Rouen skyline © Frederic Bisson
The capital of Normandy and a popular holiday destination, Rouen is also a centre of industry and commerce; it is the fifth largest port in France and the closest one to Paris, split into a right and left bank area by the River Seine.
Rouen is also one of France's most historic cities; William the Conqueror died here in 1087 and in 1431 it was the stage for the trial and execution of Joan of Arc. She was burned at the stake in the Place du Vieux-Marché (the Old Marketplace); the position is still marked by a huge bronze cross and worth visiting while on holiday.
Allied bombing largely destroyed the city of Rouen; all of its bridges and many of its great churches were ruined. However, substantial investment has been focused on restoring parts of the city to its former medieval glory. The great Cathédrale Notre-Dame, immortalised by Monet, remained fairly unscathed and is well worth a visit for its wonderful stonework. An especially interesting Rouen holiday attraction is the Chapelle de la Vierge, where the heart of Richard the Lion-Heart is entombed as a token of his affection for the people of Rouen. The chapel also contains the Renaissance tombs of the cardinals d'Amboise.
Dozens of churches and some fine museums can be explored including the Musée des Beaux-Art, which is one of France's best provincial museums and includes the works of great French artists such as Veronese, Velasquez, Caravaggio, Rubens, Poussin, Fragonard and Monet (including several versions of his Rouen Cathedral).