A century of Italian immigration and culture in France (1860-1960) #continuation

“CIAO” is part of those words that, accompanying the migrations of millions of Italians around the world, have been adopted from the languages ​​of the countries reception, as in France where it is now part of current vocabulary. This greeting is useful to welcome and say goodbye at the same time.

CIAO ITALIA! is an “arrivederci” of the Italians to theirs country, never an “addio” . It is also a welcome formula from France to its neighbor.

Exchanges between France and Italy have been numerous since from Antiquity and go far beyond military conquest of “Gaul” by Rome. In the Middle Ages, men, women, goods and ideas cross the Alps, spreading a sort of “Italian model” in France and throughout Europe. In the 19th and 20th centuries, about 26 million Italians emigrate for both economic and political reasons. A part of them heads to France, which was missing at the time of manpower. Italians became like this the most numerous foreigners in France from the beginning of the 20th century until the 1960s.

Today commemorated, their integration did not happen however smoothly. Between distrust and desire, violence and passions, rejection and integration, the exhibition CIAO ITALIA ! tell this story by highlighting the contribution of Italians to society and French culture. The exhibition traces the geographical journey, socio-economic and cultural experience of Italians in France from the Risorgimento from 1860 to 1960.

The exhibition will take place in the hall of the library of Laveno Mombello in Villa Frua from the 25 March 2022 until the 12 April 2022. Free entrance

The exhibition is open:
Monday until Thursday 9:00 – 18:00
Friday and Saturday 9:00 – 13:00


Cordouan, the lighthouse of Kings

A unique lighthouse

The Cordouan lighthouse is not a lighthouse like the others.
A few kilometers out to sea, in the middle of the Gironde Estuary, it embodies the creative genius of men and the great phases in the history of lighthouses.

While the Cordouan lighthouse was built for the primary purpose of keeping guard over the mouth of the Gironde estuary, it has far exceeded this utilitarian function. Its architecture proves irresistible to visitors to this unique building.

The Cordouan lighthouse has long been referred to as the “lighthouse of kings” and has just been named “2019 Lighthouse of the Year” by the International Association of Marine Aids to Navigation and Lighthouse Authorities to mark World Marine Aids to Navigation Day. In 2020, France has nominated the Cordouan lighthouse for inclusion on the World Heritage. In 2021, it was inscribed on UNESCO’s World Heritage List.

This remarkable building deserves such recognition. The care taken over its construction is impressive considering it’s found in the middle of the sea and can’t be seen from the coast. Built in stone and sculpted on all sides, the lighthouse was commissioned in 1584 by Henri III, who entrusted the project to Louis de Foix. Its construction was finished in 1611, but work resumed from 1786 to 1789 to add a further 20 metres in height. This took it to 67.5 metres tall. Another interesting fact is that it is the last remaining lighthouse to be continuously inhabited by its keepers and visitors.

Using limestone dressed blocks, De Foix first built a round base 41 metres in diameter and 2 metres high to take the onslaught of the waves. Within it was a 2-square-metre cavity for storing water and other supplies. Above it were constructed four storeys of diminishing size. The ground floor consisted of a circular tower 15 metres in diameter, with apartments for four keepers around its inner wall. In the centre was a richly decorated entrance hall of 2.0 square metres and 6.1 metres high. The second storey was the King’s Apartment, consisting of a drawing room, anteroom and a number of closets. The third storey was a chapel with a domed roof notable for the beauty of its mosaic. Above this was secondary lantern, and above that the Lantern itself. This was 60 metres above the sea and visible 8–10 km away, the original light being provided by burning oak chips in a metal container.

Throughout the building, de Foix took as much trouble with the decor as with the durability of the building, and on every floor was a profusion of gilt, carved work, elegantly arched doorways and statuary.

Clisson, a corner of Tuscany in the Pays de la Loire

Clisson is a commune in the Loire-Atlantique department in the Pays de la Loire region in western France.

It is situated at the confluence of the Sèvre Nantaise and the Moine 27 km southeast of Nantes (reachable by rail).

The town and the celebrated family of Clisson (the most famous members are Olivier IV de Clisson and Jeanne de Clisson) take their name from their stronghold. Clisson has its imposing ruins, parts of which date from the thirteenth century. The town and castle, the château de Clisson, were destroyed in 1792 and 1793 during the War in the Vendée.

Afterwards, the sculptor François-Frédéric Lemot bought the castle, and the town was rebuilt in the early part of the 19th century with Tuscany architecture. There are picturesque parks on the banks of the rivers. The Moine is crossed by an old gothic bridge and by a fine modern viaduct.

Clisson’s (short) history

At Clisson were born Olivier V of Clisson, and the last Duke of Brittany, François II, father of Anne of Brittany. In the fourteenth century the « Marches de Bretagne » are the border between Brittany and France. The Clisson covered market reflects the economic dynamism of the time. It is one of the largest and oldest in France.

After the Revolution, Clisson became in the 19th century a landscape inspired by Italy. F-F Lemot sculptor of Napoleon settles in near Clisson he realizes a neoclassical landscape inspired by central Italy. The decoration of tiles and bricks offered by Clisson is  a genuine Italian surprise in western France.

The Church of Notre Dame de Clisson

It was built in the old Collegiate Church. It was reformed in the nineteenth century in the Italian style. As you can see, its bell tower is a Tuscan style, and a Basilica of Rome inspires its main buildings.

Les Halles de Clisson (Medieval Market)

This is where the Clisson market is held. It has been registered as a historical monument in 1923. According to recent reports, it’s from the 14th Century. But there is little information about this market before the eighteenth century.

What is known is that it was a prosperous place, and the lords of Clisson helped make it prosperous. They charged taxes on the sale of certain goods.

During the Vendée War, the city was burned and almost completely devastated.It is said that the city’s own extinguished the fire of Les Halles to have a refuge within the city. Several restoration works have been done to preserve the elements that give authenticity to this monument.

A vast burial cave of the Bronze Age discovered in the Charente “Le réseau de la Licorne”

The chance discovery of an underground network leading to an impressive cavity occupied in the Bronze Age (2 200/800 BC), reveals the existence of one of the largest burial caves known to date in France.

With more than one linear kilometre of galleries under almost twenty meters of depth, this discovery, dubbed «Network of the Unicorn» by its inventors, is exceptional in both its archaeological wealth and its state of conservation (traces of footsteps; numerous ceramics including several dozen intact: bowls, vases, pots, plates, etc.; human and animal remains…). It has a remarkable scientific potential, yet to be determined but probably underestimated to this day, for the documentation and knowledge of the funeral traditions of the Bronze Age. The very large size of the site of the Unicorn and its use for more than a millennium suggest a complex archaeological context whose study represents, for years to come, a scientific challenge.

Discovered in February 2021 by speleologists, during road works in the delegated municipality of Saint-Projet-Saint-Constant (La Rochefoucauld-en-Angoumois) in Charente, a first assessment is carried out in early April 2021 by the Regional Service of Archaeology (SRA) the Regional Directorate of Cultural Affairs (DRAC) of Nouvelle-Aquitaine. Once authenticated, this discovery is named «Réseau de la Licorne» by the members of the Association de recherches spéléologiques de La Rochefoucauld (ARS-LR), its discoverers. The first findings confirm the importance of the discovery and its very probable dating to the Bronze Age. A second expertise gathering protohistorians took place in June 2021 to document the impressive archaeological content discovered and confirm its dating.

This cavity, in addition to archaeological remains, contains many concretions, such as the classic draperies formed by calcite flows, but also magnificent stalagmites with a triangular section as well as eccentric stalactites still in the process of formation.

The involvement and expertise of the State services in the conservation of this archaeological heritage, in conjunction with the actors concerned, played a key role. The priority for the Ministry of Culture is to preserve this exceptional site, which is extremely fragile. This means understanding the environmental conditions that have enabled the conservation of this site, which is 3 to 4 millennia old, in order to be able to maintain them.

The Ministry of Culture, through its archaeology services, will continue its close collaboration with local stakeholders to ensure that this exceptional site delivers the secrets of the Bronze Age and that the knowledge of this period deepens.

The unique charm of Parisian covered passages

Paris’s galleries and covered passages house shops, restaurants and theatres

Built for the most part in the 19th century, these arcades covered with glass roofs, created by piercing through other buildings, are a typically Parisian architectural feature. Most of them now house shopstearooms and restaurants. There are around 20 of them in Paris in the vicinity of the Grands Boulevards.

One of the oldest, the Passage des Panoramas, dates from 1799. It is home to the Théâtre des Variétés, inaugurated in 1807 and still providing entertainment. Each arcade has its own character. Passage Brady, commonly known as Little India, houses numerous Indian, Pakistan, Mauritian and Reunion shops. The Passage Verdeau houses numerous antique dealers. As for the Passage du Caire – the longest and the narrowest in the capital (more than 360 metres long) – it has a large concentration of wholesalers in ready-to-wear clothing as well as other clothes manufacturers.

