Amiens

FRANCE PACARDIE Amiens streetscapeAmiens (pop 139,270) is both the capital of the Somme department; as well as the Picardy region. The large city has been in existence since the Paleolothic era; hence it houses a few, good ancient buildings. However, the city took one too many nasty hits during World Wars I and II, requiring much restoration works in the fifties. Therefore Ameins only houses a small (yet substantial) collection of antique edifices, as well as a clean and modern town centre that caters to its significant student population.

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The mainly pedestrianised commercial centre of Amiens is located a few kilometres southwest of the famous Amiens Cathedral. You can arrive at the city via trains, which stop at Place Alphonse Fiquet (located east of the town centre).


 

AMIENS STREET MAP:  1. Cathedrale Notre-Dame  2. Atelier Claude Barre  3. Musée de Picardie   4. Maison Jules Verne  5. Tour Perret  6. St-Leu medieval quarter  7. Parc de Pierre  8. Hortillonages market garden  9. Tourist Office

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FRANCE PICARDIE Cathedrale d'Amiens The town’s highlight is the Gothic Cathedrale Notre-Dame [30 Place Notré-Dame +33 322800341 www.monuments-nationaux.fr/]. Erected in the 13th century, the Amiens’ Cathedrale Notre-Dame is the largest Gothic building in France and is known for its remarkable uniformity in style. This is thanks to the efficient building works which were carried out under the supervision of architect Robert de Luzarches, who managed to complete the project in 49 years (between 1220 and 1269); when most of the other Gothic buildings around France took centuries to be done. Therefore, the cathedral of Amiens features an almost ‘purely’ early Gothic architectural style. Researchers have also found that the cathedral’s original façade was a polychromatic one (which has been worn out, leaving behind the current greyish front).

A free light show, held between June and September and December to January bathes the entire structure in colourful light, giving you a preview of how the cathedral would have looked like in its original form. The cathedral has been rightfully named a UNESCO World Heritage site and is well-loved for its exquisite interior, which features high Gothic arches, 13th century chapels that are lined with bronze statues of the bishops who aided in the cathedral’s building works; as well as beautiful oak choir stalls, which are well-decorated with intricate wood carvings. The cathedral is also said to house the head of the St John the Baptist (found in a gold encasing that is located north of the ambulatory), together with stone figurines (depicting St John’s life) near the choir stalls. Like any good Somme tourist attraction, the Cathedrale Notre-Dame also houses plaques in its south transept that commemorate the brave British, Canadian, New Zealand and US soldiers who lost their lives here during the First World War.

You can stick to the theme of religious art by making your way to the Atelier Claude Barre [40 rue Victor Hugo, +33 322918118], which is located south of the cathedral. This stained glass workshop is one of the few places, which actively practices this ancient art. Once popularly used to decorate churches, cathedrals and chapels, stained glass paintings have evolved to incorporate more modern designs as well. This workshop takes you through the designing and making of these glass paintings, which are still being commissioned by both churches and private collectors. The workshop also houses a sizeable collection of 11th to 20th century stained glass pieces.

Make your way southwest of the workshop to visit the Musée de Picardie [48 rue de la République, +33 322971400 http://amiens.fr/votre_vie_quotidienne/vie_culturelle/musees_damiens/mus... ad/ch €5/Free], which makes for a good cultural and historical stop. Standing in a grand 19th century building, the museum houses a significant archaeological and art collection. The displays range from local archaeological digs to ancient Egyptian relics (passed down from collectors like Albert Magnian). It also exhibits medieval artworks and fine art pieces from the 17th to 20th centuries.

Another major draw in Amiens is its Maison Jules Verne [2 rue Charles-Dubois, +33 322454575 http://www.jules-verne.net ad/ch €3/1.50]. The French author and pioneer of the science fiction genre (famous for penning novels such as A Journey to the Centre of the Earth and Around the World in Eighty Days) wrote many notable works during his time in Amiens. He spent about twenty years in the city, as this was where he entered politics by standing for position of town councillor. The Maison Jules Verne was inhabited by the author between 1882 and 1900. Although the four-storey building was recently renovated in 2006, it still maintains the authentic interior and furniture from the 19th century (pretty much the way Verne left it).  It also houses the author’s personal book collection and other personal memorabilia. Jules Verne enthusiasts would also like to head on the boutique-library (managed by the association), which usually holds exhibitions related o the author; as well as a bookshop that carries his novels in English.

If you head on back towards the eastside of central Amiens, you will find the Tour Perret guarding the Gare du Nord station. This post-war, concrete tower was built between 1948 and1954 and it was once the tallest structure in Europe.

The Somme River lines the northern borders of Amiens, where the famous St-Leu medieval quarter lies. This picturesque riverside area has fragments of its past intact (in the form of half-timbered or wooden houses); however the area was quite badly damaged during the wars. Hence the city put in great effort to restore the quarters back to its original state. These days, the St-Leu quarter is a tourist hotspot by day and a ‘partygoer’ haunt by night.

The Parc de Pierre lies east of St-Leu, leading up to another popular sight in town- the Hortillonages. This network of man-made canals has been reclaimed from marshlands, as the city found the area viable for being a market garden. The 330-hectare space has been supplying Amiens with vegetables and flowers since the Middle Ages. Dubbed the ‘Floating Market’, the Hortillonages can be toured via boat rides [Association des Hortillonages, 54 Blvd Beauville +33 322921218 ad/ch €5/2,50], which run during the day. You can also wander along the footpaths if you remember to pick up a map from the Association des Hortillonages. A visit to this area will be particularly memorable if you manage to drop by during the Fête de Amiens – a grand costumed street festival that is held here annually, in June.