Go on a medieval adventure in Rouen: life at war with the English!

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With the recent opening of the captivating, new Gothic Rouen exhibition at the Panorama XXL, it's time to put medieval Rouen in focus...

Rouen was in the thick of it during the wars between the English and the Normans in the Middle Ages - a favourite court of William the Conqueror, it has a more bloodthirsty reputation for the execution of Joan of Arc by the English here in 1431.

Known as the 'city of a hundred spires' because of its many churches (an epithet coined by none other than Victor Hugo), visiting the area of Old Rouen today is like stepping back in time. Huge half-timbered houses, narrow cobbled streets, and grandiose Gothic churches come together to make a distinctly medieval backdrop to life in modern Rouen.

So, here's a list of 10 of the best medieval sites and museums to visit in Rouen and time-travel back to an era of Gothic art, religious zeal and warring European kings...

The historical backdrop

William the Conqueror and his ancestor, Richard the Lionheart, loved to hold court here and Richard was even crowned here and left his heart to the city. Normandy's capital for many centuries, Rouen's geographical position meant it often changed hands between the Normans, the English and the French. This was so during the Hundred Years' War when Joan of Arc helped the Dauphin to lead his armies against the English armies of Henry VI.

Burned at the stake in Le Vieux Marché, France's national heroine is today celebrated in Rouen with many sites and museums to visit about her life and her part in the English defeat.

The sights

Rouen cathedral

Rouen cathedral is a truly spectacular architectural achievement and it should be no surprise that it inspired one of the world's greatest painters - Claude Monet. The subject of a whole series of paintings by the Impressionist, Rouen cathedral was begun in the 12th century and is notable for the inclusion of all periods of Gothic art featuring in its design. You'll find the tombs of the Dukes of Normandy in the choir.

Abbey church of St Ouen

There's another church in Rouen that is so majestic you might mistake it for the cathedral - the Abbey Church of St Ouen. Actually larger than the cathedral, this magnificent church was part of a Benedictine abbey and can be found beside the Place du General de Gaulle. The City Hall is in the old buildings of the monastery beside the church and you can admire both building from the gardens.

Church of St Joan of Arc

Rouen is also home to a modern church - one that has medieval connections. The Church of St Joan of Arc was built in 1979 next to the Place du Vieux Marché where Joan was executed. Although the building is very contemporary, the church features some stunning 16th century stained glass windows that were rescued from Rouen's other churches during the Allied bombings in 1944.

Gros Horloge (clock tower)

One of the most recognisable sights in all of Rouen; the grand astronomic clock looks down on the main shopping street from its Renaissance arch in the centre of town. If you go inside for a visit, you'll be treated to a guided tour of the belfry, the dial room and even the apartments of the 'clock governor'.

Aitre St Maclou

The Aitre St Maclou is an unmissable spot for fans of the macabre - a 14th cemetery built for victims of the Great Plague that raged through the city in 1348. Later on, ossuaries were created for the bones of the dead and these buildings were covered in morbid decorations of skeletons, skulls and shovels. You can even see a dead cat that was found preserved in its walls!

Joan of Arc Tower

All that is left of a mighty castle, the Joan of Arc tower gets its name because Joan was held here by the English during her trial. It was within the castle walls that she was imprisoned and infamously threatened with torture if she did not confess. As history knows; she didn't. This cylindrical tower was the castle keep and dates from the 13th century.

Palais de Justice

The former Parliament building of Normandy, this ornately decorated Gothic edifice also shows the impact of more recent events on Rouen - you will find shell holes in some of the stone walls from the bombings in 1944. Built on what was the Jewish Quarter of Rouen, today it is a court house.

The museums

Panorama XXL

Opened on the 28th May and running until September 2017, the Gothic Rouen exhibition at the Panorama XXL shows a stunningly recreated 360 degree panorama of how Rouen would have looked in Joan of Arc's time. Discover what life was like living beside the Seine in an era of such upheaval as you scan the vista of life in 1431. You'll also see the scene where Joan of Arc is on trial.

Historial Jeanne d'Arc

Discover the Historial Jeanne d'Arc down a narrow street beside the cathedral and you'll find a modern, interactive, multimedia museum that was opened just last year. Located inside the Archbishop's Palace, you'll pass through some of the historic rooms where Joan of Arc's trial was held during your visit.

Musée des Beaux Arts de Rouen

One of the best fine arts museum in France, Rouen's Musée des Beaux Arts has a splendid collection featuring some spectacular artworks from the Renaissance and Baroque periods. It also has many more modern paintings, by the Impressionists and Romantics, including canvases by Monet, Sisley and Renoir.

Medieval festivals in Normandy 2016

2016 is the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings and Normandy is mood to celebrate!

There are lots of medieval events and festivals going on across Normandy to help commemorate the anniversary - here are just a few of them.


13 - 14 August

The backdrop of William the Conqueror's own castle makes the Fête des Jeux something else. Jesters, jugglers, knights and 250 soldiers from William the Conqueror's army will ensure there is never a dull moment at this family-friendly festival. The reenactments in front of the chateau are really something to see.

Château de Crevecour

31 July - 7 August

All sorts of events are going on at the Château de Crevecour as it is transported back in time to the Middle Ages. Knights joust, peasants till the fields and traditional crafts are made - and that's just some of what's on offer. Treat yourself to food fit for a medieval banquet and marvel at the reenactments and demonstrations.


26 June - 3 July

The Bayeux Medieval Festival is celebrating an anniversary of its own as 2016 marks its 30th year. With 150 exhibitors at the medieval market around the cathedral, crafts demonstrations and workshops, parades and lots of street performers and reenactors, this is a well-established festival that is going strong.

William the Conqueror festival

7 - 9 August

Head for the sea at Cabourg and Houlgate for the William the Conqueror festival. See Norman and Viking troops as they reenact the preparations for William's departure to England with his invasion force. There's also a parade and a medieval banquet and you can pit yourself against Sherlock Holmes, a descendant of two of William's knights, in uncovering a mystery about the Battle of Hastings.

You'll find a full list of events that are happening for the 950th anniversary of the Battle of Hastings on the Normandy Tourist Board website.

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