Galerie Vivienne next door to the Palais-Royal is one of the most iconic covered passages. The nearby Galerie Véro-Dodat has many upmarket shops, like Christian Louboutin’s workshop-boutique. Passage du Grand-Cerf, a 12-metre-high structure made of metal and wrought iron, is one of the most spectacular arcades in Paris. 

Finally, the Galerie Colbert, built in 1823, has the particularity of having no shops. Its colonnade and rotunda surmounted by a glass dome house the Institut National d’Histoire de l’Art and the Institut National du Patrimoine. The public are free to walk through the gallery and can stop off for lunch at the Grand Colbert brasserie, located at the entrance and famous for its art deco style.

A century of Italian immigration and culture in France (1860-1960)

“CIAO” is part of those words that, accompanying the migrations of millions of Italians around the world, have been adopted from the languages ​​of the countries reception, as in France where it is now part of current vocabulary. This greeting is useful to welcome and say goodbye at the same time.

CIAO ITALIA! is an “arrivederci” of the Italians to theirs country, never an “addio” . It is also a welcome formula from France to its neighbor.

Exchanges between France and Italy have been numerous since from Antiquity and go far beyond military conquest of “Gaul” by Rome. In the Middle Ages, men, women, goods and ideas cross the Alps, spreading a sort of “Italian model” in France and throughout Europe. In the 19th and 20th centuries, about 26 million Italians emigrate for both economic and political reasons. A part of them heads to France, which was missing at the time of manpower. Italians became like this the most numerous foreigners in France from the beginning of the 20th century until the 1960s.

Today commemorated, their integration did not happen however smoothly. Between distrust and desire, violence and passions, rejection and integration, the exhibition CIAO ITALIA ! tell this story by highlighting the contribution of Italians to society and French culture. The exhibition traces the geographical journey, socio-economic and cultural experience of Italians in France from the Risorgimento from 1860 to 1960.

The exhibition will take place in the hall of the library of Laveno Mombello in Villa Frua from the 25 March 2022 until the 12 April 2022. Free entrance

The exhibition is open:
Monday until Thursday 9:00 – 18:00
Friday and Saturday 9:00 – 13:00


The pink sandstone cathedral of Strasbourg


The pink sandstone cathedral of Strasbourg represents both an outstanding artistic achievement and an extraordinary encyclopaedia of mediaeval
architecture. Strasbourg’s development and prosperity under the Holy Roman Empire reached its zenith in 1015 when the city’s Bishop decided to build a vast Romanesque cathedral. After it was destroyed by a fire in 1176, the Cathedral was rebuilt on its original foundations, an endeavour that covered some 3 centuries. Construction started with the choir, with the Western facade completed in the 14th century and the spire in 1439. While the original architectural influences were clearly Romanesque, the Cathedral was caught up in the wave of Gothic architecture sweeping through Europe in the 13th century and the many sculptures adorning facade bear eloquent witness to this movement. Restoration work is now a permanent aspect of the Cathedral.


The Cathedral is a place of worship, a historical monument and also a symbol of Rhine culture. A symbol of Christian faith, the Cathedral became famous throughout Europe right from the end of the Middle Ages. Although Gothic architecture fell out of favour over several centuries, it became popular again in the late 18th century and the Cathedral was fulsomely praised by both Goethe and Hugo. The Cathedral was listed as a historical
monument in 1862. The city of Strasbourg has long been based on twin cultures and the Cathedral is a reflection of the turbulent history of its region. Nowadays, with Strasbourg as a European capital, the Cathedral has become one of the symbols of Europe. Strasbourg’s centre has been listed as a UNESCO world Heritage site since 1988. As a unique artistic achievement and a symbol of Gothic art, the Cathedral is central to the city’s extraordinary heritage.


The Western facade is an outstanding technical and artistic achievement and is a masterpiece of Gothic art.

The Western facade (1277-1384)
Construction of the Western facade began in 1277, under the supervision of German architect Erwin von Steinbach. The facade comprises 3 vertical
divisions, separated by buttresses and featuring an external decor covering the load-bearing walls. A magnificent rose window dominates the main door.

The tower (1399-1419)
The octagonal tower was built between 1399 and 1419 and is the work of Ulrich von Ensingen. Each of the faces is open and crowned by a curved décor. The tower is flanked by 4 sets of spiral staircases.

The spire (1419-1439)
The work of Jean Hültz of Cologne and completed in 1439, the spire sits atop the tower. It comprises a pyramid of pinnacles over 8 levels, crowned by
a lantern and a cross. Soaring up 142 m, the spire is an outstanding technical achievement which remained the world’s tallest building until the late 19th century.


The massive nave is 63 m long, 32m wide and 32m high.

The nave (1240-1275)
The nave comprises 3 long aisles and impresses with its verticality and elegance. With vaulted intersecting ribs, the nave is sustained by arched
buttresses. It is a triumph of the Gothic style and drew inspiration from other French cathedrals which had just been completed. Its elevation comprises three levels: large arcades with fasciculated columns, an open triforium and high windows each containing 4 lancets under rose windows. The nave also features magnificent stained glass windows from the 12th to 14th centuries.

The great organs
The polychrome organ case is perched in the north part of the nave. The lower part, the pendentive, was built in 1385, by Michael of Fribourg. The flamboyant upper part was designed by Friedrich Krebs in 1489. A number of significant changes have been made to the organ over the centuries by organ builders, including Andreas Silbermann in 1716. The current organ is the work of Alfred Kern (1981).

Welcome to the world of Latour Marliac in Lot-et-Garonne

Visitors to Latour-Marliac gardens can see nearly 300 varieties of water lily growing in one hectare of pools, some of which are the original, restored basins from the 19th century

Monet’s worldwide famous series of water lily paintings would never have happened without nurseryman Joseph Bory Latour-Marliac, who was the first man to produce coloured hardy water lilies at the end of the 19th century. Up to then European water lilies were all white.

He owned a nursery, Latour-Marliac at Le Temple-sur-Lot, Lot-et-Garonne, and his gardens are still open for the public to visit and still selling water lilies to a growing number of gardeners discovering the world of aquatic plants.

There is one of the biggest collections of tropical water lilies with a glasshouse for the giant Victoria water lily and a collection of night-blooming lilies, as well as lotuses. There is also a botanical garden, a bamboo collection, Japanese bridge, waterfall and gazebo.

‘France does not realise that in the same way the Dutch have the tulip, the French have the water lily’

says American owner Robert Sheldon, who bought the gardens in 2007


The nursery was founded in 1875 by Joseph Bory Latour-Marliac for the propagation, cultivation and commercialisation of hardy water lilies. Prior to setting up his nursery, Latour-Marliac had found a way to hybridize hardy water lilies through a process that remains mysterious. There was a need, for at the time the only hardy water lily in Europe was a white one. We know from Latour-Marliac’s letters that many of his hybrids were the result of a so-called intersubgeneric cross, which is to say the crossing a hardy variety with a tropical one. The resulting hybrid, named Laydekeri Floribunda, soon went extinct, but not before he was able to cross it with species and subspecies he obtained from North America and elsewhere, including N. mexicana, N. odorata rubra and N. alba rubra. Latour-Marliac was ultimately able to build a collection of water lilies with a colour palette that ranged from delicate yellow to fuscia and deep red.


We know from our archives that Monet placed several orders with Latour-Marliac. He placed his first order (transcribed and translated further down) in 1894. This was the year that the painter finished construction on the water garden at Giverny. Since there would have been no plants whatsoever in the pond at that time, we see that he mostly ordered aquatic plants. It is also interesting to see in this order that he purchased as many lotus as he did water lilies. Had he had better luck with the lotus, his paintings Les Nymphéas might have been Les Nelumbium!


Pont du Gard, country’s most visited roman site

It is unique in its construction, as well as being the highest aqueduct to be built in the Roman Empire. Situated 20km from Avignon and 23km from Nîmes, it has been a Unesco World Heritage Site since 1985 and it is the most-visited Roman site in the country.

The Roman architectural marvel

The bridge was built by the Romans in around 50AD and was the centrepiece of an astonishing aqueduct which took running water to what is now Nîmes for around three centuries. 

It fed the fountains installed in every street, the spas, gardens and private homes.

Nemausus, as Nîmes was called at the time, was one of the major Roman cities in France, with an estimated 20,000 inhabitants. It had all the characteristics of a modern town, with a forum and temple, but although water was available from wells and rainwater, it was not abundant, and the population was growing.

To give the city real status, it needed flowing fountains in its gardens and the ability to change the water frequently in its public baths.

There are no records of who came up with the idea of an aqueduct, nor of who financed it, and no one knows who the architects and engineers of this extraordinary structure were, but it is likely the experts came from Rome, where they already knew how to build aqueducts.

Built with slave labour

It is estimated the bridge took five years to build and the whole aqueduct, from source to city, took 15 years.

