Visit Bourges in the Loire Valley

Photo of Bourges

Bourges tourism, attractions and sights of interest

Bourges is located towards the south east of the Loire Valley region and south from Orleans.

The town is best known for its cathedral, although the town itself has other attractions as well, especially an abundance of buildings constructed in the years after the 'Great fire of Bourges' in 1487.

Bourges cathedral

A visit to Bourges will usually start from the cathedral. The external appearance of the gothic Bourges cathedral will certainly remind you of the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris, which shares a similar design. Above all both cathedrals feature elaborately decorated facades and portails (entrances) and an abundance of the supporting flying buttresses along the sides.

According to tradition construction of the french Gothic style cathedral began in 1195  (but most likely the work began later), at the behest of Archbishop Henri de Sully (1184-1199). The surface area of Bourges cathedral Church is about 6000 square metres, and the stones used for building come from the quarries of  La Celle, Meillant and St. Florence. Like other Gothic churches, the cathedral of Bourges suffered serious damage over the centuries, especially during the wars of religion and the French Revolution. Renovations began in 1829, under Pajot, an architect from Orleans. Unlike the architectural layout usually followed by Gothic cathedrals, the Cathedral of Bourges is not a "Latin cross", but it is a long parallelogram, with an eastern end that terminates with a semi-circle.

The cathedral has five aisles, with a semi-circular apse but without the transept. It has five portals that enter the church, and each portal is decorated with many sculptures. The central one, decorated very finely, has a bas-relief depicting the "Last Judgment". To increase the stability of the building, as in other Gothic churches with their tall thin structure, the perimeter walls have been reinforced by powerful buttresses. With regard to the windows, apart from those of the apse, the others are all original thirteenth century.

Bourges cathedral is a listed UNESCO Heritage site and the tower and crypt is a listed French National Monument.

Palaces and other Bourges highlights

Head north from the cathedral to discover the medieval heart of Bourges where grand palaces and ancient half-timbered houses sit quietly side by side.

Among the civil building it is the Jacques Coeur Palace that stands out, built in 1450 and remarkable for its Gothic architecture. The foundations lean on Gallo-Roman walls, and the façade is like a feudal castle on the western side, while it presents an elegant structure on the East side. The palace has a rich decoration of symbols, like hearts and shells, under the windows and parapets, a lily in the window of the royal chapel. The two figures that look from the fake windows on the sides of the canopy probably represent Jacques Coeur and his wife.

Gardens in the marshes of Bourges

An interesting example of the first French Renaissance style is found at the Lallemant Palace, begun in 1487 and completed between 1515 and 1528.

Today the Lallemant Palace houses the Museum of Decorative Arts and it retains the old chapel, with its finely sculpted ceiling. It has interesting collections of furniture and paintings, tapestries, and numerous works of art from the sixteenth to the eighteenth century.

Nearby and in Flamboyant Gothic style is the Echevins Palace, from the late fourteenth century and now the seat of Estève Museum, which houses many works of Maurice Estève (1904-2001).

Continue a little further to discover the remains of the Gallo-Roman walls that once surrounded Bourges.

Just outside the Bourges city walls is the region known as “Les Marais” ["The Marshlands"], former marshes of the Yevre and Voiselle Rivers that have now been drained and are crossed by intersecting channels dividing numerous small gardens. Garden enthusiasts will be interested to learn that Bourges contains the 'Conservatoire national du Pélargonium' - a botanical garden that specialises in pelargoniums.

In and around Bourges there are also some excellent local restaurants, where you should make a brief stop to sample the "Sancerre" and “Chavignol” cheese , two typical products of the old traditional cuisine of Berry.

During the summer months there are a series of events that take place in the town, along with events such as twilight guided tours of the town which pass carefully lighted buildings so be sure to visit Bourges Tourist Information to check for events at the time of your visit. Today the city is also famous for its Music Festival, known as the so-called "Printemps de Bourges" (April).

History of Bourges

Bourges is an ancient Gallic city, built on a hill overlooking the swampy plains around the 'Marais' (marshes) and located in Berry, in central France, in a very fertile land. The ancient city of the Gauls was also defended by massive stone walls 40 feet thick, which Julius Caesar (100-44 BC) described in his "Commentaries", refrring to the city as "very beautiful" ('Pulcherrima fere totius Galliae urbs'  - 'One of the most beautiful cities of almost all Gaul'). The Romans called the city Avaricum.

After being conquered and destroyed by Julius Caesar in 52 BC, Bourges was inserted by the Romans in the province called "Aquitania Prima" in the 4th century BC, to be later rebuilt and governed  by a Roman governor, but it also enjoyed a reasonable degree of administrative autonomy.

After the fall of  Roman Empire, Bourges was occupied by the Visigoths until the battle of Vouillé (507) when they lost the Aquitania. Bourges was conquered by Clovis (466 ca.-511), and it was later ruled by his son Chlodomer (born ca. 495) ; then, around 561, by Guntram (632 ca.-692 ca.), the King of Orleans. The city later became part of the Kingdom of the Carolingian Empire, but it suffered from invasions by the Normans, being burned and destroyed three times. In this period, the bishops of Bourges were very important, among them Saint Ursino (died 300 ca.), who preached the Gospel here and founded a church.

Under the reign of Philip II Augustus (1165-1223) Bourges was equipped with a more powerful defensive wall and later it was declared the capital of Berry. Among the lords of Berry certainly the most famous was Jean de Berry (1340-1416), known as a patron of the arts. King Charles VII (1403-1461), who ascended to the throne in 1442 made this city his ordinary residence in the early years of his reign,adding to the fortifications and calling himself 'King of Bourges'. It was under his reign that the figure of Jacques Coeur (1395-1456) emerged, a wealthy merchant and businessman who built a splendid palace at Bourges.

King Louis XI (1423-1483), the successor in 1464 to Charles VII, founded the University at Bourges, which became famous for the Faculty of Law and enriched the city in privileges. In the sixteenth century, in the religious wars, the city was taken by the Protestants under the Count of Montgomery (1526-1574) in 1562 and much damage was down to the religious monuments in the city.

The demographic and economic development of the city in the nineteenth century was due to Napoleon III (1808-1873), who chose Bourges  as the site of the Arsenal in France and also the Imperial Foundry. The city thus became an important centre for armaments and this opportunity gave life to numerous urban development projects, including the railroad, and new neighbourhoods.

Map of Bourges & places nearby

Castle Town village