Amiens

On The Road Travel Essays

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Amiens

Capital of Picardy, 140,000 inhabitants, dépt. of the Somme. Amiens is not a major stop in the passports repertoire but it makes a convenient break halfway between Paris and Bruges on either 'Crossroads of Europe' or 'Waterways and Mountaintops.' (Most groups will not be devastated if they end up skipping Amiens and heading direct for Bruges.) Your focus will be entirely on the cathedral. The remainder of the town is of no interest. In the opinion of many this is the most beautiful of all the gothic cathedrals. The ubiquitous C19 architect-cum-restorer Viollet-le-Duc considered Amiens the perfect cathedral. It was built, for the most part, between 1220 and 1270. It is the largest cathedral in France (470 ft. long, 140 ft. high and 50 ft. wide from pillar to pillar in the nave). It has 126 pillars, and the spire reaches up 370ft. It could accommodate a congregation of over 10,000 people. In WW I surprisingly little damage was done in spite of the cathedral being hit by 9 shells. It was spared in WW II. Amiens was the venue for the royal marriages of Philippe-Auguste and Ingeborg of Denmark and of Charles VI and Isabeau de Bavière.

It is enough to let the group wander around the cathedral on their own. A few introductory words based on the above should suffice. It is also worth mentioning where the wealth came from necessary for the construction of such a vast edifice. Amiens lies at the heart of the great northern European industrial triangle from London to Flanders to Picardy. As you drive around this area you cannot fail to see the relics of that industrial legacy, especially in the form of covered-over slag heaps from disused opencast coal mines. In the Middle Ages Amiens was one of the great centres of the textile industry, famous especially for its velvets. It still is today. The great cathedral is as much the legacy of that industrial past as the slag heaps are of C19 and C20 industry.

For some general words on stained glass and other typical Gothic features such as flying buttresses and cross-ribbed vaulting, see Chartres notes.

Jules Verne, author of '20,000 Leagues under the Sea,' was born in Nantes but spent most of his life in Amiens where he died in 1905.

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