Around 500 workers were taken on to build the Pont du Gard, and the same number again for the rest of the aqueduct. Some were paid, but slaves were also used, not just for the manual labour but for skilled work such as shaping the stone.

First, the pillars on the bottom bridge were built, followed by the arch and then the top, and this process continued up each of the levels. Wooden scaffolding was used, built by skilled carpenters. There were also cranes, powered by slaves walking within a treadwheel, which drove the hoisting and lowering device, capable of lifting huge blocks of stone.

It is thought the aqueduct worked until 500AD. However, it is likely it took water to Nemausus for only around 300 years, after which the city’s importance dwindled and, with it, its population.

Keeping the water flowing freely required a lot of maintenance work to clear the limestone deposits which built up. This was a physical job, no doubt carried out by teams employed by the city, and which would have come to an end with the decline of Nemausus.
The water which still ran through the aqueduct for the next 200 years was probably used by farmers for irrigation.

Transformation into a historic monument 

By the Middle Ages, however, the structure was no longer in use and people pilfered stone from it for their own building projects.
Though the aqueduct was never designed as a road, people began using it to cross the river in about the 11th century. They hacked away stone from the pillars on the first level to make it wide enough to take a horse and cart.

A toll was charged for crossing the bridge, making it a valuable source of income. Otherwise, it might have been entirely dismantled over time for its stone.

Much later, in 1743, a parallel bridge was built, which could take more traffic.
It was only in the 19th century that the intrinsic value of ancient monuments began to be appreciated.

In 1840, Prosper Mérimée, the first inspector of historic monuments, listed the Pont du Gard as one of the most important structures in France, meaning its future was assured and the pillars were restored.

From the 20th century, the bridge started attracting thousands of tourists. The parallel bridge was closed to traffic and, in 2000, the site was revamped to better accommodate tourism, while preserving the bridge and the local environment.

There is now a museum showing how it was built, and it is also possible to book a guided tour along the canal at the top of the bridge.

The first small section is open to the sky but most is in a tunnel, as the waterway was covered along its whole length to protect it.

The largest medieval tapestry in the world

Did you know that the Château d’Angers hosts the largest medieval tapestry in the world?

Commissioned in 1375 by Louis 1st of Anjou, this monumental work, based on a 1st century A.D. manuscript (the visions of St John, the final text of the New Testament) illustrates the historical, social and political context of 14th century France, at the time of the Hundred Years War, of epidemics and famine.

Made of wool using the tapestry technique, it measures 103 meters long and 4.5 meters high. Grand !

Montésegur castle and the Cathar fortified site

About Montségur Castle

The Château de Montségur is a former fortress near Montségur, a commune in the Ariège department in southern France. Its ruins are the site of a razed stronghold of the Cathars. The present fortress on the site, though described as one of the ‘Cathar castles,’ is actually of a later period. It has been listed as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture since 1862.

History of Montségur

The earliest signs of human settlement in the area date back to the Stone Age. Evidence of Roman occupation such as Roman currency and tools have also been found in and around the site. Its name comes from Latin mons securus, which evolved into mont ségur in Occitan, which means “safe hill”. In the Middle Ages the Montsegur region was ruled by the Counts of Toulouse, the Viscounts of Carcassonne and finally the Counts of Foix. Little is known about the fortification until the time of the Albigensian Crusade.

In about 1204, Raymond de Péreille, one of the two lords of Montségur decided to rebuild the castle that had been in ruins for 40 years or more. Refortified, the castle became a centre of Cathar activities, and home to Guilhabert de Castres, a Cathar theologian and bishop. In 1233 the site became “the seat and head” (domicilium et caput) of the Cathar church. It has been estimated that the fortified site housed about 500 people when in 1241, Raymond VII besieged Montsegur without success.

The murder of representatives of the inquisition by about fifty men from Montsegur and faidits at Avignonet on May 28, 1242 was the trigger for the final military expedition to conquer the castle, the siege of Montségur.

In 1242 Hugues de Arcis led the military command of about 10,000 royal troops against the castle that was held by about 100 fighters and was home to 211 Perfects (who were pacifists and did not fight) and civilian refugees. The siege lasted nine months, until in March 1244, the castle finally surrendered. Those who renounced the Cathar faith were allowed to leave and the castle itself was destroyed.

In the days prior to the fall of the fortress, several Cathars allegedly slipped through the besiegers’ lines. This led to legends that they escaped with a secret treasure or esoteric knowledge. In 1906, esoteric French writer Joséphin Péladan proposed that the treasure was really the Holy Grail, arguing that Montségur was the Munsalväsche (or Montsalvat) of Wolfram von Eschenbach’s 13th-century Grail romance Parzival.

This idea was followed and expanded upon by various later writers, especially in France, and has inspired legends, conspiracy theories, and fictional works associating the Cathars and Montségur with the Holy Grail.

The present fortress ruin at Montségur is not from the Cathar era. The original Cathar fortress of Montségur was entirely pulled down by the victorious royal forces after its capture in 1244. It was gradually rebuilt and upgraded over the next three centuries by royal forces. The current ruin so dramatically occupying the site is referred to by French archeologists as “Montsegur III” and is typical of post-medieval royal French defensive architecture of the 17th century. It is not “Montsegur II,” the structure in which the Cathars lived and were besieged, of which few traces remain today.

Montségur’s solar alignment characteristics, visible on the morning of the summer solstice in particular, are part of what set this castle apart as an architectural wonder. This often mentioned solar phenomenon, occurring in an alignment of two windows in the fortress wall, has been observed by hundreds of students, astronomers, spiritual pilgrims and locals alike who come to the chateau specifically to view it every year.

Montségur today

Montségur is open to the public today – it’s a steep climb and there are somewhat limited facilities around, so be sure to bring plenty of water. There’s a small museum in the town of Montségur which has a good potted history of the castle and the legends surrounding it.

The castle is open year round, with longer hours and slightly higher prices in the summer. The views over the Pyrenees are glorious on a clear day.

Getting to Montségur

Montségur is located deep in Cathar country in south west France: it’s a twisty 90 minute drive from Carcassonne via roads full of sharp drops and hairpin bends

3D reconstruction of the Cathar settlement and the castle (in French)

Villa Arnaga: Edmond Rostand’s house in lush greenery.

The Arnaga Villa is a house-neo – Basque style villa of the early twentieth century , a park- botanical garden around, located in Cambo-les-Bains , department of Pyrenees – Atlantiques. It was built between 1903 and 1906 by the writer and playwright Edmond Rostand (author of Cyrano de Bergerac), who lived there until his death, and currently houses the “Musée Edmond Rostand” which is open to the public all year round.

Villa Arnaga was subject to a classification in the title of historical monuments in 2016.


Edmond Rostand arrived in Cambo in 1900 on the advice of Dr. Grancher to recover from a pleurisy contracted during the Aiglon trials. He was quickly conquered by the climate of the Basque Country and his good life, and decided to settle there. After purchasing land near the village, he commissioned the Parisian architect Joseph Albert Tournaire to draw up the plans for a house to be made in externally Basque style, conceived for the development of comfortable and sunny spaces indoors. The work started in 1903 continued until 1906.


The gardens were designed and assembled, along with the house. To the east, the French garden (12ha) is organised around three ponds, with the greenhouse and the Poets’ corner. A pergola inspired by the Schönbrunn Palace in Vienna, which is reflected in a water plane, was built around 1912 , it seems to close the perspective without limiting the gaze towards the mountain, towards the Ursuya and Baïgoura. To the west, the English garden (1ha) leaves nature in apparent freedom.

The nicest bank of Paris

Head to Boulevard Haussmann to discover one of the most beautiful architectural masterpieces in Paris. A place of dazzling beauty and no less surprising, since it is a bank, many of whose elements are now listed in the inventory of Historic Monuments.

Bank and palace at the same time

At the beginning of the 20th century, Société Générale decided that it needed a new headquarters. Too cramped in its premises on rue de Provence, the bank is very interested in a space located behind the Opera, in the middle of boulevard Haussmann. Despite competition from Galeries Lafayette, she managed to formalize the acquisition in 1906. All that remained was to find an architect to rework the premises. A teacher at the Beaux-Arts, Jacques Hermant was chosen to turn these buildings into a sumptuous banking establishment. The work lasted six years and in 1912, the new headquarters were finally inaugurated in the presence of Baron Hély d’Oissel, president of Société Générale.

The result exceeds all expectations. Inside and outside the building, the decorations are not lacking. On the third floor, you can stop in front of six Corinthian-style statues, installed in 1919, which illustrate the different activities of commerce and industry. You must then raise your eyes to the sky to admire the imposing vaults decorated with sculpted mascarons.

A remnant of the Belle Époque

The Large circular counter

Open on four levels, the large central hall offers a luxurious setting and a fairly innovative layout for the time. In its center, one of the main attractions is the large circular counter, nicknamed the “cheese”. An imposing element coupled with a system developed for the time since the offices were equipped with a compressed air tube, by which the tellers sent the money freshly deposited by the customers.

