FRANCE BURGUNDY COTE D'OR Aerial view of Dijon

The capital of Côte-d’Or, Dijon (pop 151 500) is a provincial city that is best known for its full-flavoured mustard that is exported worldwide. This historical city has a strong cultural sense that transcends the ages, as its streets are lined with beautiful Renaissance and half-timbered houses, stylish stores and elegant restaurants. The allure of Dijon is only rivalled by other major players in the tourism industry, like Paris and Lyon. Like these cities, Dijon has also made an effort to stay young and relevant by housing a vibrant university student population that is accredited with maintaining a thumping nightlife in this otherwise cultured and elegant city.

Dijon was simply a strategically placed town on the tin merchants’ route (who travelled from Britain to the Adriatic) during the Celtic times. It became a full fledged city only the Middle Ages; when it served as the capital of the Duchy of Burgundy, between the 11th and 15th centuries. Its golden age was seen close to the end of this period (between the 14th and 15th centuries)- when the city became one of the greatest art and learning centres in Europe, as the best artisans from around the Duchy we brought here, to create and exhibit their works. Dijon remained important well after this era, as it managed to ride on with the Industrial Revolution and railway boom in the 19th century.

Rue de la Liberté cuts through the centre of Dijon, running eastwards from the train station to the Fine Arts museum and the Église St Michel. The commercial centre clusters around this road, spreading southwards, along rue du Bourg. The old town is located at the end of rue de la Liberté, around Palais des Ducs. You can arrive at Dijon via regional flights at the Dijon-Bourgogne Airport southeast of the city centre, or via buses stopping in front of the train station or trains at Rue du Dr Remy.


FRANCE BURGUNDY COTE D'OR Aerial view of DijonThe centralised old town of Dijon explodes into a colourful ensemble of medieval and Renaissance buildings, as well as fine artworks from this era. The town seems to be built around the elegant and regal Palais des Ducs et des États de Bourgogne (Place of the Dukes and the States of Burgundy or simply known as the Ducal Palace). You simply cannot miss this stately edifice that seems to command respect and admiration from every angle. The building used to serve the Dukes of Burgundy in the medieval era; then the Parliament of Burgundy in the 17th and 18th centuries (when the current neoclassical façade was installed). This majestic building overlooks the semi-circular Place de la Libération – a serene public square that was designed by Hardouin-Mansart in 1686. Mansart, one of the architects involved in the designing of the Versailles, also erected a statue of the Sun King (Louis XIV) in the square.

 The Palais des Ducs is currently home to the Hôtel de Ville in its western wing, while the eastern wing houses the Musée des Beaux-Arts [+33 380745209 http://mba.dijon.fr, free]. Recognised as one of the oldest and most outstanding museums in France (a hard honour to obtain), the Musée des Beaux-Arts, houses an extensive Flemish collection, thanks to the Dukes’ former Dutch possession. The museum remains open in spite of the ongoing renovation works, though some rooms are closed occasionally. Open since 1799, the museum houses a good antiquities and ‘primitives’ collection that shows the different ancient artistic characteristics that were developed by those in Switzerland, Italy and the Rhineland, back in the 13th and 14th centuries. A comprehensive 17th to 19th century exhibition of paintings and sculptures are also one of the highlights of the museum, with works by local artisans like the François Rude. The museum has also expanded its collection by acquiring modern artworks of Cubism and international artefacts like African objet d’arts. The entrance to the museum is located at the Tour de Bar – a 14th century tower, which was once a prison. Like this tower, other medieval features of the palace remain intact inside the building. The 15th century kitchens (with six large fireplaces) and Salle de Gardes (Guard Rooms with Gothic altarpieces and coloured tombs); as well as the 14th century chapter house are just some of the rooms that have remained well preserved. If you head a few kilometres from the courtyard (Cour d’Honneur), you will arrive at the Tour Philippe le Bon- a 15th century tower was created in the name of the Duke Philippe the Good, offers great views of the city, if you can make the 316-stair climb up to the top.

The section north of the Palais des Ducs is home to a cluster of aristocratic houses, which are known as hotel particuliers. Most of these houses can be found along rue Verrerie, rue Vannerie and rue des Forges. Notable residences include the Hôtel Aubriot [40 rue des Forges] with mouldings of lions and various figurines, the Renaissance Maison Maillard [38 rue des Forges] and the 17th century Hôtel Chambellan [34 rue des Forges].

