Going Back in Time in Rouen, Normandy, France

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about the ‘road to Rouen‘, and all the wonders of that part of Upper Normandy that usually just whizz by in a motorway flash. Well, the end of that road, the city of Rouen, is also deserving of a stopover. Do not let the fact that Rouen is one of France’s busiest ports put you off.

Situated on the river Seine, the city of Rouen was once one of the largest and most prosperous cities of Medieval Europe. And although Rouen suffered a lot of damage during the World War II, there is still much of Medieval Rouen to see. And of course this is where Jean d’Arc was burned at the stake in 1431.

Beautifully restored Medieval streets of Rouen

Besides hosting guests in my B&B this last weekend I also had the rare and wonderful pleasure of playing Tour-Guide for the group sightseeing in Rouen. The trip to Rouen was a particularly special visit for one of the guests who had last visited the city with her parents as a teenager. After 30 or so years the one thing that stood out in her memory was Le Gros-Horloge, one of Europe’s oldest working clocks that is now set on the ‘bridge’ of a 13th Century building that goes across the street.

The clock by day and by night

Most people marvel at the clock and then walk on by, not knowing that they can take a tour of the clock ‘behind the scenes’, as it were. The site museum is open Tuesdays to Sundays throughout the year, but only in the afternoons (2-6pm) from November to March, and then 10am -1pm and 2-7pm from April to October.

The tour takes the visitor through the pavillion and the belfry, where you get to see the dials room, the bells chamber, and the clockmaster’s workshop and flat. From the top of the belfry you get to see an outstanding view of the city of Rouen. The audio-guided tour lasts about 40 minutes.

Le Gros Horloge

Now anyone who knows their French will think I have made a mistake here, because a clock in French is a feminine noun, not a masculine one – so une horloge, not un horloge. Why Le Gros Horloge, not La Grosse Horloge then? Quite simply because a clock was a masculine word up until the 18th Century.

One thing I had not noticed before was the somewhat amusing name of the ‘pub’ right next to the clock: Big Ben Pub. All the more amusing when you consider that Rouen was in fact once the capital of one of the Anglo-Norman Dynasties that ruled England and large parts of northern France. And of course, Big Ben is the name of the bell, not the clock! Perhaps the well-travelled Europe a la Carte readers will have other amusing juxtapositions to share here – if so, why not leave a comment and even a photograph!

The Big Ben Pub

This entry was posted in France on by .

About Thomas Dowson

Hello, I am Thomas Dowson - a freelance writer and archaeologist living in Normandy, France. My field of expertise is prehistoric art - such as the cave paintings in the Dordogne and South Africa. But I am becoming passionately interested in France more generally, and Normandy in particular, and what this country and one of its very well known regions has to offer people with all sorts of tastes and desires. In 2005 I exchanged a university archaeology lecture room for a Bed & Breakfast in Normandy. More recently I started the Archaeology Travel website; sharing my expertise and love of archaeology and travel with others who also want to explore the many different pasts around the World.