The other centerpiece of the hall is the splendid cupola which overlooks it. Raised to 23 meters high, it is suspended by a metal structure. The glass and the metal are united in a harmonious way and one can thus enjoy a closed space provided with a beautiful natural light. The interior decoration undeniably contributes to the charm of the place. We stop in front of the various coats of arms recalling the presence of Société Générale in Paris, Lyon, Marseille and Bordeaux. Bronze medallions crown their base and symbolize the activity of the bank throughout France. Impossible not to also stop in front of the mosaic pavement, which we owe to the ceramists Alphonse Gentil and François-Eugène Bourdet.

The real treasure of the vaults

Le coffre-fort

Next, let’s move on to any bank’s favorite place, the Vault Room…or rather Vault Rooms. These are in fact arranged on four levels, the lowest of which is 11 meters underground. To access it, you have to go through an impressive circular door made of steel, gold and silver. Designed by the Fichet house, the door has had quite a journey to get there… Built in the forges of Le Creusot and transported by rail to the Villette station, the door had to be dragged as far as Boulevard Haussmann on a team of nine horses. No wonder when you know that it weighs 18 tons on its own and that its shielding is 40 centimeters thick… Passing this imposing door, you can access the rooms and their 399 cabinets and 22 vaults. As for the elevator and the staircase of the strong room, they are the work of Roux Combaluzier, a pioneer in the work of steel. We owe him in particular two lifts of the Eiffel Tower.

A whole lot of work to keep the craziest sums safe… It is said, for example, that the wealthiest in the country can pay up to 20,000 euros a year to afford a vault in the basements of the Agency. In the past, Parisiennes went there day and night to collect their jewelry before going to the Opéra Garnier.

Whether you are a customer or not, it is always possible to access the reception of the Central Agency, but to find out more, only the Heritage Days allow you to visit the places and learn a little more.

Video in French

Dijon, Burgundy capital and gem for art, history and food!

Dijon is considered to be one of the most beautiful historical towns in France, with its remarkable architectural heritage shaped by history. It is definitely a great cultural destination for its status a city of art and history and for being on the UNESCO World Heritage list with the Climates of Burgundy’s vineyard.

It is known for its beautiful well-preserved historical centre with picturesque streets and typical features from the colourful period of the Grand Duchy of Burgundy, and has been nicknamed the “town of a hundred bell towers.“ because of its so many belfries.

Dijon has evolved into a pedestrian friendly city, with friendly tramway lines and bicycle system, and a largely pedestrian centre.

It is also a huge reference for gastronomy, it is the home of mustard, pain d’epice (gingerbread), cassis (blackcurrant liquor),

Here are a few special gems of the city of Dijon.

The Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy and Tower of Philip the Good

In the heart of the historical town centre, “Le Palais des Ducs” (Palace of the Dukes and Estates of Burgundy) remains the most iconic of Dijon’s monuments, now hosting the City council at its central part. It also hosts the Fine Arts Museum, which has been fully restored with its museography also completely redesigned. Its 50 rooms display a collection of 1500 works of art. This museum boasts one of the richest collections to be found in France.

The Palace is strikingly dominated by the Tower of Philip the Good, a 15th-century look-out post. Climb the 316 steps to the top of it and it offers a panoramic view from a height of 46 metres above the city.

DIJON PALAIS DES DUCS ET DES ETATS DE BOURGOGNE from Ville de Dijon on Vimeo (in French)

The lucky Owl

This is the lucky charm of the people of Dijon, but not just!. It is a stone statuette of a small owl perched on the buttress of Notre-Dame church. Legend has it that, if you stroke it with your left hand, the owl will make your wishes come true!

The Gastronomy of Dijon

As a food and wine capital, Dijon is famous for its culinary specialities which include mustard, snails, crème de cassis, epoisse cheese, chocolate, and gingerbread… and with five Michelin-starred restaurants, a lively indoor market in the city centre and an international food fair, Dijon really is a gourmet city.

In 2021, the ” Cité internationale de la gastronomie et du vin” (international Gastronomy and Wine Centre) opened its doors to reveal an authentic new district in the centre of Dijon (see our special feature on this). It offers an exhibition area of 1700 m² devoted to French gastronomy and wines from the world over.

Dijon also features vibrant local gastronomical recurring venues that contribute to its reputation for the love of the culinary arts. You can enjoy Brunch at the Dijon market halls, unusual tasting venues like the “Wine Thursdays” or the “tower aperitifs” at the foot fo the Philipp the Good Tower.

Dijon will also join Tours, Lyon and Paris-Rungis to promote “Le repas gastronomique des Français®” (the French gourmet meal) and, more importantly, the Climates of the Burgundy vineyard.

A bit of shopping too

The historical centre is a classified “international tourism zone” where the core of 1200 boutiques stays open seven days a week, which is uncommon in France where stores are often closed on Sundays!.

The Château of Vaux-le-Vicomte will astonish you

Nicolas Fouquet’s history

In 1641, the 26-year old parliamentarian, Nicolas Fouquet, purchased the manor of Vaux-le-Vicomte and its small castle.  Twenty years later, in 1661, Fouquet had transformed the estate into a masterpiece whose château and gardens still feature among the most beautiful in France.

For the first time in history, this visionary man brought together Louis Le Vau, Charles Le Brun, and André Le Notre, to execute jointly the entire project.  The result of this fraternal union was a work of unparalleled harmony and beauty . Victim of a plot by jealous courtiers, Fouquet was arrested on the King Louis XIV’s orders and sentenced to life imprisonment in 1661.  Vaux-le-Vicomte was closed down, and its treasures seized – tapestries, furniture, paintings, books and rugs… even the orange trees were removed by the King.  It took Madame Fouquet ten years to recover the estate, to which she later retired with her eldest son.  Following his death, she sold the Vaux-le-Vicomte in 1705. 

Following Nicolas Fouquet: three successive families

Marshal de Villars, a famous military commander, acquired the property sight unseen and enjoyed it for a few years before it was sold by his son in 1764 to the Duc de Praslin.  His descendants kept the estate for over a century before putting it up for auction in 1875.  Over the past 50 years, the abandoned château had lain empty and neglected, its once magnificent garden but a distant memory.
But Alfred Sommier, who had built his fortune in sugar refining, enthusiastically took over the enormous task of returning the estate to its original splendour.  His children continued the project and today, his direct descendants, Patrice and Cristina de Vogüé, supported by their three sons, Jean-Charles, Alexandre and Ascanio, carry on a stewardship that began 140 years ago.

Molière (1622-1673), the court satirist

The French playwright Jean-Baptiste Poquelin, known as Molière, settled in Paris in 1659 after leading a troupe of itinerant actors throughout France.  A protégé of the royal family, he regularly held public performances which have become classics: Les Précieuses Ridicules (1659) and L’Ecole des Femmes (1662).  In 1661, he performed L’Ecole des Maris at Vaux-le-Vicomte and wrote a comedy-ballet, Le Fâcheux, specially for the King’s soirée on August 17, 1661.

The cathedral building in Parisian streets

The rue Réaumur is among the Parisian streets the one that offers the most surprising, even grandiloquent facades which do not leave indifferent because of their diversity and their originality. In 1897, on the occasion of the construction of this street, a competition was organized. He is the source of the exceptional result which continues to impress us to this day.

Among the most beautiful buildings on the street, if not the most beautiful, the monumental building at 61-63 rue Réaumur which catches the eye, at the crossroads of rue Saint-Denis, is the work of 2 architects G. Singery, Philippe Jouannin and Jacquier sculptors very popular in Caen. They initiated the construction in 1898, choosing the subject of time.
Art Nouveau, neo-Gothic art intermingle giving birth to sculptures through floral motifs, magnificent mosaics and an entrance worthy of a church portal surmounted by a rose window housing a clock on which appear the signs of the zodiac .

Nothing is missing to create the illusion of a religious building representing time (in fact the 12 months of the year are represented, the 4 seasons in the form of faces and again the signs of the zodiac, this time evoked by animals ). Given the diversity of the decoration, there is no lack of technical terms to characterise the facade, “twin windows, double lancets, gables, columns, consoles, ribs, stained glass …”.

How Lyon became the Epicentre of Europe’s Silk Industry

Lyon has a long, lauded history of producing some of the most stunning silks in the world. Today, the tradition reigns, with major fashion houses looking to Lyon as the industry’s silk expert. This is the fascinating history on how the city gained that reputation.

Lyon’s silk history began on the banks of the Saône River. Weaving was done in the Croix-Rousse era for decades, a staple of the local economy with looms manned by dozens of local women. It was a humble trade, fuelling local pockets and keeping the community afloat.

Croix-Rousse was the heart of Lyon’s silk industry

But in the Renaissance, grand expositions held in the city gathered the attention of rich merchants from near and far. They were taken by the high-quality hand-crafted silks, prompting King Louis XI in 1466 to start fuelling money into the city to turn the small circle of silkweavers into a grand silk manufacturing hub.