FRANCE BURGUNDY COTE D'OR Dijon Église Notre-DameTrailing a few blocks north of these houses will bring you to the 13th century Église Notre-Dame [Rue de la Préfecture, www.notre-dame-dijon.net/]. This iconic church, with its airy façade and pointed towers, is one of the oldest churches in Dijon, which was built very quickly, between 1220 and 1240. Notable features of the church include the 13th century stained glass windows in the north transept, the Black Virgin statue that dates back to the 11th century and the Horloge à Jacquemart. This clock tower was brought in as a war trophy from Flanders, by Philip the Bold, in 1382. Outside the church, at its northern end you will find a small stone owl (chouette), which has been carved into the corner of a chapel. Giving the street its name, some locals believe that stroking this owl with your left hand will bring you good luck. Keep your eyes open to spot this little owl, as it has been worn down by thousands of fortune-seeking hands. This street is also home to a few hotel particuliers, like the Hôtel de Vogüé [8 rue de la Chouette] - a 17th century residence that is worth checking out for its Renaissance courtyard.

RANCE BURGUNDY COTE D'OR Dijon dijon, st michael

The easternmost end of the old town is marked by the Église St-Michel [place St-Michel www.saint-michel-dijon.com], which was initially a humble Gothic church that almost ended up in ruins by the end of the 14th century. Hence, the building was given a thorough facelift in the 15th century with the incorporation of chunky Renaissance modelling. Today, the ornate (and slightly Italianate) façade of the Église St-Michel is considered to be one of the finest of its kind in France.

If the old town section of Dijon has not worn your legs out, you can make your way to the southern part of town to visit the local museums. The Musée d’Art Sacré [15 rue Sainte-Anne, +33 380488090, www.dijon.fr Free] and next door the Musée de la Vie Bourguignonne [17 rue Sainte-Anne, +33 380388090, www.dijon.fr Free] are both located southwest of the old town centre, a few metres from each other. The Musée d’Art Sacré is situated in a Bernadine monastery church that is crowned by a beautiful green copper dome. The museum is dedicated to displaying the various religious artworks that date from the 12th to 19th centuries. The Musée de la Vie Bourguignonne, on the other hand, aims to educate visitors on the ‘Burgundian’ way of life. Housed in a 17th century Cistercian monastery, this museum displays the ancient clothes, crafts and cooking methods of the villagers and town folk of old Burgundy.

If you head further up from here to the western end of Dijon close to the train station, you will find two more interesting sights- the Musée Archéologique [5 rue Docteur Maret, +33 380488370, www.dijon.fr , Free] and the Cathédrale St-Bénigne [Place Saint-Philibert]. The Musée Archéologique is set in a former Benedictine abbey, setting the mood for discovering the past. This antiquities museum houses an interesting collection of finds that range from Gallo-Roman, Romanesque and Gothic sculptures to Merovingian weapons and jewelleries.  The Cathédrale St-Bénigne, which stands close by, is another reputed religious edifice in Dijon. This cathedral started off as a basilica in the 11th century. It was then remodelled to become an abbey church in the 13th century. Proper restoration works that were carried out in the 18th and 19th centuries have kept this building alive today. Dedicated to Saint Benignus (who is said to have brought Christianity to Burgundy), the cathedral’s crypt are the only surviving Romanesque elements.

Jardin Darcy or the Jardin de l’Arquebuse (a botanic garden), both at the western end of town, adn Square Carrelet de Loisy at the eastern end are good spots to catch your breath in relatively natural surroundings.

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DIJON:   1. Tourism office  2. Train station (west of map limits)  3. Palais des Ducs, Hôtel de Ville & Musée des Beaux-Arts  4. Hôtel Aubriot  5. Maison Maillard  6. Église Notre-Dame  7.  Église St-Michel  8. Musée d’Art Sacré  9. Musée de la Vie Bourguignonne  10. Musée Archéologique  11. Cathédrale St-Bénigne 12. Jardin Darcy  13. Jardin de l’Arquebuse  14. Square Carrelet de Loisy