Hi Frugalistas! Despite being decimated during World War 1, after which only 60 buildings were left standing, Reims is rightly proud of its architecture and architectural history.
Roman origins of Reims
Although not founded by the Romans, Reims was a Roman town. One of the original Roman gates is still standing, in good condition. Look inside to find the carving of Romulus and Remus in one of the arches, and look carefully at the remnants of the road – you can see the imprint of wheels. If you are staying overnight in Reims, it is beautifully illuminated at night.
The caves of the Taittinger champagne house are also the home to a Roman chalk quarry. Now used to house the company’s premium labels, the original tool marks on the walls are an enduring reminder of the long history of this town. (I was able to visit these caves on a private tour, and see the quarry. It may not be part of the normal caves tour.)
Gothic, Medieval and Baroque
You don’t need to look hard to find Reims’ Gothic past. The magnificent Cathedral, although largely rebuilt is a charming example of Gothic architecture. I particularly loved the dual rose windows, paying homage to the Virgin Mary. For lovers of more contemporary art, look out for the Chagall windows – truly stunning!
If fairy tale turrets of Medieval times are more your thing, look around carefully, as survivors do remain. I was particularly taken with a Medieval archway complete with two turrets – so quaint, you could almost imagine Rapunzel letting her hair down any moment!
There is but one Baroque building left standing in Reims – the pretty Hotel de Ville (Town Hall). Only its façade is original with the rest having been bombed during WW1, but lovers of this more ornate style of architecture are in for a treat.
Given most of the town was razed to the ground during WW1, it is no surprise that Art Deco is the star of the show in Reims. There was a need to rebuild the town quickly, so architects came from all over France, bringing their own ideas and interpretation of this new design style. The Art Deco style of Reims is quite different and distinctive. My guide described it as being a pastiche, which I think is quite unfair – to me it is a reflection of a new style that is in evolution, melded with more classical styles so as not to outrage the populous.
As you walk around Reims and admire its Art Deco you will notice the profusion of floral motifs, that are not necessarily strongly associated with Art Deco. These are a symbol of rebirth – an important message that is far more important than design purity. The best street to see Reims Art Deco in all its glory is XXXXX
For those who like their Art Deco more “pure” head around the side of the Cathedral to the Carnegie Library. Make sure you visit the interiors – there is a beautiful stained glass light in the foyer. The reading room can be visited by quiet and considerate tourists (it is still a working local library, remember) where some beautiful Art Deco windows can be found.
The architecture is yet another reason to visit this charming town – as well as the Champagne!
Note: I was a guest of Reims Tourisme during my visit. It’s a genuinely lovely town, and I wouldn’t be writing about it if I hadn’t enjoyed it.