Visiting Rouen, France: its skyline dominated by its amazing Cathedral, once the tallest building in the world

Flag of France
Flag of France | Source
View of Rouen Cathedral
View of Rouen Cathedral | Source
The Portal of Rouen Cathedral in Morning Light, by Claude Monet, 1894
The Portal of Rouen Cathedral in Morning Light, by Claude Monet, 1894 | Source
Rouen Cathedral at sunset
Rouen Cathedral at sunset | Source
Road sign in Norwich depicts Norwich Cathedral
Road sign in Norwich depicts Norwich Cathedral | Source

An early skyscraper which still impresses deeply

The word amazing is over-used, but it certainly applies to Rouen Cathedral, in Rouen, France. Its three tower dominate the city's skyline in such a way that once seen, never forgotten.

Indeed, at 151 metres Rouen Cathedral was for some years in the 19th century the tallest building in the world; between 1876 and 1880, to be precise.

Construction on Rouen's Cathdral was accomplished progressively from the 12th until the 19th centuries, although it is known that a church building stood on the Cathedral's site as far back as the 4th century. Executed in Gothic style, pinnacles and pointed arches are very much in evidence.

Down the years this remarkable structure has more than once suffered damage by lightning. It was also damaged during the 16th century's Wars of Religion, and also during bombardment in World War Two.

The French Impressionist painter Claude Monet (1840-1926) painted a series of pictures of Rouen Cathedral, a photo of one of which I have supplied (see right); and certainly effect of the interplay of light and form is captured to a magisterial level.

One of the cities with which Rouen is twinned is Norwich, England (see right) and in fact Rouen Cathedral actually does in a measure resemble the Cathedral in this English city.

I remember being very struck by my first glimpse of the Cathedral at Rouen. In some ways it was not unlike the experience of landing at JKF, as both in the air and on the ground the scene in the direction of Manhattan from Flushing Meadow is dominated by the Empire State Building. If we put ourselves in the shoes of a person living in the Middle Ages, when ecclesiastical influence in people's lives was immense, the sight of a great cathedral would to many people serve as an awe-inspiring — even intimidating? — presence. In fact, it is interesting that the Woolworth Building in New York City was dubiously dubbed — apparently without a great deal of intended irony — a 'Cathedral of Commerce', by The Reverend S. Parkes Cadman, called upon in 1913 to infuse an element then deemed religiously appropriate to the skyscraper's official opening. Medieval European Cathedrals and North American skyscrapers maybe have more in common than people realize... .

Rouen is situated in the Seine-Maritime department, in France's Haute-Normandie region.

August 10, 2013

Map location of Rouen, France
Map location of Rouen, France | Source

Also worth seeing

In Rouen itself, noted sights include the Gros Horlorge, a 16th century clock and some fine, Medieval timbered houses.

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How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York Newark to Paris (Aéroport Paris-Charles de Gaulle ), from where car rental is available (distance from Paris-Charles de Gaulle airport to Rouen : 135 kilometres). The French railroad company SNCF maintains a service between Paris (Gare Saint-Lazare ) and Rouen. You are advised check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.

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