Galle, Louis Majorelle, Jacques Gruber and even the Daum brothers participated together in the renewal of decorative arts and in the creation of the Nancy school in 1901.
Art Nouveau touches on a variety of fields such as architecture, furniture, glassware or lighting. This style is inspired by local flora and fauna, which are materialized through various materials (glass, wood, ceramics, wrought iron, etc.).
- Although this 1900 architecture is virtually nonexistent in Nancy today, the tourist office nonetheless offers guided tours of the city’s Art Nouveau buildings (www.nancy-tourisme.fr).
- Nancy guide
- Art Nouveau style in Nancy:
- Art Nouveau style: in the heart of the business district
- Art Nouveau style: Parc de Saurupt
- Art Nouveau : Jardin de Berenice
- Art Nouveau style: From the train station to the west.
7. Collonge-la-Rouge, a Renaissance town (Limousin)
During the Renaissance, the local nobility came to this red sandstone village to settle for the summer in houses with blue slate roofs. Collonges-la-Rouge, the “ruby of lower Limousin,” is located at the foot of the Habitarelle, so all the buildings here are made of stone with a distinctive red color (hence the name of the town). You’ll see fanciful castles surrounded by towers and powdery warehouses, a monastery, market halls from the 16th century and a church divided into two parts to house the Papists and the Parpais. A road lined with chestnut trees leads to it. The village itself is also famous for its straw wine.
- Collonge la Rouge is one of the most beautiful villages in France. In fact, the origin of this association is more than 100 picturesque villages with well-preserved historical heritage throughout France.
- Collonge-la-Rouge guide
8. Old Lyon (Rhône-Alpes).
During the Renaissance, the golden age of the city, Old Lyon inherited the architecture found in the palaces of Florence. The atmosphere of Italy emanates from its facades painted ochre, gold and pink. Many of the mansions of the great families of Italian bankers and merchants, drawn by Lyon’s influence, have remained untouched since the 15th century: the Gallé Filibert-Delorme on rue Juverie, the Hôtel de Gadagne, the current history museum of the city, the Maison des Avocats on rue de la Bombarde or the Rose Tower on rue du Boeuf.
- At the beginning of December in old Lyon there are light installations of the famous Lumière Festival (www.fetedeslumieres.lyon.fr).
- Guide to Lyon
9. Troyes, steeped in history (Champagne)
Together with Reims, Troyes is the historic capital of Champagne. Find the dark and very narrow Ruelle des Chats , which will immerse you in the Middle Ages. The old town has a wonderful range of medieval and Renaissance buildings with splendid colorful half-timbered houses, mostly dating from the 16th century. Its hôtels particuliers, such as the Morois Mansion, also bear witness to the architecture of the 16th century. The richness of the city, finally, lies in its dozen churches listed as historic monuments, with very beautiful stained glass windows. The Museum of Modern Art has a splendid collection of French art, including works by Fauvist artists.
10. Rochefort, a new 17th-century town (Maritime Charente).
It’s impossible to get lost in Rochefort, with its very military layout and buildings staggered around Place Colbert and its tides. Its Port du Soleil gives access to the maritime arsenal bordering the bend of the Charente. The magnificent Royal Rope Factory is surrounded by modern gardens. You can visit the construction site of a replica of L’Hermione, the frigate seen by La Fayette during the American War of Independence. The city itself includes quite a few great places, including the Gold Cup Theater and the Hèbre Art and History Museum in Saint-Clément.