Thursday, July 7, 2011

Dijon: City of surprises

After a few travel troubles that resulted in us arriving late at Dijon, we were met by our bubbly hostess Coco and driven to our apartment in the centre of town. Not only did she provide for us in every way within the apartment (eggs, ham, butter, bread, juice, milk, fresh fruit and home baked cake) but she also took us on a mini guided tour of the old town centre, pointing out items of interest, good places to shop and providing a potted history of the area. What a great welcome. 

We spent what was left of the afternoon exploring the town centre, having a beer and then a nice meal of beef bourguignon before a welcome sleep. Coco had warned us that the following day was probably not the best for our stay, being Tuesday, so all the State Museums were closed and also being the French Fete de Musique, with bands set up all over town, including in the Place de la Liberation just down the street. While the music might be fun, it was also destined to run quite late into the night.

Dijon was a surprise to us, a very grand town with some magnificent buildings such as the Ducal Palace, several large churches, a market hall designed by Gustave Eiffel, a triumphal arch and some magnificent and very old mansions. The architectural detail was excellent with many carvings and embellishments, plus those lovely rooves tiled in several different colours.

Facing the Place de la Liberation is the Duke’s Palace, now municipal chambers and a fine museum (which was closed of course) and the tower of Phillipe le Bon with views over the town.


The Duke’s Palace (rather curved by the camera, in fact the facade is straight)

Architectural detail was interesting. We loved the seven little people holding up the columns of a building and the front of Notre Dame church was covered in gargoyles.

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Notre Dame had a beautiful Rose Window and a graceful nave, plus a very old statue of the virgin, Our Lady of Good Hope, clothed in robes but with that extraordinary face found on very old religious carvings. She is 9th Century.

Rose window of the Last Judgement
The soaring nave
9th Century virgin

We also visited the church of St Michael, close by our apartment and with a rather grand exterior including a triple portal which contained some amazing sculptures with great detail.

St Michaels
The ornate facade, St Michaels
Carving on the portal
An emotional “entombment” scene

The cathedral of St Benignus seemed rather unremarkable at first. In the interior, the treasure was the very old crypt, the rotunda of which survived when other parts of the original church were damaged. The rotunda was built to shelter the grave of the saint, Benignus. Parts of the stonework were re-used from other buildings as was usual at the time, but there are two capitals where the artist has attempted to show a man with hands raised in prayer. Each successive carving got better until the final result.

The rotunda in the crypt, 10 centuries old
Painted chapel in the cathedral. It is quite rare these days to find such painted interiors. This one has even painted on “stained glass” windows.
The final carving on the capital in the crypt
Someone has to do the vacuuming!

The quality and quantity of the beautiful mansions and medieval streets was wonderful. Tall walls hid old mansions, (once called hotels) revealed through open gateways and often with explanatory signs about their heritage.

Hotel Legouz de Gerland, 1690
A Dijon street
Note the beautiful tiled roof

We spent some time just walking the town. I especially wanted to find the copy of the ice bear by Pompon, my favourite from the Musee D’Orsay, and there it was in one of the gardens, guarding the entrance. A pretty and restful place too, with a waterfall and an ornate pond.

Waterfall and pool
Pompon’s bear (he learned to be a stonemason in Dijon)
Decorative facade
Detail of the shiniest ever 2CV

The market in Dijon is housed in a beautiful market hall designed by Gustave Eiffel about 15 years prior to the construction of the Eiffel Tower. It appears to be cast iron and glass and has wonderfully wide aisles for ease of movement. The interior is foodstuffs, but outside the stalls range from beautiful flowers and vegetables to underwear, shoes, jewellery and even second hand clothes.

The graceful market buildingmarket-whiting
Whiting all fresh from the sea
Rows of disembodied feet sell pretty sandals

As the evening came on people gathered for the music and it was quite a festive air. There were a number of venues over the town and even our restaurant had a rather good chanteuse singing to the patrons outside. We listened for a while after returning to our room, then closed the double glazed windows. Definitely not enough time for this town.


Crowds gather in Place de la Liberation for the music festival

Next episode: Zurich

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