Georges Rouzeau - 2009-04-13
The Exhibition “The Hungarian Fauves 1904-1914: The Lesson of Matisse” is a great opportunity to discover or rediscover the beautiful town of Dijon. With its private mansions, timber-framed houses, churches, museums and fine restaurants, the capital of the dukes of Burgundy is a delight for both body and mind.
Let us now praise the great men of Dijon
If a town is put under a microscope and judged by its great men, then Dijon is, without doubt, a great town!
For example, take Philip the Bold, the first Duke of Burgundy. In the 14th century this skilful politician created a veritable Burgundian state which rivalled the Kingdom of France in terms of its power.
This art lover and lavish sponsor commissioned the rebuilding of Dijon's palace, inviting painters and sculptors from his estate that extended as far as Flanders. His dignified descendant, Philip the Good, also a great art lover, funded the brush strokes of Jan Van Eyck, Rogier Van Weyden and Hans Memling.
Dijon was also the home town of Bossuet (one of the French language's greatest prose-writers), the composer Rameau, President des Brosses (author of the delightful 'Letters from Italy'), the licentious novelist Andréa de Nerciat and the poet and playwright Alexis Piron (famous for his sharp repartee, particularly with Voltaire and les Beaunois.) Nor should we forget the poet Aloysius Bertrand, who wrote the 'Gaspard of the Night' collection (Baudelaire considered him to be the father of prose poetry, inspiring his own work of 'Paris Spleen.') If you are in the mood to pay homage to Bertrand, his bust can be found in the jardin de l'Arquebuse. Dijon is also the birthplace of Adolphe Joanne, the inventor of travel guides (namely 'The Blue Guide'.) He also founded 'Illustration' journal and the French Alpine Club, and was born at 85 rue de la Liberté.
Nowadays, strolling the streets of Dijon, you might come across the imposing figure of Yan Pei-Ming, a Chinese painter who graduated from Dijon's École des Beaux-Arts in 1986 and who has become known for his monochrome portraits of Mao. A series of five immense canvasses entitled 'The Funeral of Mona Lisa' is on display at the Louvre until 18th May 2009.
In short Dijon is a town where inspiration flourishes, through its great spirituality (attested by the number of its churches) and through its literature and art. So what is left of all this nowadays? The answer is an inextinguishable urban charm. Dijon is a joy for lovers of architecture with its abundance of churches, superb private mansions and medieval timber-framed houses. You will also delight in finding antique shops, secondhand booksellers, framing boutiques, graphic arts workshops, and, to top it all, several fine restaurants.
Place de la Libération
Take yourself to the centre of the Place de la Libération, formerly the Place Royale, where a statue of Louis XIV, that was destroyed in the revolution, used to stand. This semi circle of arcades, filled with boutiques and crowned with a stone balustrade, has a very rigorous classicism. Here you can certainly recognise the work of the Versailles architect Jules Hardouin-Mansart. The decidedly ubiquitous Jean-Michel Wilmotte restored the square, and notably freed it of its cars.
So, you are now facing the Palace of the Dukes and Estates of Burgundy which contains the town hall and the Fine Arts Museum with its attractive Burgundian stone that is lit up by the sun. The museum will be a treasured moment of your stay in Dijon, even though extensive renovation work is currently underway and several rooms are temporarily closed.
The museum, which is one of the most interesting in France, has the fortune of an abundance of masterpieces to be viewed at your heart's desire. For an express tour, head directly to the Guard-Room which houses the tombs of Philip the Bold and John the Fearless with his wife Margaret of Bavaria, both of which are constructed to a similar design: recumbent statues lying on black marble tombstones held up by small alabaster arches under which there is a group of 'weeping mourners' in a funeral cortège. A very attractive way to deal with death!
There are a many more wonders and curiosities to be appreciated within the walls of this museum including 'The Nativity' from the Master of Flemalle and several Swiss and German primitives (the largest collection of such in France.) The Dijon sculptor François Rude is represented by a plaster replica of his most celebrated work 'The Departure of the Volunteers of 1792', that appears on the high relief of Paris' Arc de Triomphe.
The gens de robe (legal professionals') quarter
The old 'gens de robe' (legal professionals') quarter covers the area behind La Place de la Libération with Law being just as much a speciality of Dijon as its mustard. The old Law Court, (now the Court of Appeal) with its superb Renaissance facade and chiselled door, is in need of a little restoration.