The shiny, new manufacturing centre particularly charmed elegant Italian merchants. The most famed among them, Italian merchant Turchetti. He stuck around the city and opened up a silk workshop in the Croix-Rousse. He brought in disadvantaged girls and women from Lyon, and taught them the traditional process of Italian silk winding and spinning. As more women picked up the trade, the industry grew in knowledge and size, and soon, became the French capital of a booming fabric industry.

Lyon’s shimmering silks had quickly become the apple of French aristocrats’ eyes, who started purchasing up yards on yards and spinning them into high fashion garments. Silk was expensive to buy and often referred to as a status symbol.

In an effort to centralise the country’s prized industries, King Francois I gave Lyon a monopoly on raw silk imports in 1540, ensuring that all fine silks coming into France from Italy or Asia first stopped in Lyon. Lyon was also a natural conduit for trade – the city’s location at the confluence of two rivers, and proximity to northern and southern France made Lyon the perfect place to start the silk road.

Tumultuous times

But the silk industry stumbled in the 1600s, when the revocation of the Edict of Nantes drove the French Huguenots, many of whom were textile experts, out of the country – and with them, their expertise and experience in the trade. Most settled in Germany, Great Britain, Italy and Switzerland.

For ages, the silk industry chugged along, slowed, but from 1789 to 1797 the silk industry went quiet. Thousands of workers were guillotined or shot during the French Revolution, as skilled labour disappeared or hid. Their prized drawings, fabrics and designs were destroyed, and the silk industry slowed to a halt. The industry was reduced by 90% in under a decade.

But it swung back, and by the 18th century, silk production was once again the pillar of Lyon’s economy. Mechanised Jacquard looms had just been introduced, boosting the city’s outputs. Over 28,000 workers had looms, working away to weave luxurious silks that would be sent the world over.

Napoleon Bonaparte and Joséphine came to the city soon after, which shined a new light on the city’s silks. The French bourgeoisie clambered after the city’s silks, in turn, pushing innovation. New inventions in fabric dying were introduced, making the city’s wares more in demand than ever.

By this point, the silk industry accounted for 75% of Lyon’s total industrial activity – with over 100,000 looms in operation.

Workers’ revolt

But this period of renaissance was short-lived. In 1831, the silk industry hit a fever pitch, with the disparity between worker and merchant growing increasingly tumultuous (at this point, almost a quarter of the city worked in silks). The canuts – or silk workers, all under the employment of wealthy silk merchants – revolted, angry at the wages and price of their work and their exhaustive working conditions. (For reference, there were 308 merchants who directed over 25,000 silk workers and weavers.)

They took over the Croix-Rousse district, the heart of the silk industry, pushing merchants and military out and holding off the soldiers for weeks until 2 December, when the army reclaimed the city, and peace was negotiated.

Three years later, a second revolt overtook the city. The canuts held the city for nearly a week, until 12,000 soldiers swarmed, killing hundreds. The industry stumbled, but slowly rebuilt itself.

Lyon silks today

Today, the city is still a hub for silk production. Though canuts have been replaced with automatic looms, their history is still present (even in the form of local dishes: cervelle de canut is a popular local food, comprised of a herby cheese dip).

But silk as a trade still thrives: many silk makers have turned to specialised skills, like the restoration of historic fabrics or work with some of France’s biggest haute-couture creators. Lyon is still the go-to destination for designers looking for top-quality silks. Chanel and Hermès both hold court here, looking to Lyon’s rich history to weave their famed silks.

Visit the Maison des Canuts, the silk museum, to see working Jacquard handlooms and explore the city’s history. To buy real silks (sans the price tag of Chanel or Hermès) head to “L’Atelier de Soierie”, a silk shop in the historic silk capital of Croix-Rousse. Every scarf is made by the owner using traditional methods. She’ll be happy to show you the process in the rear of the store.

Clip Défilé Trans-Silking-Express- Silk me Back – 2020 from Silk me Back on Vimeo.

Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, the Jewel of the French Riviera

The Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild is one of the most beautiful residences of Renaissance style on the French Riviera. The monument, also called villa Île-de-France, is perched at the top of the Cap Ferrat peninsula. Transformed into a museum, it allows visitors to discover the refinement and pronounced taste for the Italian Renaissance style of Baroness Béatrice de Rothschild.


Béatrice de Rothschild, born in 1864, married a French banker named Maurice Ephrussi in 1883. Both were passionate about architecture, nature and art. The young woman collected works of art and sumptuous residences. In 1904 the couple separated and the following year, Beatrice discovered Cap Ferrat. She was immediately seduced by the natural beauty of the place and decided to settle there. At the time, the French Riviera was already a popular vacation resort, especially for high society. She acquired a 7-hectare rocky and barren piece of land on which she built a villa whose architecture was reminiscent of the great houses of the Italian Renaissance. Baroness Béatrice de Rothschild imposed pink, her favorite color, throughout the villa.

La Villa et Jardins Ephrussi de Rothschild from Culturespaces • Art & Patrimoine on Vimeo.

It took 5 years of work to build the villa Île-de-France, named after an extraordinary journey on board the steamer of the same name. The shape given to the main garden, with its view of the ocean, reminds us of the deck of a ship. To perfect the illusion, the baroness required her gardeners to wear a navy beret so that she could imagine herself surrounded by a crew on a ship travelling the world. The exterior facades, painted pink, are typical of Renaissance architecture in Italy. Only the entrance porch is of flamboyant gothic inspiration. Inside the house, the furniture is refined, and the decoration is meticulous. Numerous collectors’ items and exceptional pieces have been used to furnish the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild.

On her death in 1934, Baroness Béatrice Ephrussi bequeathed the management of the villa to a foundation bearing her name so that the building could be turned into a museum. This was done on April 2 ,1938, however, it was not until 1960 and a change of curator for the site to become known to the public. In 1990, the scenography of the place was rethought, the Villa Ephrussi became one of the most visited monuments between Nice and Menton with 130,000 visitors per year.


The Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild has no less than 9 dream gardens. Beatrice was a nature lover and she knew how to honor nature with its exteriors. French, Spanish, Florentine, lapidary, Japanese, exotic and Provençal gardens are to be discovered! A simple stroll through the baroness’s gardens is an invitation to travel that transports the visitor to different green worlds.


It was in the patio of the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild that the baroness welcomed her guests and held receptions. This inner courtyard is lined with columns in pink Verona marble which support Italian Renaissance style arcades. The musicians stood on balconies on the second first floor, visible from the patio.

The grand salon is undoubtedly the most sumptuous room in the villa. Offering a view of the Baie des Fourmis at Beaulieu-sur-Mer, it bears witness to the baroness’s pronounced taste for the Italian Renaissance. The Louis XVI style furniture is spread throughout the room to form different areas for resting, playing, and sharing. On the ceiling is a painting by the Venetian painter Giandomenico Tiepolo, illustrating The Chariot of Love pulled by doves. The two carpets in the grand salon come from the chapel of the Palace of Versailles and the Great Gallery of the Louvre Palace.

The small salon welcomed the guests after the meal so that they could chat. It is adorned with tapestries representing the adventures of Don Quixote. In this room, collector’s items are displayed side by side: paintings by François Boucher, paintings by Jean-Frédéric Schall, Pellegrini’s marouflaged canvas, a fireplace screen that once belonged to Marie-Antoinette, and a pedestal table with a pewter tray signed Compigné.


In the first half of the bedroom, the Venetian bed is decorated with Chinese silk embroidered with flowers and birds. The Rothschild family had been trading silk with the land of the rising sun since 1838. The second part of the piece is in the shape of a rotunda. On the ceiling, an illustration from the 18th century Venetian school depicting the Triumph of a patrician family is painted.

Beatrice received her close friends in her boudoir and would write on a writing desk that is said to have belonged to Marie-Antoinette. In the wardrobe section, Asian-inspired clothing and dresses dating from the 18th century are still present. Baroness Béatrice de Rothschild followed the Chinese tradition of women having tiny feet. To meet this requirement, Beatrice folded all her toes, except for the big one, under her plantar arch. The small slippers she wore are displayed in a showcase.

In the bathroom, also in the shape of a rotunda, woodwork painted by Pierre Leriche subtly conceals small toilets with a washbasin, a dressing table, and a bidet. The bathtub, which was supposed to stand in the center of the room, has disappeared. The dome overlooking the bathroom is decorated with a chestnut trellis.


The lounges on the second floor are equally richly decorated and surprising. The furniture is a tribute to the know-how of 18th century French cabinetmakers. The tapestries come from the Gobelins Manufactory or were made from François Boucher’s cartoons. A small living lounge exhibits German porcelain from the very first hard-paste porcelain workshop in the West. In another, Beatrice paid homage to her pets by decorating the room with monkey motifs.


An incredible collection of porcelain is showcased in the dining room of the Villa Ephrussi de Rothschild, as well as in the next room. Having inherited her father’s taste for beautiful tableware, Beatrice assembled one of the richest collections of French porcelain in the world. Most of the pieces presented come from the Manufacture royale (Royal Manufactory) of Sèvres near Paris.

