Chantilly is an ancient town and the site of a well-known château and forest, 23 miles north of
Paris and 31 miles southeast of
Beauvais. The town is named after the Gallo-Roman citizen, Cantilius, who built the town’s first villa. Today, the town is the thoroughbred horse-racing capital of France, a holiday resort and a residential community in the Département of
Chantilly is known for its beautiful château, which was originally built as a fortress during the 14th century. In 1528, Anne de Montmorency, constable of France, replaced the old fortress with the ‘Petit Château’ on an island in an artificial lake. The lake is located in a forest that became a well stocked game reserve. As a cost-cutting measure, the château was built upon the old fortress’s foundation.
The château has subsequently been rebuilt a number of times. From 1621 to 1686, the Prince d’Condé ordered considerable reconstruction. Le Nôtre continued the château’s renovation. He also created a park with fountains that made
Louis XIV jealous. The château was destroyed during the Revolution. When it was rebuilt, in the 1820s and 30s, it became a favorite venue for fashionable royal hunting parties.
In the late 19th century, the ‘old’ château gave way to the Renaissance-style Grand Château. In 1886, the Duc d’Aumale willed the château, together with the ‘Petite Château’s’ Musée Condé, its library and the surrounding park, to the Institut de France. The Musée houses works by Botticelli, Ingres, Poussin, the 15th century Renaissance painter Raphael and by the 16th century court portrait painters François and Jean Clouet.
The château’s stables, which are open to the public, were built in the 18th century as an equestrian palace and tends to upstage both châteaux. They were designed to house 240 horses and in excess of 400 hounds. The Musée Vivant du Cheval pays homage to equestrian traditions, and many equestrian events are organized here.
In the 18th century Chantilly became well known for its excellent porcelain and lacework. The name Chantilly is also associated with a thick whipped-cream and with a bobbin lace made of silk. Unfortunately, Chantilly no longer produces any handmade fabrics. The French Jockey Club organizes an annual race each June, on the town’s racecourse, which was opened in 1834.
Château-Thierry is located on the Marne River, in the Département of
Aisne, less than 50 miles east-northeast of
Paris and 52 miles south-southwest of
Reims. The town lies along the main railroad line between
Strasbourg. It is built on the slopes of a hill, with the ruins of a castle perched above it. The castle, which was built in about 720 by
Charles Martel, was for his
Merovingian puppet king
Thierry IV [Theodoric]. The 16th century mansion where the writer of children’s fables, Jean de la Fontaine, was born, in 1621, stands near the castle. The mansion now houses the La Fontaine museum.
In 1421, the English captured the town of Château-Thierry. In 1544, Charles V, the Holy Roman Emperor, took the town. The town was then occupied by the Duke of Mayenne in 1591. The town was called Egalité-sur-Marne during the French Revolution. In 1814, the Prussians sacked the commune.
During WWI, Château-Thierry became a battlefield fought over by the French and American forces, on one side, and the Germans on the other. It was the place of the deepest penetration by the German offensive of 1918.
Château-Thierry suffered considerable damage in both world wars. The World War I clash at Château-Thierry was part of the Second Battle of the Marne. It took place between July 15 and August 6, 1918. The encounter proved to be the turning point of the war, after which the Allies advanced steadily. The battle of Château-Thierry was the first victorious WWI action by American troops.
The town produces agricultural machinery, baked goods and musical instruments.
The town of Compiègne lies on the Oise River and Route National 31, between
Beauvais, northeast of
Paris. It is situated at the northwest edge of the Compiègne forest, in the département of
The Romans called the town Compendium [meaning ‘shortcut’ – the town was on the ‘shortcut’ between
Beauvais]. In the Middle Ages, under the
Merovingian kings, it was the site of several important councils and assemblies.
Louis the Pious was overthrown there in
Charles II, the Bald, founded the Abbey of Saint-Corneille there. The commune of Compiègne received its charter in 1153. In 1430, the Burgundians captured
Joan of Arc here. She was turned over to the English and remained their prisoner until burned at the stake.
From 1870 to 1871, during the
Franco-Prussian War, Compiègne was the Prussian army headquarters. In WWI Compiègne was again occupied by the Germans. On November 11, 1918, the Armistice was signed in Marshal Foch’s railroad car just northeast of the town. The same railroad car, at the same location, was the venue for the signing of the Franco-German armistice on June 22, 1940. The Nazis destroyed the historic railroad car toward the end of the war. The Musée Wagon de l’Armistice contains a replica of the famous railroad car.
The town is proud of its Churches of Saint-Jaques and Saint-Antoine, which were built from the 13th through the 16th century. Saint-Jaques is noted for its beautiful windows. There is also an 18th century Château that was built by
Louis XV. It was subsequently renovated by
Napoleon I, and now houses a museum.
Jacques-Ange Gabriel designed the château as a summer residence for Louis XV in the heart of a majestic forest of age-old trees.
Louis XVI finished the château. It was latter restored by Napoleon I. Over the years the Château witnessed the social events of royalty and nobility. Napoleon I received Marie-Louise of Austria,
Louis XVIII entertained Czar Alexander I of Russia and the marriage of king Leopold I of Belgium to Marie-Louise of Orléans was held there in 1832. The Château also became the favorite residence of
Napoleon III, and Empress Eugénie, during the hunting seasons.
There are three worthwhile museums located within the château: The Musée du Second Empire and the Musée de l’Impératrice house period furniture, memorabilia and portraits. The Musée de la Voiture has a collection of carriages, bicycles and early automobiles.
The 16th century Gothic town hall [Hôtel de Ville] has a belfry in its façade. A monument was erected there that commemorates the Bouguignon’s capture of
Joan of Arc.
