France // The north //


As you head south from Amiens towards Paris, the countryside becomes broad and flat; Beauvais, 60km from Amiens, seems to fit into this landscape. Rebuilt in tasteful but dull fashion after World War II, it’s not a town for aimless wandering, however it is redeemed by its audacious, eccentric Gothic cathedral. It perfectly demonstrates the religious materialism of the Middle Ages – its main intention was to be taller and larger than its rivals. The choir, completed in 1272, briefly 5m higher than that of Amiens, collapsed in 1284. Its replacement also fell and, the authorities having overreached themselves financially, the church remained as it is today: unfinished, mutilated and rather odd. At over 155m high, the interior vaults are impressive, seemingly on a larger scale than at Amiens; though the props and brackets reinforcing the structure internally show its fragility. The building’s real beauty lies in its glass, its sculpted doorways and the remnants of the so-called Basse-Oeuvre, a ninth-century Carolingian church incorporated into (and dwarfed by) the Gothic structure. It also contains a couple of remarkable clocks: a 12m-high astronomical clock built in 1865, with figures mimicking scenes from the Last Judgement on the hour; and a medieval clock that’s been working for seven hundred years.

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