St Nicholas and St. Martyr Alexandra Church in Nice, the biggest orthodox church outside Russia

CONSIDERED ONE THE MOST IMPORTANT orthodox buildings outside the Russian Federation, this cathedral is the result of the efforts of the Royal Family to satisfy the spiritual needs of the growing Russian population in Nice.

It all started in the mid 1800s when the Russian upper class, as well as the Tsars, started visiting the French Riviera during winter, as their English counterparts had been doing for some decades before. Unfortunately during a visit in 1865, the son of Alexander II, Tsesarevich Nicholas Alexandrovich died of meningitis. Some time later, after buying the land, the Tsar and the Empress ordered a chapel built in the exact spot where Nicholas died.

By then the Russian community in Nice was already growing and the need of a new place to congregate arose. The first attempt to build an Orthodox church in Nice started in 1856 by initiative of Empress Alexandra who was Nicholas’ grandmother, ultimately a church was built on Longchamp Street. By the turn of the century the church was deemed too small and deteriorated so the building of a cathedral started just a few steps from the churrch honoring the deceased Tsesarevich. The cathedral was finished in 1912 according to the designs by M.T. Preobrajensky by an assortment of engineers, under the direction of a certain Golitsyn, appointed by Tsar Nicholas II to oversee the development of the project.

The structure was made in the Old Russian style, however certain modern elements give this Cathedral its own identity; for instance, the disposition of the Greek cross plan with five domes representing Jesus and the four evangelists. The church also contains a rich iconostasis made in Russia by the Khlebnikoff workshops.

From 1923 to 2010 the cathedral, the gardens and the chapel were under management of the Russian Orthodox Cultural Association of Nice but in 2006 the Russian Federation claimed the right to property based on the fact that the Cathedral was on private grounds owned by the Imperial Government at the time of the communist revolution.

The French courts sided with the Russian government and the church management was transferred to them (not before several appeals and refusals from the association) in 2011. Three years later, the church was closed to tourists to undergo renovations funded by the Kremlin. It finally opened its doors once again on December 19, 2015, on the feast of St. Nicholas according to the Julian Calendar.

Architectural style

The cathedral is impressive in size, proportions and sophistication. It is designed in a completely “old Russian” style: rich and exuberant landscapes, contrasting with the formal severity of the plan. But it also proves its modernity. It is built in the shape of a Greek cross with a large central part and five domes, symbolizing Christ and the four evangelists, from where two twin towers with a bell tower in the center rise, creating a balance of architectural forms. The altar does not stand out.

It is surprising that the cathedral is built from various materials with several types of textures and colors: stone, brick, ceramics, etc. The colors should be in harmony with the Nice climate and, therefore, mainly with the azure blue of the Mediterranean sky (pale brick cladding, blue-green majolica, white stones). Originality also lies in the architectural ensemble of the twin towers and the bell tower. Their decorative richness emphasizes the basic forms and enhances them. There is a feeling of strength and stability (columns, arches), but at the same time, the building is directed into the sky (double-headed eagles crowning cone-shaped twin towers, etc.). The bell tower is the central pivot that connects the different volumes.

The main building of the temple is built on a square base, over which two rows of “kokoshniks” hang with drums lying on them. The windows inserted into a narrow rectangular frame “bathe in the light” the interior of the domes. The central space is also decorated with three small windows on each side, richly decorated with majolica. The drums themselves are crowned with domes covered with lacquered tiles (3 shades of green are used), over which high gilded crosses are hoisted.

The origins of Lyon, from prehistory to early Christian times

Lyon before Lugdunum

Traces of the most ancient period of Lyon are concentrated along the Saône river on the Plain of Vaise (Lyon, 9th arrondissement).

The site was inhabited from the end of prehistory, around 12,000 B.C. Numerous discoveries attest to the presence of a sedentary community in the Neolithic era, starting in the fifth millennium. During the Bronze Age, a village was established around 1,200 B.C.

After a gap of several centuries, a small town had developed by the Early Iron Age at the end of the sixth century B.C. The presence of wine amphorae from Italy and Marseille, as well as Greek ceramics, are evidence of contacts with the Mediterranean world through the Rhône-Saône axis. Trade intensified during the Late Iron Age (450-50 B.C.).

The roman foundation

The history of Lugdunum starts in 43 B.C., nine years after Caesar had conquered Gaul and one year before his assassination in Rome, when Lucius Munatius Plancus, the governor of Gaul, was sent by the Senate to found a Roman colony.

The first inhabitants were Roman citizens, veterans of the army. Its status as a colony placed Lugdunum at the summit of the municipal hierarchy and would favor its future development. First established on the Fourvière plateau, the city would gradually spread to the river neighborhoods, the peninsula and the right bank of the Saône river.

The choice of this emplacement was strategic. The site of Lyon at the confluence of the Rhône and Saône placed it on an important axis of circulation through the Rhône Valley, which linked the Mediterranean to the future interior provinces. But major work was necessary to establish the city.

Lugdunum, capital of the province of Lyon

During the last decades of the first century B.C., a certain number of decisions made by Augustus, the first emperor (27 B.C. – 14 A.D.) gave rise to the rapid growth of Lugdunum. Augustus divided Celtic Gaul into three provinces: Lyon, Belgium and Aquitaine.

Lugdunum became the capital of the province of Lyon. The city was the site of administrative services shared by several provinces. It also became the headquarters of a major coin workshop that minted money for the whole empire. Agrippa, the son-in-law of Augustus, who was appointed by the Emperor to establish a roadway system, placed Lugdunum at the center of the Gallic network.

The city’s reputation was enhanced with the creation in 12 B.C. of the Sanctuary of the Three Gauls, dedicated to the imperial cult. Located on Croix-Rousse Hill, it was the setting for the annual meeting of the 60 Gallic tribes that made up the Council of the Gauls.

War and peace in Lugdunum

The takeover of power in 41 by Emperor Claudius, who was born in Lyon in 10 B.C., corresponds to a phase of development of the colony, which took the name Colonia Copia Claudia Augusta Lugdunum. Lugdunum covered nearly 350 hectares and became one of the largest cities in Gaul.

Several emperors stayed in Lyon, most notably Hadrian in 119. Under the reign of Marcus Aurelius in 177, the Christian community was persecuted. Forty-eight martyrs died, including St. Pothin, one of the first bishops, and St. Blandine.

A few years later, in 197, the war of succession that opposed Septimius Severus, who had been proclaimed emperor by the Senate, to Clodius Albinus, governor of Britannia, ended at Lyon with a battle won by Septimius Severus. The city, which had defended his adversary, was subject to severe reprisals.

Map of Lyon in the second century B.C.
Map of Lyon in the second century B.C.Map of Lyon in the second century B.C. © Lugdunum

Late Antiquity : the new site of power

From the middle of the third century, part of the city began to decline. Fourvière Hill began to lose inhabitants.

At the end of the third century, during the reign of Diocletian (284-305) and following a reorganization of the provinces, Lyon lost its rank as a capital to Trier and the Council of the Gauls disappeared. The city now centered around the bishop’s residence on the banks of the Saône, near the baptistery and Saint-Jean Cathedral.

In the upper part of the city, which was being abandoned, construction of funerary basilicas began in the late fourth century in connection with the cult of martyrs. Large cemeteries developed around them.

Museo Parc Alesia

The MuséoParc Alésia (Parc Museum Alesia) is an history museum and archaeological site located in the Côte-d’Or, Burgundy, France. Opened in 2012, the center is situated in the place where, in 55 BC, Julius Caesar defeated the Gallic tribes led by Vercingetorix in the famous Battle of Alesia, therefore opening the conquest of Gaul by the Roman legions.

MuséoParc Alésia lets you explore three sites : the Interprétation Centre, the Gallo-Roman ruins and the statue of Vercingétorix

The Interpretation Centre

Built on the plain of Alésia, this building with symbolic architecture was designed by famous architect Bernard Tschumi. Its circular form evokes the siege of Alésia, the netting that clads the building provides a nod to the wooden fortifications used by the Romans, whilst the oblique columns of its atrium recall the chaos of the battle itself.

Inside, an educational trail built around archaeological discoveries and hypotheses that have been confirmed by scientists places Alésia firmly within the context of the War of the Gauls (from 58 to 51 B.C).

The Gallo-Roman ruins

The Gallo-Roman ruins, situated just 3km from the Interpretation Centre, allow visitors to imagine what daily life was like for the people that settled here following the battle between Vercingétorix and Caesar. Strolling through the ancient streets thanks to a trail with commentary (in French, English, German and Dutch), you can explore the monumental centre made up of a sanctuary, a theatre and a forum enclosed by a basilica, a building known as the Ucuetis monument, an area of residential dwellings…

The statue of Vercingétorix

A hundred metres of so from the Gallo-Roman ruins, accessible on foot or by car, you can admire the monumental statue of Vercingétorix dating from 1865. 6.60 metres tall, this work in copper was commissioned by Napoleon III to mark the successful conclusion of the archaeological excavations undertaken at Alésia.

