major historic monuments in France
page covers continental France but does not include historic monuments
in French overseas departments and territories . In no way is it a
complete guide. While all of the "most visited" historic
monuments in France are among the best and most interesting historic
monuments that France has to offer, there are also many other
magnificent historic monuments that are off the beaten track, and
consequently far less visited than they would be if, for example, they
were just outside Paris.
It would be impossible
- and indeed pointless - to draw up a list of all the
monuments in France. The aim of this guide is to help
tourists and anyone else, to discover the essential historic heritage
of France, and - through the regional guides - some of the less
well-known sites and monuments. But this can only be a start.
Ultimately, to make a full
discovery of all
the historic monuments - listed and unlisted - that an area has to
offer, it only local knowledge, handouts from local tourist
offices, and personal experience that can really produce the
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officially classified historic monuments, France has one of the densest
concentrations of historic buildings and other monuments of any country
From great palaces and cathedrals to the tiniest
of mediaeval chapels, Roman remains, or vestiges from the time of the
Industrial Revolution, France has them all. And that is just counting
the officially listed historic monuments. Apart from the 40,000
officially listed sites, many thousands more old bridges, barns,
houses, chapels, villages, priories and private residences are historic
monuments in all but official designation.
sites: the most visited historic monuments in France
The top twenty most visited monuments in France, 2007
French national statistical office: includes only monuments visited
primarily for historic and cultural interest, rather than other
top 20 most visited monuments in France are not necessarily the twenty
most interesting historic monuments in France. The most visited
monuments are most visited because they happen to be easily accessible
from the main tourist centres in France.
- Notre Dame cathedral, Paris
Coeur basilica, Montmartre, Paris
- Gardens of the
château de Versailles, near
- The Eiffel Tower
- The Georges
Pompidou centre and museum of art,
- Notre Dame
- La Villette science museum, Paris
- Château de Versailles (photo top of page)
Saint Michel, Normandy
- Musée d'Orsay, Paris
- Les Baux de Provence
- Village of Riquewihr (Alsace)
- The ramparts of St. Malo (Brittany)
- Notre Dame cathedral, Reims (Champagne)
- Notre-Dame cathedral, Chartres (Centre)
- The Pont du Gard (near Nimes, Languedoc)
- The Arc de Triomphe, Paris
of the Popes, Avignon,
- Basilique de Vézelay, Burgundy
Here are a few more major monuments
that are just as worth
visiting as any of the above:
The cathedral of St. Cecilia in Albi
(Midi Pyrenees), the Chateau de Chenonceaux
(Centre - Loire valley), the Royal saltworks at Arc et Senans
comté), the walled city of Carcassonne
(Languedoc), the cathedral at Amiens
(Picardy).... and so many more.
For details by region, see Tourist attractions in
France by region
Historic French cities
are the six most visited historic city centres among the major cities
of France. Each of these cities is a regional capital, has a
historic centre, and is very much worth the visit during a holiday in
France or for a weekend break.
These six cities are by
the only - nor necessarily the most interesting - city centres to visit
when on holiday in France. Many smaller towns and cities in France -
notably some that are less important now than they were in the past -
have city centres with remarkable collections of historic monuments.
: one of the greatest concentrations of historic monuments on Earth.
Click for historic
monuments in Paris
a historic ensemble, without any particularly great historic monument;
the quays along the Saone have a similar ambiance to the banks of the
Seine in Paris.
Old quarter, including "Petite France", half-timbered hoses, canals,
and famous mediaeval cathedral
the "old town" is a classic Mediterranean town in the Italian style; it
was Italian until the eighteenth century. Very narrow streets, piazzas,
old churches, and the famous flower market.
historic city centre, half timbered houses, great gothic cathedral,
interesting mediaval clock tower.
great historic city centre, much of it dating from the eighteenth
Click for more ideas on the most interesting
and attractive historic
cities in France
Historic areas with rich
collections of monuments :
While the richest concentration of historic monuments can be found in
Paris, the vast majority of historic monuments lie in the regions. And
there are thousands of them .....
Here is a short themed selection: From north to south.
