Darting through the skyline of the French city of Rouen, the capital of the Normandy region, the Notre-Dame Cathedral is the epitome of grand and ornate Gothic architecture at its finest. Opened in 1876, today the cathedral is one of the most important sites in Rouen and arguably in all of Normandy. Read on for a brief history of the cathedral and then go and see it for yourself.
In the beginning…
The church, the official name of which is cathédrale primatiale Notre-Dame-de-l’Assomption de Rouen, first began construction in the 12th century; its foundations are a basilica from the 4th century and a Romanesque cathedral from the 11th century. Throughout the years, it experienced hardships including a fire in 1200, damage by the Calvinists during the French Wars of Religion in the 16th century, and bombings during the Second World War. It held the title of the tallest building in the world from 1876 to 1880, until it was surpassed by the Cologne Cathedral. It is still considered to be the tallest cathedral in France.
The pinnacle of Gothic architecture
While the church carries an important history, perhaps its most intriguing feature is its spectacular example of Gothic architecture. Its flamboyant facade showcases all the style’s typical elements: three-pointed arched portals entering into the church, decorated with statues symbolising religious doctrine, and immense in size, particularly height. The church displays the full spectrum of Gothic architecture eras, from early to late and even Neo-gothic in its spire.
The cathedral’s influence in art and music
Unsurprisingly, this impactful building located in one of the most important cities of Normandy influenced the artists of the region, particularly Camille Pissarro and Claude Monet. Both of these Impressionist painters included the grand cathedral in some of their works: Monet captured it more than 30 times in varying light and weather and it can be seen in dominating the background in Pissarro’s Rue de l’Épicerie. Also notable is the cathedral’s musical reputation, one it’s held since the Middle Ages, especially with regards to the organ. Baroque musician Jean Titelouze, known as the “father of the French organ school”, worked in the cathedral from 1588 until his death in 1633.
Within the cathedral walls
The Cathedral of Notre-Dame was where the Dukes of Normandy were traditionally crowned, as well as where many of them were buried; their tombs are still housed by the church today. Most notable is the tomb containing the heart of former Duke of Normandy and King of England, Richard the Lionheart. There is also a plaque commemorating the former crypt of the Duke of Bedford, John Plantagenet, one of the main overseers in the trial of Joan of Arc. His original black marble tomb was demolished by the Calvinists in the 16th century.
The spectacular show of lights
Try to plan a visit to Rouen to coincide with the Cathedral of Lights show: an epic display that takes place annually, illuminating the church with vivid images and accompanied by music, pertaining to the theme of the year. Past themes have included Impressionism and Joan of Arc and the Vikings. More information regarding the festival can be found by visiting the tourism board’s website here.
Notre-Dame Cathedral, Place de la Cathédrale, 76000 Rouen, France, +33 2 35 71 71 60
Volcanic Iceland Epic Trip
meet our Local Insider
HOW LONG HAVE YOU BEEN A GUIDE?
WHAT DO YOU LOVE ABOUT YOUR JOB?
It's the personal contact, the personal experiences. I love meeting people from all over the world... I really like getting to know everyone and feeling like I'm traveling with a group of friends.
WHAT DESTINATION IS ON YOUR TRAVEL BUCKET-LIST?
I have so many places on my list, but I would really lobe to go to Africa. I consider myself an “adventure girl” and Africa feels like the ULTIMATE adventure!
Every CULTURE TRIP Small-group adventure is led by a Local Insider just like Hanna.
KEEN TO EXPLORE THE WORLD?
Connect with like-minded people on our premium trips curated by local insiders and with care for the world
Since you are here, we would like to share our vision for the future of travel - and the direction Culture Trip is moving in.
Culture Trip launched in 2011 with a simple yet passionate mission: to inspire people to go beyond their boundaries and experience what makes a place, its people and its culture special and meaningful — and this is still in our DNA today. We are proud that, for more than a decade, millions like you have trusted our award-winning recommendations by people who deeply understand what makes certain places and communities so special.
Increasingly we believe the world needs more meaningful, real-life connections between curious travellers keen to explore the world in a more responsible way. That is why we have intensively curated a collection of premium small-group trips as an invitation to meet and connect with new, like-minded people for once-in-a-lifetime experiences in three categories: Culture Trips, Rail Trips and Private Trips. Our Trips are suitable for both solo travelers, couples and friends who want to explore the world together.
Culture Trips are deeply immersive 5 to 16 days itineraries, that combine authentic local experiences, exciting activities and 4-5* accommodation to look forward to at the end of each day. Our Rail Trips are our most planet-friendly itineraries that invite you to take the scenic route, relax whilst getting under the skin of a destination. Our Private Trips are fully tailored itineraries, curated by our Travel Experts specifically for you, your friends or your family.
We know that many of you worry about the environmental impact of travel and are looking for ways of expanding horizons in ways that do minimal harm - and may even bring benefits. We are committed to go as far as possible in curating our trips with care for the planet. That is why all of our trips are flightless in destination, fully carbon offset - and we have ambitious plans to be net zero in the very near future.