At the heart of the little-known Haute-Marne department, the town of Langres boasts a remarkable historical heritage and natural setting. This piece of France, perched at an altitude of five hundred metres, is a real challenge to the passing of time.
Here, you enter through the gate. And if you want to get in without knocking, be sure to bring some cannons and explosives, because you'll have to climb over some high walls! It's no coincidence that the town is still known today as "La Pucelle"? Fortified since the third century, the town of Langres, perched on its limestone rock, is surrounded by eight kilometres of ramparts.
It is in the intimacy of its history that the city reveals its many warriors and tender mysteries. For the time being, we will be civilised attackers: we will enter through one of the seven gates?
Langres, City of Art and History.
Follow the maze of alleyways and, at the bend in the covered passageways, let the history of the city be told to you. Don't walk too fast and look up, but don't be frightened by the hideous gargoyles: the uglier they are, the more effective they are at warding off evil spirits!
The town boasts the largest fortified wall in Europe, built between the 3rd and 19th centuries.
Langres is Gallo-Roman, with its ancient monuments and Bacchus mosaic, and medieval, with its cathedral. Elegant town houses and artillery towers mark the Renaissance period. The last bastioned citadel - as large as the town itself - was built in the mid-19th century.
The architecture of the town itself bears witness to the centuries that have passed: the modern intertwines and skilfully finds its place in the old: for example, the 12th-century chapel of Saint Didier is perfectly interwoven with the Museum of Art and History, which was built in the 20th century.
The Tour de Navarre is a listed historic monument. This artillery tower was built in 1512. With a diameter of 28m, a height of 20m, walls 7m thick and no fewer than twenty embrasures on four fire levels, it is a truly extraordinary structure! The three levels of the tower house an exhibition dedicated to the fortifications of Langres. Its walls, up to 7 metres thick, protect two vaulted and casemated rooms. The artillery on its terrace was designed to protect the plateau in front of the Porte des Moulins. Almost completed in 1515, after only four years of work, it was raised by 2.5 metres to increase the range of the cannons installed on its terrace. This transformation during construction led to the installation of a second level of gargoyles and the construction of a new tower - the Tour d'Orval - protecting a spiral artillery ramp. This could take the cannons to the top of the Tour de Navarre, sheltered from enemy fire. In 1825, the Military Engineers converted it into a powder magazine. A conical framework was then built to protect the lower rooms from seepage. A multimedia tour adapted to the spirit and atmosphere of each room allows visitors to explore the secrets of the city: the legends of Langroise, the history of the tower, the genesis of "the largest wall in Europe"?
The cathedral of Saint-Mammès and its obvious disproportion to the city never ceases to impress. You only have to enter the cathedral to feel its powerful tranquillity. Situated at the crossroads of various artistic influences, Saint-Mammès cathedral harmoniously combines Romanesque decoration and volumes with early Gothic innovations. The use of rib vaulting, an innovation in the region, gave the nave greater width and light than in other Cluniac buildings.
Rebuilt in 1768, the imposing neo-classical facade consists of two towers framing a forecourt topped by a pediment. The pediment is topped by two monumental statues representing the Synagogue (left) and the Church (right). Each of the three levels is punctuated by columns or pilasters in the Doric, Ionic and Corinthian orders respectively. During the Revolution, certain decorative elements were diverted from their original symbol. For example, above the north portal (left), the bishop's mitre and crozier were transformed into the Phrygian cap and lictor's bundle respectively, emblems of the French Republic. Two tapestries by Jean Cousin depict the life of Saint Mammès, a young Christian shepherd martyred in the 3rd century; the third is in Louvres.
Langres, birthplace of Denis Diderot
Photo credit: Daniel Moulinet
The Maison des Lumières is the only museum in France devoted to the life and work of Denis Diderot. In a former mansion with a warm, modern interior, visitors can discover the life, writings and the century in which this writer, atheist philosopher, encyclopaedist and above all enlightener of the famous Enlightenment period lived.
Around the Place Diderot, where his statue stands in the centre (the work of Bartholdi, the sculptor of the Statue of Liberty), you will pass the house where he was born, the house where he grew up and the college he attended; a little further on, the house of Canon Didier-Pierre Diderot, his younger brother with whom he had a conflicting relationship, and the Ursulines convent, where his young sister Catherine died of insanity. Finally, at the end of the afternoon, along the Blanchefontaine promenade, you may find yourself rubbing shoulders with this old soul, accustomed to reading and meditating there.
Nature, sports, gastronomy
Around a hundred years ago, the landscapes of the Langres region were embellished by 4 reservoir lakes designed to feed the Champagne-Burgundy canal. These 4 lakes are ideal for relaxation, walks and water sports, and are a must for any stay in the Langres region.
There is a wide range of activities on offer, including swimming, sailing, water sports, hiking and fishing.
Recently chosen as the site for France?s eleventh national park, the Pays de Langres is a magnificent place to get away from it all.
Text: Capucine Ferry
The town?s ambassador, Langres is a small, concave, yellow-orange cheese with an Appellation d?Origine Contrôlée (AOC). The typical hollow formed during the maturing process, known as the "fountain", represents the town surrounded by its ramparts.
Picnic idea: Crispy tomatoes with Langres cheese
Going further afield, discover the region:
Two small towns of character, Joinville, a renaissance town, and Chateauvillain*.
Don't miss :
A visit to the former Le Chameau factory, transformed into a magnificent cultural space, which hosts artists in residence and high-quality exhibitions (4 route de Châtillon, 52120 Châteauvillain). Information: http://www.laurentine.net/