Despite the addition of all sorts of towers, spires and vertical extensions, Rouen’s Cathédrale de Notre-Dame remains at heart the Gothic masterpiece that was built in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. Its intricately sculpted western facade was Monet’s subject for multiple studies of changing light, several of which now hang in the Musée d’Orsay in Paris. Monet might not recognize it today, however – it’s been scrubbed a gleaming white, free from the centuries of accreted dirt he so carefully recorded. Inside, the ambulatory and crypt hold the assorted tombs of various recumbent royalty, such as Duke Rollo, who died “enfeebled by toil” in 933 AD, and the actual heart of Richard the Lionheart.
On summer nights, under the name of Cathédrale de Lumière, spectacular thirty-minute light shows are projected onto the cathedral facade; one show draws on Monet’s paintings to create giant Impressionist canvases, while another depicts the story of Joan of Arc.