- Northern France The great gothic
the 11th and 12th centuries, a new style of architecture developed in
the kingdom of France. In the great cities of the kingdom, Paris,
Chartres, Reims, Amiens, Rouen, Beauvais, bishops and benefactors vied
with each other to put up the finest greatest cathedrals in the new
style, which we now call "gothic". Photo: Notre Dame de Paris.
Main regions: Champagne,
France: Military fortifications
the 16th century to the 20th, France was constantly wary of invasion
from the east. As a result, eastern France offers many magnificent
examples of military fortifications, from Vauban's fortifications at
Neuf Brisach or Besançon, to the bastion at Sedan of the few
traces of the Maginot Line.
Main regions; Lorraine,
France: mediaeval castles and fortresses
mediaeval times, the kings of France, and their vassal dukes, such as
the dukes of Normandy, Anjou and Burgundy, built massive fortresses to
ensure their feudal power and demonstrate their strength. Though
impressive mediaeval keeps can be found all over France, the northwest
quarter is particularly rich. Among the most famous are the great
castles at Angers Loches or Chinon (Loire valley),
the castles at Fort-la-Latte, Fougères (photo) and
or Falaise and Chateau-Gaillard (Normandy)
- Central France - The
châteaux of the Loire Valley
hundred miles southwest of Paris, the Loire valley, at the time of the
was covered by large expanses of forests, royal and
aristocratic hunting grounds. Beginning in the fourteenth century,
kings, princes and noblemen built fabulous castles and stately homes
here, to entertain their guests and friends. Among the most famous and
most visited are Chambord, Chenonceau (picture), Azay le Rideau,
Amboise and Blois; but there are dozens more to choose from, big and
small, some of them still occupied as family homes.
de la Loire
- Central France
- the Châteaux and towns of Burgundy.
offers a rich concentration of historic monuments, including a large
number of châteaux, but also historic towns and some of the
churches in France, as St. Philibert in Tournus, the cathedral at
Autun, and the pilgrimage basilica at Vézelay.
- Central southern France: the romanesque churches
of the Auvergne
is another region where mediaeval
architects and craftsmen built
hundreds of decorated churches and chapels; many still survive. From
the tenth century chapel of St. Michel de l'Aiguilhe in Le Puy, to the
great romanesque basilicas of Brioude or Issoire (photo) with
their decorative mediaeval stonework, and countless small village
churches, the area is rich in monuments dating from mediaeval
- Southwest France: The
prehistoric caves of the Dordogne
and cave paintings; including Lascaux, the Grotte de Villars
Brantôme, Font de Gaume, and Les Combarelles. At
visitors go down into a perfect replica of the original caves, which
have been closed to the public for reasons of conservation.
other sites, the original caves, with their paintings and carvings, can
be visited. there is a major museum at Les Eyzies.
Further information: see River Dordogne area.
- Southwest France The romanesque
churches of the Saintonge
the 12th century, villages vied with each other to produce the most
ornate sculped doorways, capitals and corbels. A good map is needed to
discover many of these gems; there are so many of them in this area,
that some are not even signposted. Photo: corbels on a
- Southwest France: the bastide
the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries, the plains of central
southwest France were very much France's weak underbelly. The area was
very sparsely populated, and liable to attack, not just from a possible
Moorish invasion out of Spain, but from Aquitaine which at the time
belonged to the Kings of England. In order to populate the area and
make it safer, both the French and the English built up networks of
small fortified towns and villages, many of which survive to this day
as small - even tiny - townships with fortifications and many old
More details: see bastide
- The south of France Roman sites in Provence and
area now known as Provence was in roman times "Provincia", the
most prized province of the Roman empire. The
for several centuries in this area, long enough to populate it with a
concentration of towns and cities as dense as the area round Rome
itself. Amont the magnificently preserved monuments are the Pont du
Gard Roman aqueduct, the Roman arenas of Nimes and Arles, the Maison
Carré in Nimes, the Amphitheatre and triumphal arch in
Orange, and many
More details: Provence
make the most of a holiday in France, follow these links for a more
detailed list of major historic monuments, the main things to see and
do in the French regions:
A brief introduction to the regions
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