Thursday, 23 July 2015


The Hospices de Beaune

The third day of our trip to Burgundy and we are in Beaune. It is principally known for the wonderful Hospices de Beaune (above), but we wanted to make a fuller exploration. To this end we parked at the northern end of the town and walked around the ramparts to the south where the Hospices and the other main buildings are. We started at the Porte St Nicolas.

This arc de triomphe was erected in 1770 and replaced a medieval gate which was destroyed to create room for it. The immediately adjoining ramparts were demolished in 1866. We started the rampart walk just beyond the gate and followed a path along the top of the walls. The first notable site was the Theatre de Verdure, a now derelict public baths of 1853 (which continued in use until the end of the 1960s). The two towers were the separate entrances for men and women.

The ramparts were scattered with bastions and towers and descended every so often to street level to cross a road - presumably this was where there had once been a medieval gate. At one such point there was a house with a wonderful Burgundian roof.

A bit further on the two best towers followed each other in close proximity. The tour de Poudres (gunpowder store - below) and the Grosse Tour. 

This brought us to the Hospices de Beaune, or Hotel-Dieu, founded in 1443 by Nicolas Rolin, Chancellor to the Duke of Burgundy, and his wife Guigone de Salins. It was intended to provide for the poor (of whom there were many after the Hundred Years War) and the sick. In 1460 the Pope approved the creation of a community of nursing sisters (i.e. nuns). Eventually the Hotel-Dieu functioned solely as a hospital and continued to do so in its medieval rooms until 1971.

The initial external view of the building rather defies photography, but the imposing flèche and canopy over the doorway are more amenable.

The building is rectangular, built around a large one court, the Cour d'Honneur. The first view of this courtyard is stunning. Interestingly, the incredible Burgundian roof is not original and dates only from 1902-7, the work of the architect Louis Sauvageot.

The stone building on the town side housed a single large ward, the which contained canopied beds in alcoves. The decoration of the wooden ties under the ship's keel roof is delightful. At the end is the chapel. The whole thing is the very model of a medieval hospital.

I was surprised and delighted to discover that the Hospices was home to polyptychs by the great artist Rogier van der Weyden. This one shows Chancellor Rolin and his wife with the Angel Gabriel, the Virgin Mary and saints Sebastian and Francis.

When we had enjoyed the Hospice to the full we had a mediocre lunch in nearby Place Carnot and continued our walk around the town. We walked up Rue Carnot to Place Monge to see the rather austere Hôtel de la Rochepot (1522) and the wonderful Beffroi. It dates from the late 13th century. Happily a project to demolish it in 1721 was abandoned because it would have been too expensive. 

We turned left just after the Beffroi and found ourselves facing the imposing apse of the church of Notre-Dame. Left again brought us into Rue Paradis, off which is the former Hôtel des Ducs de Bourgogne (13th and 14th century). This lovely building is now the Museum of Wine.

You can walk between the various buildings and emerge in front of Notre Dame. This is remarkable. The church dates from the 12th century and is basically pure Burgundian romanesque. Then in the 13th century the fantastic gothic porch was added, striking a dramatic but rather discordant note.

Facing the church from some distance is the renaissance Maison du Colombier (1572), now a restaurant.

We now followed the left side of the church and found our way to the rue de Lorraine, the main street which leads back to the Porte Nicolas.

Conditions: hot (26 or so).

Distance: two miles.

Rating: five stars, for the Hospices alone. Michelin's rating system strangely only awards it two stars (out of a maximum of three).

No comments: