The town of Troyes in the Champagne region of France is, by way of various modifications and fortifications throughout its history, in the shape of a champagne cork! So Troyes was an obvious choice for a stopover; a city settled in ancient times that remains a bustling hub today.
The history of Troyes is a complex one, so I will spare you the detail and give you some of the highlights. Its rivers and streams meant that crafts such as tanning, mills, weaving and paper manufacture grew up here. Troyes paper was known throughout Europe from the 14th century onwards. In the 15th century, the Treaty of Troyes handed over political control to the English, who carelessly renounced all their claims in France around a hundred years later. The great fire of 1524 destroyed a large part of the town, most of which was constructed in wood.
Although occupied by the Germans in the Second World War, Troyes escaped being bombed, so its medieval houses were undamaged, and many have since been sensitively restored. In the mid 1990s, colour washes made with natural pigments were introduced, replacing the medieval monochrome with bright colours; a real feast for the eye.
The Master Glassmakers created spectacular stained glass windows here, and Troyes was known as “a blessed town of stained glass.” There are several magnificent churches as well as a cathedral.
We visited Saint Urbain’s Basilica, a jewel of Gothic art built in the 13th century with the upper part of the nave being completed in the 19th century to the original plan. (Delays in major projects are not just a problem of modern times!).
Pope Urbain IV was born in Troyes, and the basilica was built on the site of the cobbler’s shop that belonged to his father. Its stained glass, much of which dates from the 13th century, is stunning.
Amongst the soaring spires, buttresses and pinnacles are wonderful gargoyles and water spouts. For how many years has this fine fellow been shouting from the rooftops? He certainly spoke to me.
Troyes’ narrow streets warrant hours of exploration. Buildings lean, almost touching.
The alleyway pictured below is called the “Rue des Chats” (Street of Cats)….
….we discovered why, high on the timbers of a house….
Tiny alleys opened up into surprising squares, such as this galleried delight, the “Cour du Mortier D’Or“.
And everywhere there were carvings of animals, mythical creatures, people….I particularly liked the devil….
….and the angel….
The 16th century Silversmith’s House has an external tower, added to provide extra space in this busy merchants’ quarter. Incidentally, the “Troyes ounce” – a percentage of the “marc de Troyes” used to weigh gold and silver in the Middle Ages – is still used today in many countries.
The tower is supported by 3 caryatids in the form of animals.
Opposite the Silversmith’s House is the Baker’s House, with its pulley under the roof for lifting bags of flour up to the attic.
Down another small street is the Tool Museum. Housed in an attractive 16th century building, there is a collection of 30,000 tools dating from the 17th to 19th centuries.
Mio marito is a man who appreciates a good tool, so this one was designed for his enjoyment rather than mine. But I have to admit that it was fascinating; there were tools used for building, roofing, stone carving and woodwork, but there were also displays on leather working, lace making and wrought iron together with faded black and white photographs of craftsmen at work.
Our visit coincided with a celebration of folklore, and groups of musicians and dancers dressed in their traditional costumes were out on the streets providing great entertainment. It was heartening to see young and old involved. These wooden clogs or “sabots” were worn by many of the participants.
Here and there, a fleeting glimpse from the past was seen. Was she part of the folklore group, or a shadow from a different age?
Whilst Troyes makes much of its medieval streets and chequered history, it is a lively place full of modern shops with wonderful signs. A ladies fashion shop….
….and a shoe shop: a real contrast to the clogs!
Here too were lovely modern sculptures. This elegant lady sits on a bench by the waterside, reading her book and watching the world go by from under her brim….
And this young ballerina takes a bow; perhaps her performance merits it?
A colourful carousel spins, to the delight of the gathered small children, hopeful for a turn.
As night falls, Troyes transforms into a town of light and shade.
An avenue of illuminated trees is reflected in a watery pool. This brought to mind a great post from the fabulous Pride in Photos blog:
So much to see, night and day.