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Medieval Travel Guide

Medieval Chartres

This is a wonderful day trip from Paris, as Chartres is situated only 96 km to the south-west of the capital.

Camille Corot-Chartres Cathedral
Camille Corot (1796-1875)- "Chartres Cathedral"

How to get there: (When in Europe, I am a train fan, so this is the first recommended way).

By Train: Take the train from Paris Montparnasse Station (Gare Montparnasse). There are 33 daily links, with the journey taking about 1 hour. The round trip (aller-retour) is 24.80 Euros.

If you want to drive:

By Highway from Paris: A6 direction Bordeaux-Nantes via Porte d'Orléans, then A10 and A11 direction Nantes.

If you do not want to go by Highway (much better for sight-seeing):
RN10 direction Rambouillet, via Porte de St.-Cloud. Or, nowadays, best trust your GPS, preloaded with Europe Map!

Notre-Dame de Chartres Cathedral

A masterpiece of the Gothic Architecture, the Chartres Cathedral was built on the site of a church erected by Bishop Fulbert during the early half of the eleventh century. The older building was almost completely destroyed by fire, and the present cathedral was commenced in 1134. In 1194 it again burned down. The papal legate, who was in the city at that time, gathered the people around the smoking ruins and with words of cheer and encouragement made them promise to restore the building entirely in stone, and in such way as to surpass any other church in existence. The bishops and canons contributed their entire revenues for three years to the work.  King Philip Augustus gave liberally to it, and the people returned with ardor to their great undertaking, which resulted in one of the most magnificent cathedrals of France. In 1220 the cathedral was covered with its stone roof - "marvelous and miraculous", as a contemporary chronicler exclaimed. In 1260 it was solemnly consecrated by the seventy-fifth successor of St. Aventine, in the presence of St. Louis the King.

The Cathedral has three portals. The main (western) façade has kept the 12th century Royal Portal together with the south steeple.  The north steeple was replaced in the 16th Century by the delicately sculptured spire. The other two portals are the Alliance Portal to the north, and the Church Portal to the south, both dating from the 13th Century. Watch out for the amazingly delicate sculptures of the Portals! Depicting the Christian thought, they are living proof of the faith and skills of medieval Chartres sculptors.

Chartres Cathedral Labyrinth
Chartres Cathedral Labyrinth
Once you step in, beside the grandeur of the Cathedral itself, there is the unforgettable experience of the labyrinth and especially the magnificent stained glass windows. The most ancient of the stained glass windows, renowned for their color (the "Chartres Blue"), date from the 12th Century. They illustrate the Bible, the lives of saints, and bear the heraldic arms of great families.

The Medieval Town

The charming Medieval Town of Chartres is spreading from the Cathedral (Upper Town) to the banks of river Eure (Lower Town).

To start your visit, look for the Tourist Office, right beside the Cathedral:

Office de Tourisme de Chartres
Place de la Cathédrale - 28000 Chartres
Tél : 02 37 18 26 26

Here you can find a lot of information about Chartres, and you can pick up the touristic map showing you precisely what to see. You can also rent a walkman for an one-hour commented visit of the Medieval Town. You can explore the town at your leisure and travel back in the Middle Ages. Walk down the narrow streets lined with half-timbered houses, and, through the stairs passages, go to the Lower Town, and watch the humpback bridges, watermills,  and "lavoirs" (riverside wash-houses) along river Eure. They did not change for six hundreds years!

The Medieval Town of Chartres
A view from The Medieval Town of Chartres

Among the main attractions are Place de la Poissonnerie (very close to the Cathedral), and the Rue des Ecuyers. Do not miss the oldest house in Chartres, at 29 Rue Chantault (also close to the Cathedral), and dating back to the 12th Century.

And do not forget the churches. Saint Aignan in the Upper Town, with its apse resting upon the restored walls of the 9th century, possesses an interesting collection of stained glass windows from the beginning of the 16th century. In the Lower Town, Saint Pierre abbey church, has also wonderful stained glass windows.

Enjoy your vacation!

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