A town with a big heart, historic Troyes

Troyes was an absolute revelation. I knew little about it before going, and only when there did I learn of the designation that has been bestowed upon it: Ville d’Art et d’Histoire, City of Art and History. That, at least, gives an indication of the delights that await when you get there. Even then most tourists seem to stay further north in the heartlands of the champagne-making region, near Reims and Épernay. Troyes was completely underwhelmed by tourism.

Sculpture, Troyes, Champagne, France

Sculpture, Troyes, Champagne, France

Heart-shaped sculpture, Troyes, Champagne, France

Heart-shaped sculpture, Troyes, Champagne, France

Sculpture, Troyes, Champagne, France

Sculpture, Troyes, Champagne, France

The best way to discover Troyes’ art and history is to walk the compact medieval centre. Diving down narrow alleys between the timber-framed houses that are emblematic of the town. There are small courtyards and squares to discover, and 12th and 13th Century churches hidden amongst the tangle of streets to find. Amongst these pedestrianised streets the past seems to come alive.

Historic Troyes is said to be shaped like a champagne cork. A shape formed originally by defensive walls, and today by elegant boulevards and the River Seine as it twists around the town. The resemblance to a champagne cork can still be seen today despite the town’s expansion. Equally, it could be a mushroom or, if you’re a teenage boy, a more phallic object. I doubt the tourist board will adopt that interpretation any time soon though.

The stem of the cork is where the medieval old town is found. In the bulbous head of the cork can be found the early 13th Century Cathédrale Saint-Pierre-et-Saint-Paul, surrounded by a collection of timber-framed medieval houses. Next to the cathedral in former church buildings is the Musée d’Art Moderne with a pretty sculpture garden, and a treasure trove of works by Cézanne, Degas, Gauguin, Matisse and Picasso.

The walk between the two areas takes you through lovely squares flanked by 17th and 18th Century buildings, and over the Canal des Trevois. The route is dotted with public art, statues and fountains. On a warm sunny day, Troyes is a fantastic place to stroll around. When you’re done strolling, my advice is to head to Le Millésimé on Place Saint-Rémy, near the food market. Relax with a glass of local champagne and watch the world go by.

Troyes, Champagne, France

Troyes, Champagne, France

Troyes, Champagne, France

Troyes, Champagne, France

Troyes, Champagne, France

Troyes, Champagne, France

Musée d'Art Moderne, Troyes, Champagne, France

Musée d’Art Moderne, Troyes, Champagne, France

Sculpture, Troyes, Champagne, France

Sculpture, Troyes, Champagne, France

The historic wealth of art and culture can be traced back well over two thousand years, to when Troyes was founded by Celtic tribes. It became a centre of trade between Northern France and Italy following the Roman conquest of Gaul. Trade links made Troyes wealthy and, in the medieval period, famous for its great trade fairs which established it as an international trading centre.

The decline of Troyes began with the persecution of the many Protestants who had founded industries there, particularly cloth making industries based first on the wool trade and later cotton. A massacre of Calvinist Huguenots in 1572, and a century of occasional persecution, culminated in Louis XIV’s revocation of the Edict of Nantes in 1685.

Sculpture, Troyes, Champagne, France

Sculpture, Troyes, Champagne, France

Troyes, Champagne, France

Troyes, Champagne, France

Cathedral, Troyes, Champagne, France

Cathedral, Troyes, Champagne, France

Troyes, Champagne, France

Troyes, Champagne, France

By guaranteeing Protestants equal rights the Edit of Nantes brought an end to the French Wars of Religion. The ending of religious, civil and legal protections saw a wave of persecution unleashed on the Huguenots, and a flood of skilled Huguenot workers leave the city. Many of the refugees established themselves in Protestant England and the Netherlands, both of which benefitted economically while the economy of Troyes, and France, was severely damaged.

Troyes went from being a centre of trade to a relative backwater. Something modern visitors should should be grateful for: it’s one of the reasons why its collection of medieval buildings has made it into the 21st Century.

Brexit is just English humour, Troyes, Champagne, France

Brexit is just English humour, Troyes, Champagne, France

7 thoughts on “A town with a big heart, historic Troyes

  1. Quite lovely. Of course the winter must be dismal. But i am always movwd by the length of history of those places. We had a house in Normandy in a very small village that had a chirch dating back to the 14th century. So for saeculae seculorum people had lived in this place, traveled, by foot or horse from one tiny village to the other. Same mustbhappen in England too I guess.

    • Winter may be dismal Brian, but I bet it’s still a lot better than winter in The Hague. Wind, rain and grey skies…but mainly the wind. I love small places with a back story, in their day they were like metropolises, today sleepy backwaters. It’s true in the UK as well, but mostly anywhere nice is overrun with people.

        • London is just too crowded, and it never gets any better except at Xmas when it empties out a little. Have a great time, and remember, the Republic of London voted to Remain.

        • I did realize the strong remain sak. Also the incredible vitality of London. Coming from Paris this was like another planet: alive, buoyant, loud. Quite a change from my depressing Paris. 😎

        • If there’s one thing you can say about London, it is that it’s loud! Returning these days it always comes as a jolt to the system. The Hague is very quiet, no planes overhead, very little traffic, neighbours who are respectful of noise … all things that are missing in London. It does have life though, and I do miss that sometimes. I can do my own comparison with Paris in September when I go back for the first time in 12 years. Hope all going well on the mini Grand Tour Brian?

        • Everything is fine, thank you. Rhe continent is like subdued. Noise is life. 🔨🔨🔨🔨👀 and Paris is great. Loced London even for a few days. Do remember to send you a reco before you come in september. I have a list of to-do things somewhere that can be of help. When are you coming? Early or late septmber?

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