BURGUNDY

 

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FRANCE BURGUNDY vineyards near Fuisse, Burgundy

A gastronomic paradise and architectural treasure trove, Burgundy is home to quintessential French cuisine, the world-renowned Côte d’Or wine-growing region, and several fine examples of Romanesque architecture. Burgundy is one of the most culturally and economically affluent regions of France.

Burgundy has experienced an eventful and tumultuous history, having been a key player in the Hundred Years’ War from 1337 to 1453. At that time the seat of a Duchy strong enough to challenge the power of the French court, Burgundy has always been somewhat of a renegade – even after the ceding of the present-day region of Burgundy to France in 1477, the region has maintained its proud traditions which can still be experienced today. In more recent history, one of Burgundy’s most famous figures, hailing from Dijon, the region’s capital, is Alexandre Gustave Eiffel, whose name has been given to the most recognisable monument of France.

Situated in the central-eastern part of France, the region lies between the Loire Valley to its west, and Switzerland to the east, with which it shares a border. Lying inland, it experiences a Continental climate, with relatively cold winters. The region is criss-crossed by several rivers. The Yonne and Saône are joined by the Burgundy Canal, which allows passage between the north and south of France, although this is now used predominantly by private boats and hotel barges. The service sector is by far the region’s largest employer, with tourism the main economic activity. Agriculture and viniculture are also important contributions to the rich economy of the region.

The Côte d’Or, encompassing the Côte de Nuits and Côte de Beaune, produces some of the world’s most sought-after wines, and is a must for genuine wine lovers. Each year in November, the town of Beaune dedicates three whole days to “Les Trois Glorieuses,” a wine auction organised by the Hospices de Beaune, a fully functioning hospital dating from 1443. This auction, arguably the most famous wine auction in the world, bears testimony to the fascinating interweaving of the wine-growing culture and the charitable spirit of the Hospices within the architectural and historical reservoir that is Beaune.

Dijon, the capital city of the region, boasts a wealth of architecture, a nod to the magnificence of the time of the Dukes of Burgundy. As the capital of the Burgundian empire and site of its governance, Dijon flourished in the 1300s and 1400s. Today, the city’s attractions include many churches and museums. It is a centre of regional transport, with rail and air links to many other locations in France as well as major European cities.

Burgundy offers an impressive concentration of ancient monastic architecture, including the Abbaye de Cluny, the Abbaye de Fontenay, and the Basilique Ste-Madeleine in Vézelay. The Benedictine Abbey of Cluny, founded in the tenth century A.D., is the oldest monastery in Burgundy. The Abbey of Fontenay, the oldest extant Cistercian abbey in France dating from 1118, gives visitors an idea of the sombre life that Cistercian monks committed themselves to. Situated on a hill, the Basilique Ste-Madeleine proudly dominates the skyline of the town of Vézelay. Awe-inspiring Romanesque and Gothic elements from the twelfth and thirteenth centuries are the main draw of this grand abbey.

A discussion of the attractions of Burgundy would not be complete without some mention of its gastronomic highlights – its signature dishes are often taken to represent “typical” French cuisine. These include Boeuf bourguignon, a beef stew, coq au vin, a stewed or braised chicken dish, and oeufs en meurette, a poached egg dish. Unsurprisingly for a region famed for its wine, all the above dishes include wine as a main ingredient. Dijon is of course known for the mustard that carries its name, and the city capitalises on this by marketing mustard in many flavours, sold in hand-painted pots for that touch of quaintness.

 

 

 

 

 


Human activity has been traced in Burgundy all the way back to prehistoric times, where archaeological evidence reveals Neanderthal hunting activity and burial practices in parts of the region. The Grottes d’Arcy, or Caves of Arcy, in the north are one of the places where this evidence can be most strikingly seen: cave paintings believed to be among the oldest ever discovered depict a myriad of animals such as bison, bears and mammoths. Human remains older than 250,000 years have been discovered at archaeological sites in the north of the region.
 
Agriculture seems to have taken root in Burgundy around 4,000 B.C., when tribes from the Danube and the Rhône migrated to the area and introduced the technology necessary for a settled village lifestyle and the cultivation of crops and raising of livestock.

The next major period in the ancient history of Burgundy saw Celtic civilisation rise and dominate in the area, from 1,200 B.C. until the Romans gained control in 52 B.C. During this period, Burgundy was part of a large area was known as Gaul, which encompassed present day France, much of Switzerland, as well as Belgium and Luxembourg. The Celts trace their origins to an area that includes Burgundy, and hence Burgundy saw a period of intense cultural and technological development under Celtic Gaul, reinforced by increasing trade.

Celtic Gaul was later conquered by the Romans, becoming Roman Gaul, part of the massive Roman empire. Roman dominance in Burgundy then gave way to the Frankish dynasty in the sixth century. The region came to be divided into two: the Duchy of Burgundy (the region of Burgundy today), and the County of Burgundy (the current-day region of Franche-Comté).

By the middle ages, the Duchy of Burgundy came under the French crown, but the Dukes of Burgundy retained significant power in the region. This period also saw the rise of Burgundy’s many famous monasteries along with the spread of Christianity. The first Benedictine monastery was founded at Cluny in 910, soon rising to become one of the largest and most influential churches in the Christian world at that time. The Cistercian order was founded by Robert of Molesme in 1098. Originally a Benedictine monk, Robert had grown dissatisfied with the extravagance that the Cluny monastery had come to be associated with, and wanted to establish an order that would more closely uphold the simple and austere lifestyle prescribed by St. Benedict. With the spread of hundreds of monasteries across the region, the middle ages left a lasting legacy of Romanesque and Gothic architecture still visible today. The monks of Burgundy also cultivated wine and were responsible for several breakthroughs in wine-making that render Burgundy wines so popular today.

The Dukes of Burgundy later grew in power, having managed to gain territory that covered parts of Switzerland, Belgium and the Netherlands. The Duchy challenged the French throne itself during the Hundred Years’ War; the French Court paled in comparison to the opulence of the Burgundian court at its capital, Dijon. However, the last Duke of Burgundy, Charles the Bold, perished in the Battle of Nancy in 1477, and the territory of present-day Burgundy was subsequently incorporated into France.