Contemporary analysis of this statue has revealed numerous anachronistic elements and a representation of the Gauls that has now been debunked by recent archaeological discoveries and a rereading of texts from Antiquity

The history of the site

The exact location of the Battle of Alésia was debated for many years. In the XIX century, under the orders of Napoleon III, colossal excavations were carried out at Alise-Sainte-Reine from 1861 until late 1865. These brought to light a huge quantity of weapons, coins belonging to the Gauls and Romans and military items. What is more, the methodology employed (cross referring the discoveries with texts written by Caesar, which was truly experimental archaeology at the time) allowed for a life-sized reconstitution of sections of the battle lines and of Roman war machines.

Despite the significance of these findings, the debate raged on and the scientific community remained divided.

In the 1990s, a Franco-German team of archaeologists unearthed new evidence. They were able to confirm that the « oppidum of Mont-Auxois in Alise-Sainte-Reine and the military siege of the first century B.C that was uncovered by archaeological digs corresponded with the Battle of Alésia ».

Today, the French and international scientific community considers Alise-Sainte-Reine as the historic site of the battle.

Quite naturally, it is on this site that the MuséoParc Alésia now stands.

Revisiting the events of 52 B.C

For 6 years, Caesar had been a redoubtable war general whose power was growing and was now ready to lead the War of the Gauls. In order to check his progress, the chieftains of Gaul formed an alliance in 52 B.C under the leadership of Vercingétorix, a young king of the Arverne people. In Gergovie they defeated Caesar, who decided to withdraw to the Roman province to the south of Gaul. On the journey there, his army was attacked in northern Burgundy by the armies of Vercingétorix who relied on the customary superiority of its cavalry. The Romans however, thanks to the assistance of the German cavalry, routed them.

Vercingétorix therefore decided to station his troops (80,000 men, according to Caesar) at the oppidum of Alésia. Facing them was between ten and twelve Roman legions (around 40 to 45,000 men) and several thousand auxiliaries and German cavalrymen.

Caesar took the opportunity to encircle the chieftains of Gaul and lay siege to the oppidum. He ordered the construction of a double line of fortifications and a whole ensemble of very elaborate traps in front of each line.

Of course the Gauls did not just simply watch the Romans; they set out to attack them. The first sortie made by Vercingétorix’s cavalry resulted in defeat and he decided to send them out to bring reinforcements from all across Gaul.

But as the days passed the Roman fortifications were visibly growing stronger and reinforcement did not arrive. The besieged Gauls were ravaged by hunger. What could they do? Surrender? Attempt another sortie? «Following discussions, it was decided that those who were too sick or elderly to be of use would leave the town» De Bello Gallico, VII, 77-78. These exiles, wandering in between the two fortified lines, died of starvation or were massacred.

Help finally arrived: 240,000 infantry and 8,000 cavalry, according to Caesar. Twice more the Gauls attempted to escape and were pushed back on both occasions. When they tried for a third time, for many hours the outcome of the battle was uncertain. However, once again fortune smiled on Caesar. Under pressure from the Romans, who were supported by the Germans, the Gauls from the relief army fled.

Vercingétorix retreated back inside the oppidum and elected to surrender in order to save his men.

Although referred to as a “battle”, the siege of Alésia probably lasted between a month and a half and two months. The experience, discipline, resilience and organisation of the Roman troops, allied with an exceptional knowledge of the art of siege warfare, guaranteed that Caesar enjoyed a definitive advantage.


A hospital foundation from the Middle Ages, the Hospices de Beaune is one of France’s most prestigious historic monuments.

A hospital foundation from the Middle Ages, the Hospices de Beaune is one of France’s most prestigious historic monuments. Its flamboyant Gothic architecture, its polychrome roofs and a renowned vineyard make this museum one of Burgundy’s gems. The Hospices de Beaune is also famous for its 60 hectares wine estate, producing prestigious wines, sold at auction on the third Sunday in November.

A Palace for the Poor

When in 1443, Chancellor Nicolas Rolin founded the Hôtel Dieu (Hospices de Beaune), Beaune was coming out of the 100 years war, a period of unrest and plague that decimated the countryside. It was for the poor and the most disadvantaged that this masterpiece inspired by the most outstanding hôtels-Dieu of Flanders and Paris was built. Behind the austere slate roofs of the facade are the stunning courtyard, beautiful varnished tile roofs and overhead skylights. All around the courtyard, the harmonious organisation of buildings rule the life of this charitable institution: under the hull-shaped arches of the poor room, the sick were welcomed in, and in the kitchen with its huge Gothic chimneys, meals were prepared, while the apothecary with its mortar and earthenware pots, was the preserve of the sister pharmacist.

Hospices de Beaune: a foundation for all eternity

Nicolas Rolin used his vast knowledge of hospital institutions to make his hôtel Dieu (Hospices de Beaune) an establishment capable of surviving the centuries. As a good trader, he placed it under the spiritual authority of the Holy See, free from any charge and under good management, endowing it with vineyards, farms and woods. But the search for architectural perfection, the beauty of objects and the polyptych of the Last Judgement ordered from Rogier Van der Weyden, one of the great masters of Flemish painting, it’s the Christian and philanthropist to whom we’re indebted. Nicolas Rolin made his hôtel dieu a work and an act of faith for all eternity.

Hospices de Beaune: the wine-makers’ hospital

In 1457, Guillemette Levernier made the first gift of vineyards to the Hospices de Beaune, and this tradition was to continue for five centuries. Today, the wine estate is around 60 hectares, of which 50 are devoted to Pinot Noir and the rest to Chardonnay. Entrusted to 22 winemakers handpicked by its manager, this exceptional vineyard accounts for 85% of premiers crus and grands crus sold at auction on the third Sunday in November. The sale, today organised by Christie’s auction house, is the most famous wine charity auction in the world. The proceeds of the sale are used to improve the hospital’s equipment and in the conservation of the Hôtel Dieu.

VÉZELAY, the Eternal Hill

This little village became a star in Burgundy, just by the number of illustrious people who made it famous! But it’s best known for its basilica which overlooks the surrounding countryside.  This impressive religious building, saved from ruin by Viollet-le-Duc, a jewell of romanesque architecture, has been part of the UNESCO world heritage list for the past fourty years.  Thousands of people flock to discover or rediscover this monument on the road to Compostela.

Famously used as a backdrop in the cult french film “La Grande Vadrouille”, the village, surrounded by vineyards, will impress you by its diversity; art, literature, gastronomy, religion, plus its surrounding countryside…  Vezelay’s soul is as authentic as it is inspiring.

The town of Vézelay is a departure point for the major medieval pilgrimage to the tomb of St. James in Santiago de Compostela, Spain, as well as a pilgrimage destination in its own right, as the possessor of the relics of Mary Magdalene.

Saint Mary-Magdalene Basilica –  A masterpiece of Romanesque Architecture

You will be dazzled by the overwhelming beauty of the roman basilica, where light is in perpetual motion and breathes life into the stone itself.

You just have to let the contradictions wash over you: the beauty of the building and the modesty of its layout;  the complexity of the sculptures and the simplicity of the architecture.  The height of the archways and the strength of the pillars.

Be entranced by the chants of the benedictine monks and nuns which resound three times a day from the abbey-church.
Meditate in the crypt where, for hundreds of years, pilgrims in their thousands have travelled to worship the relics of Saint Mary-Magdalene

Summer and winter solstice in the Basilica –  the magic of light

The basilica is impressive by its overwhelming proportions.  When you enter,  the light gives the building an incredible dimension

When the sun reaches its highest point on the summer solstice,  on 21st June at solar noon, the light coming through the southern clerestory windows casts a series of nine circles of light perfectly aligned along the center of the nave floor, connecting the narthex to the quire

On winter solstice, the 21st december at solar noon, the sun hits the capitals of the higher part of the nave facing southward with perfect symmetry.


Vézelay and  surrounding villages make up a remarkable territory, thanks to the beauty of its landscapes and architecture.  Vézelay and its surrounding area committed to obtaining the GRAND SITE DE FRANCE label back in 2010, with the support of different government departments and locally elected officials, but the procedure is long winded.   Ministerial approval was granted end 2011 and the county council has taken charge since 2017 with the help of central government.
Grand Site de France status has been granted by the Environment Ministry to a dozen tourist sites which respect sustainable development such as Mont Saint-Michel, le Pont du Gard, Bibracte…
It not only means restoring heritage sites and landscapes which make up the reputation of Vézelay and its surrounding area, but also laying down the cornerstone to preserve them and ensure that they continue to thrive.

The Loire Valley chateaux in Touraine

To say that the castles in Touraine are part of the landscape would be an understatement! Whether they are illustrious french chateaux or less well-known manor houses, their silhouettes are always omnipresent. Why are so many of them concentrated in this part of France, around the city of Tours?