In the surrounding area the private mansions give one an idea of Dijon's status in the 17th and 18th centuries. The mansions hôtel Legouz de Gerland, hôtel Fyot-de-Mimeure and even hôtel de Bretagne display their pilasters, pediments and overhanging turrets and their attractive semicircular courtyards. But unfortunately the stables and horses have now given way to cars and co-owned boudoirs.
You can also visit the musée Magnin in the same quarter. This 17th century mansion is a hidden gem, a welcoming and intimate exhibition house for enthusiasts; a far cry from the sterile atmospheres found in modern museums. Maurice Magnin and his sister have brought together a collection of little known artists, minor Italian and Flemish masters, but also French painters from the end of the 16th century to 19th century amongst a context of 18th c. or Napoleonic Empire period furniture.
Next to the Place François-Rude, is the busy rue des Forges, with its rows of several remarkable private mansions such as hôtel Morel-Sauvegrain which has a 15th century facade , the Maison Milsand with its richly decorated Renaissance facade, and the hôtel Chambellan whose inner courtyard is embellished with a fine Revolution period staircase with a central column finishing in a flamboyant palm tree-style vault springing from a gardener's basket.
The town of a hundred steeples
Dijon also preserves an important religious heritage, even if there are no longer one hundred churches as in the times of François 1st.. These days certain churches house a museum or a chamber of commerce.
A little further afield from the town centre (scarcely five minutes away) is the Saint-Bénigne Cathedral which is worth visiting particularly for the remains of its Romanesque rotunda rediscovered in 1843. Its highly symbolical layout is an irresistible evocation of Christ's tomb in Jerusalem.
In the cloister's old Eastern wing is a interesting archaeological museum, but perhaps only for those who have a specialised interest. In the superb 11th century Romanesque hall one can admire the particular attraction of very rare, wooden commemorative plaques which show evidence of the popular beliefs of Burgundy's Gallo-Roman era. It also has tombstones and pagan statues which honour the goddess of the river Seine.
The Notre-Dame church is a nice example of Gothic architecture in Burgundy and it occupies a central location in the middle of a very pretty quarter favoured by antique dealers. Its special attraction is its 'wish fulfilling owl' sculpted on a buttress of one of the chapels. To have your wish granted you have to stroke it with your left hand and walk away in the right direction without passing the sculpted dragon, situated further along, which holds the frightful power of being able to deny your wish!
Just as famous is the timber-framed house located at number 10 which, according to our tour-guide, has retained all of its contents since the Middle Ages. You are sure to notice the roofing of varnished tiles on hôtel de Vogüé one of Dijon's principal parliamentary homes. Go past the porch and turn around in order to admire its Renaissance decoration.
Opposite the church the rue de la Musette stagesa second hand book market. It also leads to an appealing Parisian inspired metallic covered marketplace housing a very colourful and animated market. In the surrounding area good restaurants such as Bistrot des Halles or David Zuddas' new restaurant D’Zenvies, are cheek by jowl with one another.
Dijon Tourist Office
11/11ter, rue des Forges
Tel. : +33 (0)892 700 558
Fax : +33 (0)380 30 90 02
Département of Côte d’or Tourist Website
Where to eat
Le Bistrot des Halles
10, rue Bannelier
Tel.: +33 (0)3 80 49 94 15
This popular establishment with 1900's bistro décor is full to the brim at lunchtimes with its 17 € set lunch menu consisting of: ham sprinkled with chopped parsley, Burgundy escargots, traditional pâté in a pastry crust and rabbit stew. Professional, rapid service.
12, rue Odebert
Tel. : +33 (0)3 80 50 09 26
David Zuddas, a starred chef for his 'auberge de la Charme', has just opened a new address which has really hit the mark. Set in modern décor (light parquet floor, melamine tables, white plastic chairs) he produces double-quick, set lunch menus which are great value for money: velouté of shellfish and slice of bread with black pudding on fresh goats cheese, Bourguignon style confit of ox cheekand a delicious chocolate tart.
Set menus at 15/20/35€ - A la Carte: 35/45€
Where to stay
Hôtel Philippe Le Bon
18, rue Sainte-Anne
This hotel is very well located and has modern and comfortable rooms with all purpose decoration. Ask for a room overlooking the courtyard which has pleasant views. Its only weakness is a pernickity reception. The hotel also has an up and coming restaurant - les Œnophiles.