Our visit to Troyes was a relaxed affair. Having sent a couple of hours driving, covering some good ground, we arrived around lunchtime and were looking for a chilled out afternoon. It turns out we picked the perfect place to watch the world go by – Troyes is stunning!
Leaving the van in the outskirts of town we wandered into the centre, and almost immediately we knew we were somewhere pretty. The streets were lined with half-timber houses, mainly from the 16th century as a great fire in 1524 destroyed much of the medieval city. With barely a modern building in site; it was like stepping back in time. Many of the houses are cantilevered, with the upper levels, larger than the ground floor, hanging out over the streets, this is due to the fact that tax was calculated on floor area, so this allowed them to maximise their space without the extra cost… crafty!
Troyes is situated within the Champagne wine region and has been in existence since the roman era, known as Augustobona Tricassium. It stood at the hub of numerous highways, most notably the Via Agrippa leading north to Reims and south to Langres and eventually Milan. It was also an important international trade centre, and in fact the term ‘troy weight’ was derived from the standard of measurement for gold that evolved in this area.
Our first activity was to find some lunch; a little restaurant on one of the back streets enticed us in. As with all the rest, this was another beautiful half-timbered building, a few little tables were lined up on the small street outside covered by the outcropping 1st storey, which was fortunate as the weather was looking pretty changeable! It was a pleasant day nonetheless and the intermittent sunshine was plenty warm enough while we ate, after which we got to some low-key exploring.
Almost escaping notice completely, Ruelle des Chats is a narrow alleyway breaking off one of the side streets. So narrow, in fact, that we almost walked straight past it. The medieval cobbled street with the central channel (for water flow) gives a vivid picture of how this town once looked. During the rebuilding after the 1524 fire the half-timbered, cantilevered houses either side of the Ruelle des Chats were widened, so the facades at the top of the adjacent buildings now touch ‘allowing a cat to pass easily from one side to the other’ giving this minute street its name. There is also a small cat’s face carved into one of the beams which is quite fun to looks for in the gloom of this confined little alley.
It wasn’t a particularly busy day and the main square seemed vast with the relatively few people milling around. The grey stone was bright in the passing sunshine, the restaurants sprawled out in the usual fashion and a small traditional looking carousel chimed across the way. We sat on the steps of the grand town hall, ate ice cream and watched the world go by. The decision to build the town hall was made in 1494, when Louis XIII allowed for a portion of the wine and salt tax to be used for its construction. It was built in increments and was not finished for many years. More recently, two additional wings were added to the back of the building in 1933 and 1937, designed by the architect F. Bailey.
Across the way lay the main shopping street – not being avid shoppers little here grabbed our attention except the architecture. A row of beautifully maintained houses lined the edge of the road. Each was painted a different colour, mellow tones of pinks and yellows. The exposed timbers looking silver and weather-beaten and the small windows lined up neatly under the pitched roofs.
From our limited time we noticed that Troyes had many churches dotted around the city centre, we strolled past several and went into a couple. The Basilique Saint-Urbain is grand Gothic structure dating to the 13th century, a beautiful building with dramatic arched doorways and ultra-detailed spires. At the start the workers encountered much resistance from the nuns of the nearby abbey who caused considerable damage during the construction. Although most of the building took place in the 13th Century, with some of the original stained glass remaining, the completion of the building was delayed for many years due to lack of funding. The vaulted roof and the west façade were only completed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries.
Cathedrale Saint Pierre et Saint Paul, or Troyes Cathedral, was unfortunately closed when we were there but we walked the grounds and had a nosey nonetheless. The site has been held for religious use since as early as the 4th century. A cathedral was built in the 9th century but was badly damaged by Norman invasions and subsequently replaced in the 10th Century. The current structure was built in the Gothic style, the construction of the began in 1208 with work continuing into the 17th century. The building currently only has one tower, St Peter’s, St Paul’s tower to the south was never built and so the building technically remains unfinished.
It was a lovely afternoon of strolling and although we didn’t venture far or see all that much in Troyes, the sheer beauty of the place keeps it vivid in our memories!