Away from the citadel and off to explore the rest of the city, we did our usual ambling through the streets enjoying the sites that we happened across. The Cathedral Saint Jean took us by surprise appearing before us as we absentmindedly wandered.
The cathedral was built between 1127 and 1161, on the foundation of the previous basilica which dated to the 9th century. In 1724 the bell tower collapsed and was replaced with the apse of the Holy Shroud in 1730. In the 1850’s the cathedral was adorned with an astronomical clock which proved ineffective and was replaced with the present clock just 10 or so years later. It was in 1875 that it was declared an historical monument. It was cool and quiet on the inside, peaceful albeit quite plain in looks. We had a quick look around before starting up a staircase in an outer corridor, only to find ourselves feeling around an impossibly dark dead end two flights up.
The small old streets felt like something out of a history book, the buildings all old, well-maintained and full of character. Small side streets branched off two more of the same, giving a labyrinthine feel to the streets. The stone used throughout this part of the city was light sandy yellow/grey, making everything bright and airy. The archways, wrought iron gates and old fashioned lanterns only increased the historical feel of the place.
Heading in further we stumbled upon Victor Hugo’s birthplace, a fairly modest but very pleasant townhouse in the middle of a row of similar abodes. Victor Hugo was a poet, novelist and dramatist of the Romantic movement – I’m particularly fond of The Hunchback of Notre Dame, but he also wrote Les Miserables among many other things. He was born in Besançon due to his fathers position as officer in the military, and he only lived there for six weeks before moving on and spending most of his childhood in Paris. He never actually returned to Besançon.
Soon after, we happened across an ice cream seller – and this is where we had the best ice creams I think we have ever had! Pomme vert & fruit de la passion for me and chocolat & menthe chocolat for Callum – the green apple and the chocolate were particularly good! Sat on the steps of an old building, between the huge columns that towered over us, we watched the world go by until there wasn’t a single waffle crumb left.
Down by the river things seemed to open up, modern trams chimed as they moved through the wide open streets. The demographic was fairly young and the place had a very youthful buzz to it, which was a nice contrast to the beautifully historic aesthetics of the place. As the day drew on it felt like way too soon that we were strolling back across the footbridge towards the van – but we took with us some very high opinions of the little we saw of Besançon.