Capital of the province of Aquitaine at the end of the Roman Empire, capital of the Kingdom of France in the reign of Charles VII, Bourges carefully maintains its heritage from a glorious past. A visit to Bourges will usually start with the cathedral – but note that although the cathedral is the main attraction in Bourges there are many other historical monuments and places of interest to discover in the town, so allow time to explore properly. Here is a list of the 5 best thing to do:
- St Étienne Cathedral – Archbishop Henri de Sully began work on this Gothic masterpiece – a Unesco World Heritage Site – in 1195; a second stage of construction, including the five sculpted portals, was completed in 1230. Other highlights include a series of stained-glass windows featuring craftsmen at work and an astronomical clock, designed in 1424 by a local mathematician and astronomer, painted by Jean d’Orléans and presented to Charles VII upon his marriage to Marie d’Anjou. The oldest astronomical clock conserved in France, it is amazingly accurate.
- The Old Town – All you need are your own two feet and a sense of wonder and you’ll find exciting landmarks like the house where the famous merchant Jacques Cœur was born in 1395. There are also some fantastic merchants’ houses from earlier in the 1400s that survived the fire and are either attractions on their own terms or host the city’s museums.
- Palais Jacques-Cœur – A merchant at the head of a huge network of trading posts, Jacques Cœur was appointed master of the mint to King Charles VII in 1438. He was ennobled in 1441 and became the King’s right-hand man. The palace (1443-1451) is testimony to his rank. Court jealousies led to his arrest in 1451. Escaping from prison, he fled to Rome. He died of disease when leading a Crusade in 1456. Jacques Cœur became a legendary figure and French poet François Villon wrote of his life and deeds.
- Jardin de l’Archevêché – Next to the cathedral, these gardens were laid in the 1730s for the Archbishop of Bourges, eventually becoming the park for the town hall. In a familiar French style there are boxwood topiaries trimmed to sharp points, lime trees in the shape of globes as well as formal lawns and flowerbeds hemmed by paths.
- Les Nuits Lumière – In the evening from June to September the town’s most beautiful Gothic and Renaissance landmarks are lit with magnificent projections. At the Cathedral, Jardin de l’Archevêché and Hôtel des Échevins Palais these ethereal images are combined with music, and part of a walk that literally sheds new light on Bourges and its past.
- Promenade des Remparts – In the 4th century Avaricum (Gallo-Roman Bourges) became the capital of the Aquitaine Premièr province, and so controlled a massive tract of southwestern France. At that time the city erected a new system of walls, gates and towers to defend itself in what is now Bourges’ upper town.
With some help from the tourist office you can walk the elliptical course of these defences.