A pioneer in gothic art, Picardie is a land of cathedral builders, laying claim to no less than six. The stroke of genius is the invention of the gothic vault, which frees up space to create windows. The generous amount of light that enters creates gentler, almost ethereal buildings. All were erected with the same intention: to build the tallest in Christendom. The most famous is certainly Amiens cathedral, in Somme. Listed as a UNESCO world heritage site and described by John Ruskin as the “Pantheon of Gothic architecture”, it could house the Notre-Dame de Paris twice over, making it the largest in Europe. Its rapid construction - in just fifty years - explains the consistency of its architecture.
The laser restoration of the sculptures on its façade - yet another technological innovation - has uncovered traces of colour (reds, blues, golds, etc.) and answered a historical question. “This is a true revelation, providing proof that gothic cathedrals in Europe had their façades painted in the Middle Ages,” says Xavier Bailly, director of historical buildings and monuments.
Amiens now offers a free quasi-magical show called “The cathedral in colours”, which employs a highly elaborate lighting technique to recreate the lost polychrome looks of the Middles Ages.
Located an hour from Paris, the Saint-Pierre cathedral in Beauvais, Oise, is also unmissable, boasting the tallest transept in the history of the gothic period with vaults measuring more than 48 metres! The genius architecture was praised by Viollet le Duc. The interior houses Auguste Vérité’s astronomical clock, a marvel of precision with its 90,000 parts and 50 automatons that re-enact the scene of the Last Judgement as each hour is struck, which children will find fascinating. In Senlis, the smallest of all the cathedrals in the Nord region of France holds sway over the ‘old town’, with its cobbled streets, distinctive hotels, chapels and cellars. Period films are often shot in this charming preserved district. The Noyon Cathedral, with the two crosspieces of its transept finished in a semicircle, is unique. From its hillock dubbed ‘the crowned mountain’, the Laon Cathedral in Aisne dominates the open country. From the top of its towers, decorated with statues representing the legendary “bullocks of Laon”, there is an unrestricted view for kilometres all around. “There’s no time in this cathedral, there’s eternity,” says Auguste Rodin of the Soissons Cathedral, one of the best examples of the traditional gothic period. The gothic period is very characteristic of medieval Picardian art and Picardian cathedrals should not overshadow the numerous abbeys such as Saint-Jean-des-Vignes in Soissons, Saint-Martin aux Bois, Saint-Germer de Fly and the unjustly little-known Crypt de Notre-Dame in Ham.
In addition to the cathedral-style basilica, another of the main features of Saint-Quentin in Aisne is the town hall, representative of the flamboyant civil style, as is the Compiègne town hall in Oise.
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