Those heritage sites are the legacy of the French kings who adored the Loire Valley.

Alongside the medieval fortresses (Chinon, Loches) then the royal estates (the royal chateau of Amboise, right above the Loire river), a large number of castles were built by leading figures of the realm and court nobility (Azay-le-Rideau, Chenonceau, Villandry). A beautiful travel through history.

Initially built for defensive purposes in the troubled times of the Middle Ages (Langeais, Le Rivau, Ussé), the Loire Valley chateaux gradually opened outwards during the French Renaissance (15th century), abandoning their austere ramparts and drawbridges to make way for a style particularly inspired by Italian culture. It was at this time that the tradition of gardens, considered as ‘outdoor salons’, came into being in the Loire Valley.

Map of the Loire Valley Chateaux

The myriad personalities of the Loire Valley Chateaux

Today, each one tells its own unique story, which is part of the French history: the sumptuous feasts of the royal court at the royal chateau of Amboise, the legendary meeting between Joan of Arc and the French Dauphin in the town of Chinon, the multi-talented genius Leonardo da Vinci at the chateau of Clos Lucé, the epic marriage of a Windsor at the Domaine de Candé, the work of the great gardener Dom Pacello at the Royal estate of Château Gaillard, Rodin and Camille Claudel’s love affair at the chateau de l’Islette… You’ll be spoilt for choice!

The Renaissance monuments

Château Gaillard. Louis XII entrusted it to Dom Pacello, one of the first landscape designers of the Italian Renaissance.

Royal Castle of Amboise. Associated kings: Charles VIII and Francis I. Shelters the tomb of Leonardo da Vinci in the Saint-Hubert chapel.

Château du Clos Lucé. Visit to the last residence of Leonardo da Vinci. To see: a large collection of models of his inventions.

Clos Lucé Castle

Château de Chenonceau: Visit the property of Diane de Poitiers and then Catherine de Médici, its arches elegantly spanning the Cher river.

Castle of Chenonceau

Castle of Azay-le-Rideau. Visit of a masterpiece of the first French Renaissance, reflected in a water mirror fed by the Indre river.

Castle of Villandry. Property of Jérôme Bonaparte, the castle of Villandry is mostly surrounded, known for its splendid gardens.

Castle of Villandry

Castle of Ussé. Charles Perrault was inspired by it to write Sleeping Beauty ( La Belle au Bois Dormant)!

Castle of Montrésor. A large collection of objects is to be discovered in this historical monument marked by the presence of Xavier Branicki, a very rich Polish count in exile during the nineteenth century.

Castle of Islette. The favourite meeting place of Camille Claudel and Auguste Rodin.

Montpoupon Castle. A fortified castle dating back to the Middle Ages, built under Charlemagne, Montpoupon was transformed in the 16th century to become a Renaissance château by Aymar de Prie, a great crossbowman under the reign of Francis I of France.

Château de Gizeux. Numerous activities are offered to families. To be seen on a visit: the great gallery of castles.

Champchevrier castle. Particularly well furnished, King Louis XIII nevertheless slept there on straw!

Castle of Candé. Here, we plunge into the history of England, with the marriage of the Duke of Windsor and Wallis Simpson.

Chateau de Candé

Arc-et-Senans Royal Saltworks

Unesco World Heritage Site

In 1982, the Arc-et-Senans Royal Saltworks was included on the UNESCO world heritage list. Designed by Claude-Nicolas Ledoux (1736-1806), a visionary architect in the Enlightenment period, the Royal Saltworks site is a rare and an exceptional example of industrial architecture history. The site was designed for the production of salt, commissioned by Louis XV, and built between 1775 and 1779.

Almost all of the employees at the Royal Saltworks lived on the premises near the production site. It was built in the form of a circular arc, and included both the dwellings and the production sites. In all, there were 11 buildings: the Director’s house, the Stables, the East and West Salt Buildings, the Eastern and Western Workers (Commis) buildings, the Eastern and Western Dormitories (Berniers) Buildings, the Cooperage, the Guards Building, and the Farrier/Blacksmith.

When new technologies emerged, the Royal Saltworks became obsolete, and closed down in 1895. The site was abandoned, plundered, and damaged by fire in 1918; but in 1927, the Doubs Department bought the premises and saved them from ruin. After three consecutive restoration cycles that were completed in 1996, the site was restored to its former glory.

Visitors from around the world acknowledge that by virtue of its exceptional architecture, its history and reconstruction, the Royal Saltworks site is a unique monument. It is now open for visits, and venue hosts exhibits are featured during each cultural season, a garden festival and concerts, hosts researchers and artists-in-residence, and organises activities for children, conferences, and innovating events.

The Ledoux Museum

The « Ledoux Museum », which presents the work of the Royal Saltworks creator, is the only European museum dedicated to an architect.
The life path of the architect is illustrated through about sixty models. Nowadays, few of his buildings remain, either because they were never built, or because they were destroyed by time or by man. Along the way, visitors can marvel at the variety of his works (theatres, private estates, and tax collection buildings), as well as at his “dreamed projects”, that sometimes had a utopian ring to them. Examples are the Ideal City in Chaux, a cemetery, a pleasure house, schools, prisons, and industrial buildings.

Video in French

The archaeological site of Bibracte

It is commonly said that Bibracte is a Gallic town under the forest.

The archaeological site of Bibracte is located on Mount Beuvray, in a green setting where the forests are as imposing as the landscape

In the heart of a 1000-hectare forest nestles a town that was home to between 5 and 10,000 inhabitants during the pivotal period of the Roman conquest of Gaul. A short-lived town, capital of the powerful Aedui people, which was a major centre of trade, commerce and politics in the 2nd and 1st centuries BC.

The remains of the town are now surrounded by a green setting. The quality of the landscapes and the biological richness of the environment are such that the entire Mount Beuvray massif has been classified as a site of landscape and scientific interest and is listed as a ZNIEFF and Natura 2000 site, while the summit is classified as a historical monument

Excavations of the ancient town of Bibracte began in 1864. Stopped in 1914, they were resumed in 1984 and are still active today.


Geophysical surveys are used to complete the excavations themselves. Lidar”, a laser remote sensing technique, is also used to establish a very precise survey of the topography of Mount Beuvray, even through the foliage. This allows archaeologists to identify earthworks and excavations caused by human activity, and to decide whether it is worthwhile to carry out test pits or even complete excavations.

At Bibracte there is still work to be done for generations of archaeologists, a long time needed to fully understand the mechanisms of development of the ancient town, to discern its organisation and to measure the rhythm and impact of the intensification of contacts with Rome and the Mediterranean. A long time which also allows students of protohistoric archaeology from all over Europe to train on the Bibracte sites and to build the archaeology of tomorrow.

The European Archeological centre

Located in Glux-en-Glenne, a few kilometres from Mount Beuvray, this unique centre in France brings together the skills of researchers and students to advance knowledge of the Bibracte site and Iron Age archaeological research.

It is a special feature of this centre that it does not have a permanent research team. Here, researchers and students from all over Europe work together to understand the mechanisms of the development of the Celtic town and to discern its organisation. However, an original work site is managed directly by Bibracte archaeologists: the school site, which every summer trains teenagers in the archaeological approach, in real conditions.

The research programme is divided into four-year cycles. The four-year projects are validated by Bibracte’s scientific council, made up of eight European experts, before being submitted to the State services for instruction.

Bibracte provides logistical support, stewardship and scientific coordination of research. The centre is equipped with high-performance facilities to support all stages of the research: site equipment, laboratories, documentation centre, conservation areas, publishing chain, etc.

The centre is also the seat of scientific meetings, an essential training centre for students and researchers, as well as a formidable laboratory for experimentation at the service of the archaeological community and heritage professionals. Since 2012, it has also housed the Conservation and Study Centre of the Burgundy-Franche-Comté Regional Archaeology Service, as well as the branches of several preventive archaeology operators.

The “Traboules” of Lyon

During the Middle Ages, Lyon had a flourishing silk trade. In order to allow the silk merchants to transfer their goods from barges in the river, or to and from their storage areas or shops, they had to walk through the narrow streets of the old Lyon (Vieux Lyon). On its own not a problem except when it rained. Silk does not like rain, so the merchants needed to keep their goods dry (plastic wasn’t invented on those days yet). So they thought up a smart system. Throughout the buildings in the older part of Lyon, they transposed passageways. These passageways, called “Traboules“, became an integral part of the building structure of the houses in the old city. Instead of walking the long streets, and getting wet, you would duck into a traboule and exit several streets further, and then ducking into the next one. Today there are some 215 Traboules spread around the “Vieux Lyon” (Old Lyon) and a total of 500 of them all over Lyon. But the vast majority are private and can not be visited. In the old town, some 40 of them are open to visits, but you need to know where they are, since often they are hidden and they are privately owned, forming part of a building so you need to keep quite.