A stroll in Dijon's historic center

 

Dijon, a mid-sized city that makes a nice stop-off between Paris and Lyon, has several claims to fame, including the mustard that bears its name and its compact and largely-intact Gothic-era historic center, designated in 2015 as a UNESCO World Heritage site.

PP1000093But our trip started with a plan for lunch on the way to Lyon; friends had sent us to a Michelin-starred restaurant with a reasonably-priced prix-fixe lunch. Since the restaurant was across the center of Dijon from the station, we had a pleasant walk, and time to enjoy the architecture and street scenes, and the mothership of mustard. It's my favorite brand, but I didn't really care for the assortment of flavored mustards that the store is full of.

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But even before the main street, we passed by and through a lovely park, dedicated to Henri Darcy, the hydraulic engineer who created Dijon's water system, and did the same for many other French cities. Among his developments were the type of tube used in most water systems today; he is honored not only by his park and statue, but in the name of the unit used to measure fluid permeability.

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Dijon is full of inter-esting buildings in a variety of styles, some going back before Gothic, and others continuing into the 17th and 18th centuries. This one, however, defies any attempt to link it with a single style.

Further down the street, though, the styles are clearer, closer to the historic center around the church of Notre-Dame de Bon-Espoir. 

The Pharmacie du Miroir's building dates
to the 15th century.

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We come now to Notre-Dame, which despite its central location, is not the city's cathedral; that's a few blocks away. But Notre-Dame is the heart of the historic quarter. It dates to about 1220, and of course it is on the site of an earlier church, and of course it has been rebuilt and tinkered with many times since.

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Among its more unusual features is its size and shape; because it was built in an already inhabited neighborhood and without the funds that might have taken a larger plot, it is narrow, and has a fairly flat facade opening directly on the street in front of it.

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Because of the narrow space, there was no room for the flying buttresses we often associate with large Gothic churches, so the weight of the framing and the roof rests directly on pillars, not on buttressed walls. Because there are no external buttresses, nearly the whole site is available as interior space. 

Also missing are large groups of gargoyles to shed water from the church's roof to the ground; there are a few, but the two rows of gargoyle-like figures across the front are purely-decorative. Because of damage to the originals, these are later additions.

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The church has a special place in Dijon's history. In September 1513, a Swiss army laid siege to Dijon and bombarded the city. On Sept. 11, the citizens carried the statue of Notre-Dame in a procession through the streets, asking for her help. Two days later, the Swiss unexpectedly withdrew.

Over 400 years later, on Sept. 10, 1944, when the German army appeared to be preparing to make a major stand against approaching French forces, the bishop of Dijon made a public plea to Notre-Dame to protect the town. That night, the Germans withdrew and the French army entered on the anniversary day of the 1513 procession.

A 16th-century tapestry in the city Fine Arts Museum commemorates the first event; a new one, referring to both, was made in the late 1940s and hangs in the church.

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Near the church numbers of older buildings give a sense of the Quartier Notre-Dame as it was many years ago, along with such modern expressions as a wonderful children's carousel with a wide assortment of vehicles, horses and fantasy creatures to ride on.

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Not far away, the actual cathedral shows another Dijon specialty, the  "toits bourguignons," or Burgundian polychrome roofs, made of color-glazed terracotta tiles in geometric patterns.PP1000126PP1000128

And below, just a pretty park on the way to Restaurant Stephane Derbord, where lunch includes a daily "surprise menu" of three courses, based on the day's specials for €28, up from €25 when we visited five years ago. What more can you ask of a stopover: a wonderful historic center and a wonderful gourmet lunch?

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The best part of every trip is realizing that it has upset your expectations

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