Orléans : Part 1

LINKS to other pages in the FRANCE PART ONE site and to the Colin Day Travelling Days series:

NORMANDY (Honfleur and Deauville)
NORMANDY (D Day Beaches and Bayeux)
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ORLÉANS is situated on the Loire river and is about 130 km (80 miles) south-west of Paris. It is the préfecture (capital) of the Loiret département and of the Centre région. Its population in 1999 was 113,126.

Orléans was founded during the Roman Empire as the city of Aureliani. The city was a centre of revolt against Julius Caesar in 52 BC and because of it was burnt to the ground.

Attila the Hun made an attempt to capture and sack the city in 451 but was driven off by the last-minute arrival of an army under the combined command of Theodorid, king of the Visigoths, and the Roman general Aëtius. The city was made temporary capital of the Frankish kingdom in 498.

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Joan of Arc's (Jeanne d'Arc) deliverance of the city in 1429 was the turning point in the Hundred Years War (1339 - 1453) at the time when Paris had been captured by the English and was infested by disease and Orléans, the key city of central France, was under siege. Crazed or divinely inspired, the 17-year-old peasant girl presented herself to the Dauphin, the uncrowned Charles VII, at Chinon, rallied French troops at Blois and then led them up the Loire to confront the English at Orléans. She informed the encircling army that God had sent her to throw them out of France and then proceeded to break all military rules to raise the siege.

The Maid of Orléans is honoured everywhere, in museums, in civic statues and most memorably, in the stained glass of the vast Neogothic cathedral. Joan of Arc was canonised in 1920.

The picture on the right shows the Rue Jeanne d'Arc leading to the Place du Martroi and the Cathedral of Sainte-Croix

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The cathedral is situated on the site of a 10th century church of which part of the foundations have been preserved. The original building of the cathedral began in 1278 and continued into the 16th century.

It was badly damaged during the Wars of Religion (1562 to 1598) and was largely rebuilt in the Gothic style during the 17th and 18th centuries. Louis XIII restored the choir and nave, Louis XIV built the transept and Louis XV and XVI rebuilt the western facade and the twin towers.

The west front with its twin towers has five doorways. The towers are 81 metres (266 feet) high and are the work of the architect Trouard based on original plans by J. Gabriel. The central spire, built in 1858, is 114 metres (374 feet) high.

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The central (main) entrance to the cathedral (left and above).

The interior of the cathedral (below) measures 136 metres (446 feet) in length. The nine chapels behind the high altar date from the late 13th century. The outer walls of the two side aisles and those of the choir date from 14th century.

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There are many stained glass windows in the cathedral. Those in the lower nave include a series depicting the life of Joan of Arc (below).

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The siege of Orléans by the English threatened to bring all of France under England's rule. Its lifting turned the tide of the Hundred Years War (1337–1453). Joan of Arc headed of a small force which joined the besieged Orléanais and subsequently forced the English to withdraw on May 8, 1429.

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Joan of Arc being consumed by flames in Rouen (left).

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