• Italy!

    Italy: Rome' historic buildings. Go Now!

    Italy
    Crumbling buildings in Rome (pictured) only add to the atmosphere in a country where old is redefined and western civilization begins. Explore Italy!

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    Ireland
    The Emerald Isle is world famous for its landscapes, foods, beers, and culture. Explore Ireland!

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    With a unique language, foods, architecture, and identity, Armenia is a fascinating country and culture unlike no other in the world. Begin Your Journey!

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    Latvia is small, but has a diverse history, foods, and architecture (shown), which includes aspects from both Eastern and Western Europe. Begin Your Journey!

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Architecture of France

France has one of the best and most widely sampled architectural landscapes in the world. Due to its vast size, historic prosperity, and location it has been the recipient of nearly every architectural style as well as the leader in some, most notably the Gothic style.

French Architecture - Pont-du-Gard
Pont-du-Gard

Although France generally doesn't bring to mind Roman ruins, the country boasts some of the best preserved structures from this time period. The amphitheater in Arles is one of the two or three best preserved in the world. Additionally, the aqueduct, Pont du Gard in Nimes is perhaps the finest and is the tallest of all the Roman aqueducts that remain today. The Theatre Antique d'Orange is also considered one of the finest examples of a Roman theater as the facade behind the stage truly makes this amphitheater unique. Although these are the finest examples from the Roman period, there are numerous other ruins, some of the better sites being those in Arles, Nimes, and also Lyon.

Like much of Europe, there is little remaining from the following couple centuries. This quickly ends though as the region gained great prosperity near year 1000. From just prior to this point until the Renaissance's arrival in the 1400s, Romanesque and Gothic architecture was built seemingly everywhere, much of which is still standing today.

French Architecture - Chartes Cathedral
Chartes Cathedral

The simple, stone-faced Romanesque is represented in dozens of churches throughout the country. Sainte-Foy at Conques (1052–1130) and all of Conques is a superb example of the style. The Basilica of St. Sernin in Toulouse (1000-1100s) is another excellent example as is the Basilique Sainte-Marie-Madeleine (1000s) in Vezelay. Saint-Savin sur Gartempe (1000s) is another model building from this time period, although this church is perhaps better known for its murals than its architecture.

Non-church examples from the Romanesque time period include the city of Arles, which contains the already mentioned Roman ruins along with numerous buildings and fragments from the Romanesque time period. The city of Carcassonne is also a great example of the time, although there are also numerous Gothic structures within the city walls. The final structure worth mention from the Romanesque time period is the Parisian Catacombs. Most of these were constructed in about the 1100s and after. The complex grew vastly over the centuries and today this tourist site is the final resting place for about six million people.

In the 1000s and 1100s the new architectural style of Gothic developed out of Romanesque. This new style was created in France and many of the best examples of Gothic can be found in France to this day. Saint-Martin (1050) at Tours and Saint-Denis in Paris (1135–44) are two of the first buildings to exhibit was later became the definition of Gothic architecture.

French Architecture - Gothic Notre Dame
Gothic Notre Dame in Paris

Again, the best examples of Gothic architecture in France are churches, including many of France's most famous monuments. Paris's Notre-Dame (1100s) and Sainte-Chappelle (1200s) are both Gothic churches, however neither was truly revolutionary in the movement itself. Many consider the Chartres Cathedral (1100s) the premier example of French gothic and perhaps the most authentic building in this style anywhere. The Bourges Cathedral (1100-1200s), Amiens Cathedral (1200s), and Notre-Dame (1200s) in Reims are also incredible works of art that continue to represent the Gothic age in the present.

Two other notable examples of Gothic art are Mont-Saint-Michel (1000-1500s), which is an island containing a church by the same name just off the coast in Normandy and the city of Albi, which is considered an excellent example of southern French Gothic.

In the 1400s the Renaissance arrived in France, but without as much fanfare as the Gothic movement brought. The Renaissance style came from Italy and many Italian architects were brought into the country to erect these monuments, however the gothic style continued on throughout this time period and many of the introductions from the Renaissance movement only came as alterations on the gothic as opposed to an entirely new style in many buildings.

French Architecture - Chambord Castle
Chambord Castle

Most of the true Renaissance buildings in France are in the Loire Valley as the capital was in Tours at the time, or were built as retreats for the French kings. Unlike the gothic style, most of the buildings erected in the Renaissance style were palaces or chateaus built for royalty. The Chateau de Blois (1200-1600s), Chateau de Chambord (1519-1547), Chateau d'Ancy-le-Franc (mid-1500s), Chateau d'Ecouen (mid-1500s), and the Chateau de Chantilly (mid-1500s) are all excellent examples of the style.

The Palace of Fontainebleau (1500s) is the final example of the French version of Renaissance art. The Palace of Fontainebleau was built with Rome in mind and altered the Italian Mannerism style to suit French tastes. Its style then influenced numerous other buildings throughout France.

The Baroque, and later Rococo movements really took hold in France and today there are a huge number of buildings in these styles. This begins with the world renowned Palace of Versailles (1600s) just outside of Paris. However, Versailles was only one of many palaces or chateaus built during the time. The Luxembourg Palace (1615) in Paris and Chateau de Vaux-le-Vicomte (1658-1661) in Maincy are also in this style.

French Architecture - Louvre in Paris
Louvre in Paris

The Baroque style was also used in the construction of forts, such as the Fortifications of Vauban (1633–1707), in civic buildings such as L'Hotel national des Invalides (1670-1679) in Paris, and in churches such as Val-de-Grâce (1645) in Paris, which may be the most committed to the Baroque style of all French churches.

In the 1700s a number of changes took place in France that vastly altered the architectural landscape. As civil unrest spread, Napoleon took over power and soon brought with him a dominating style to symbolize his power and strength, that of ancient Rome. This movement of Classicism and neo-Classical architecture dominated much of France during the late 1700s and much of the early 1800s, but extended even into the 1900s.

This new style was introduced in nearly every type of building, from civic buildings to churches and even hotels. The Arc de Triomphe (early 1800s) and the many buildings along the adjacent Champs-Elysees in Paris were built as megalithic monuments. The School of Medicine (1769–1776) in the University of Paris (or Sorbonne), the Opera House (1862-1875) in Paris, and the Library of Sainte-Genevieve (1843-1850) in Paris are all in this style. Likewise, the Pantheon in Paris (1757–90, originally built as a church) also dictates Napoleon's goals and feelings of power.

French Architecture - Eiffel Tower in Paris
Eiffel Tower in Paris

By the late 1800s new technology and building techniques encouraged new building styles and designs that were not possible previous to this time. The most famous of these monuments is the Eiffel Tower (1887-1889) in Paris. In the early 1900s Art Nouveau also became popular as much of the Paris Metro reflects this time period.

Obviously, France offers more for the architectural aficionado than nearly any other country and trying to see every significant monument would take months. The best over all cities to see the entire span of French architecture begins with Paris, which contains buildings in nearly every style and more landmarks than most countries have in their entirety. Bordeaux also has a huge number of buildings that can be considered architectural giants, as can Strasbourg. Nearly every small town and village also tends to offer a more rural and local French feel as the architecture doesn't tend to be as grandiose, but remains quite impressive, especially in coordination with the landscape and village charm.

This page was last updated: March, 2013