Last full day in Rouen and our last full day in any one European city! Wow, I can’t believe we’re there already…
The morning started off with a lovely walk along the Seine River – yup, the same river that runs through Paris also runs through Rouen!
I love these statues we found on one of the bridges – they’re so very Norman in style! The hard lines and more stylized shapes tend to be associated with art from this region (there were a lot of Nordic/Viking influences here in the past…)
Just a block away from the river, in the middle of a very busy street, we stumbled on these random ruins. There was no sign, no fence, nothing to suggest these were important or meaningful in any way expect for the substantially bigger than normal lawn protecting it. We have no idea who built it, when, or why. But it was clearly a thing at one point in time, with this arched doorway, steps, and two walls (well, the foundation of walls at least – at the tallest they were maybe only two feet anymore). It seemed very…European, honestly, for people to just shrug off the ruins and go on about their days. There’s so much history here, they can’t keep track of it all!
After some errands in the city center, we got some lunch and headed north. We’d seen a tower from a distance and wanted to know more! It turned out to be one of the only parts of the Rouen Castle left standing. Originally built in 1209 by Philip Augustus, the castle took up several city blocks but was otherwise fairly unremarkable until 1429 when Joan of Arc was imprisoned. This tower is where she was tortured and has since been renamed the Joan of Arc tower in her honor (it was originally just called “the Big Tower” – yeah, they’re pretty creative with naming things around here). When King Henri IV ordered the castle torn down over a century later in 1591, they saved this tower and part of another one – I’m assuming because they recognized how historically significant they were, as the only two parts to be saved were directly connected to Joan of Arc.
Here is the other “tower”. Just part of the front is all that is left – everything inside past the door is all new construction – and the surrounding city has literally grown up right next to it, with the tower wall resting against a restaurant and a ceramics shop on either side. However, at one point in time this was the Tower of Maids (not like cleaning maids, but the old fashioned word meaning “unmarried women”) and was where Joan of Arc and other accused women were actually held prisoner – this is where their actual cells would have been. Today, it’s a dentist office. I can’t decide if that’s sad or kinda awesome – I wish the original spaces had been preserved, but they were centuries gone before the dentists moved in, and wouldn’t it be the coolest office ever? “Well, I’m off to pull some teeth in the exact space where Joan of Arc was kept prisoner. Just another Monday.”
Our final stop was at the Saint Maclou Church, barely 3 minutes walk away from the Cathedral. There has been a church here since 1000, but the actual building itself has been destroyed several times in natural disasters and wars. The oldest part of yet current building dates back to the 1600s, while the newest (repair work done on the choir after done WWII bombing) didn’t open until 1980!
Perhaps because so much work had to be done here so many times, it is one of the more plain churches we’ve seen on this trip. However, the amazing double arch height and stained glass windows made you feel like it wasn’t really missing anything anyway!
Amazingly, the windows are actually the oldest parts of the church, with most of them dating back to between 1440 and 1500! They noted this was likely due to the fact the construction projects have always been on just parts of the church – the church has not been torn completely to the ground since well before this time (it was unrecorded when exactly, but they do know the construction in 1437 was starting from scratch, so likely in the few years before that). This allowed the surviving windows to be removed and kept safe during the numerous projects.
While there are numerous newer windows (not all the glass survived each catastrophe, of course), it’s pretty awesome to think people have been looking at this same window, in vaguely the same place, for hundreds of years!