Compiègne is has a thriving tourism business. It is also the center for the manufacture of automobile tires, glass, machinery, metal, rubber products and soap.
Laon, the capital of the département of
Aisne, occupies a dramatic site along a narrow, hilly ridge that is surrounded by wide plains. It is located 93 miles northeast of
Paris, 74 miles southeast of
Amiens and 28 miles northwest of
Reims, at the juncture of Routes National 44 and 2, just south of the Autoroute A26.
Laon began, in Roman times, as the fortified city of Laudunum [meaning a hilly district in Latin] that was perched atop the summit of a hill. The fortified town gradually became known as the old town, with the new town spread about 330 feet below it. The railroad station, in the new town, is the base station for the cable car that runs to the Place du Général Leclerc in the old town.
The Romans fortified the town because of its strategic placement. In later years, the fortifications served well in beating back invasions by the Normans, Franks, Vandals and Huns. The archbishop of
Reims, Saint-Rémi, established a bishopric in Laon toward the end of the 5th century. This contributed to the town becoming a major medieval center of learning and religion. It also became the capital of the
Carolingian dynasty. A bitter power struggle emerged, between the bishops and the town elders, that continued until the town became a commune in the 12th century.
In 840, the Carolingian king,
Charles le Chauve, made the town the Caroligian capital. In 987,
Hugh Carpet, with the connivance of the bishop, seized the town and moved the capital to
Paris. During the 12th century, the town was twice the scene of bloody riots directed against the Episcopal rule.
From 1337 to 1453, during
the Hundred Years’ War, between France and England, Laon was besieged by the English and their allies the Burgundians. The town changed hands many times before ultimately reverting back into the hands of the French Crown. In 1790, the despised bishopric [against which the 12th century rebellion was quashed by
Louis VI] was abolished by the revolution.
Napoleonic Wars, 1799 to 1815, Blucher defeated
Napoleon at Laon in 1814. When the Germans entered the town in 1870, during the
Franco-Prussian War, the town’s powder magazine was blown up damaging the cathedral and killing some 500 people. Laon was damaged and occupied by the Germans in both world wars. The nearby ridge, known as the Chemin des Dames, because
Louis XV’s daughters often used this route, is remembered as a World War I battlefield that is lined with cemeteries and memorials.
The medieval masterpiece, the early Gothic Cathedral of Notre-Dame, was constructed in the picturesque old town. It was begun in 1160 and was finished in 1235. It has served as the model for many later French cathedrals, boasting an immense 13th century rose window. There is a 13th century cloister next to the cathedral. Nearby, the law courts, and a 12th century chapel, are located in the partly 13th century Episcopal Palace. Also near the cathedral is a 13th century structure that was constructed as an abbey and is now a hospital. Underneath is a large Gothic hall.
Roman and Medieval jewelry, plus paintings by the 17th century Laon born Le Nain brothers, are in the collection of the Laon Museum. In the museum’s garden is the octagonal, 12th century Chapel of the Templars. The explorer Jacques Marquette was born in Laon and is immortalized in an old town monument. Other interesting medieval structures are the town’s 13th century gates and the 12th through 13th century Church of Saint-Martin.
The town is a marketplace for the nearby farmers who sell their grain and vegetables there. Its main industrial products are heating equipment, metals, metal goods, plastics and printing.
The historic town of Noyon, in the Département of
Oise, is situated on Verse River where it junctures with the Oise Canal, 57 miles north-northeast of
Paris and about 7 miles north-northeast of
Compiègne. The town, which was originally inhabited by the Veromandui, a Belgic-Gallic tribe, built up at the foot of a hill and on both banks of the Verse, which is a tributary to the Oise River.
The Cathedral of Notre-Dame is the 5th church that had been built on the same site. It was constructed during the 12th century and was finished in 1290. It was constructed in an harmonious Romanesque-Gothic transitional style during the period that Noyon was an important ecclesiastical center.
In the 6th century, Noyon was in a district administered by a bishop. It was in Noyon, in
768, prior to becoming emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, that
Charlemagne was crowned king of the western Frankish kingdom of Neustria. The founder of the
Hugh Capet, was also crowned here after having been elected king at
Senlis, in 987, as king of France. The
Capetian dynasty directly ruled France until 1328.
John Calvin, the theologian, was born in Noyon in 1509. The house in which he was born now houses a museum honoring him. In 1516, Charles I, of Spain [latter to become Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire], and
Francis I, of France, signed the Treaty of Noyon. Under the treaty, France ceded all claims to Naples and, in return, kept Milan. In 1594,
Henry IV of France retook the town from the Spanish.
Numerous European conflicts, including
the Hundred Years’ War [1337 to 1453], the Wars of Religion of the 16th century and the 20th century’s two world wars, heaped damage upon Noyon. The cathedral sustained severe damage during WWI and had to be restored. The town hall, or Hôtel de Ville, along with the town’s other ecclesiastical edifices, was rebuilt after having been raised during that war. A late 15th century library managed to survive the wars’ destruction. The former Bishops Palace is now the Musée du Noyonnais.
Noyon has long been an agricultural trade center for the area’s farmers. The traded products consist of artichokes, fruits, grains and sugar beets. The town has food processing and metalworking industries.
Saint-Acheul is located in the Authie River Valley, 16 miles northeast of
Amiens in the
Somme département. It is the site of the discovery of a number of Paleolithic hand axes and arrowheads, assumed to have been fashioned by Homo Erectus. The practice of splitting stones, to render arrowheads, marked an important step in evolution. Subsequent discoveries of Acheulean hand axes were made at Swanscombe, England, at the Olduvai Gorge, in Tanzania, and at Swartkrans in South Africa.
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