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Chartres Posted by on Oct 31, 2017 in Culture, Geography, History, Vocabulary

Located just over an hour to the southwest of Paris, the city of Chartres makes a perfect stop on the drive from Paris to points west (like la Bretagne).  It is home to, among other things, the beautiful Notre-Dame de Chartres cathedral. That, along with a nice lunch, is just about a perfect detour in my book.

Towering above the city, you can see the twin spires of the cathedral from miles away as you approach. Getting to the cathedral requires you to head up to the top of the hill, but it is easily accessible by car and very much worth the hike even if you have to park lower down. Despite (or perhaps because of*) the fact that it was built in such a short period of time (construction took just 27 years lasting from 1194 – 1221), Chartres is no less spectacular than her perhaps-better-known sister cathedrals in Paris and Reims**.

Chartres shares a title of sorts with the cathedral in Reims. Reims is the traditional location of consecration ceremonies for French monarchs. For centuries, all French kings sauf un (save/but one) were consecrated there. Because Reims was in enemy-controlled territory at the time, the roi Henri IV had to be consecrated at Chartres, the only French king to be consecrated there.***

The Cathedral of Chartres is classified as a UNESCO world heritage site. La cathédrale de Notre Dame de Chartres figure sur la liste du patrimoine mondial culturel et naturel. L’inscription sur cette liste consacre la valeur universelle et exceptionnelle de ce bien culturel afin de contribuer à sa sauvegarde au bénéfice de l’humanité. [Inscription on this list acknowledges the universal and exceptional value of this cultural object so that it may be preserved for the benefit of all humanity / all peoples.]

One of the most striking things about Chartres today is how different the insides look compared to those other cathedrals. As a result of a multi-year effort, the walls and ceilings are a bright, stone white. This transformation hasn’t happened without debate though. For many architects and art historians, the accumulation of dirt that have aged the great cathedrals of Europe is part of their heritage. Pour ma part (for my part/in my opinion) I think the interior looks spectacular. But I’ll let you be the judge. Qu’en pensez-vous? (What do you think?) Leave me a comment to vote for “clean them up” or “leave it alone”.

* The relatively short construction time means that the cathedral’s style is consistent throughout. In fact, Chartres is considered by many to be one of the finest examples of a Gothic cathedral.
** Compare that to the 64 years it took to build Notre Dame de Reims or the almost 200 years it took to build Notre Dame de Paris!
*** Local restaurants, including the one where we had our lunch, serve a chicken stew called le poule au pot (chicken in a pot). It is a bit like a cross between a chicken pot pie (without the crust) and a chicken soup. It is reputed to have been Henri IV’s favorite dish.

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Photo Credits:
All photos courtesy of Hildreth/Bissonnette.

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About the Author: Tim Hildreth

Lise: Maybe not always. Paris has ways of making people forget. / Jerry: Paris? No, not this city. It's too real and too beautiful. It never lets you forget anything. It reaches in and opens you wide, and you stay that way. / An American in Paris