Chartres Travel Guide

Chartres is a beautiful ancient city of France on the river Eure, 96 kilometers from Paris, on the slopes of a hill among a flat plain. The name of the city comes from the name of its first inhabitants – Karnuts. Before the Roman conquest, it was one of the religious centers of Gaul. In the 9th century, it was repeatedly attacked by the Vikings (Normans). In the Middle Ages, the title of Count of Chartres was carried by the leaders of Champagne.

Chartres Travel Guide, city tour

Chartres lower city (“downtown”), M.B. photo coleection

In 1286 it was bought into the royal domain. The title of Duke of Chartres has been held by various relatives of French kings since Princess René. In 1594, the first king of the Bourbon dynasty, Henry IV, was crowned in Chartres. Above the old part of the city, on a hill, rises the famous Gothic Cathedral of Notre Dame, built in record time (1194-1220) and possessing the richest sculptural decoration.

Chartres Travel Guide

Upper town and Cathedral of Our Lady of Chartres, modern look

Notre-Dame de Chartres Cathedral attracts pilgrims and tourists from all over the world.

Chartres Travel Guide, city tour Cathedral Notre Dame

Notre Dame de Chartres, the Cathedral, M.B. photo collection

Fragments of the history of the city of Chartres and the Cathedral of Our Lady.
“Circles of Light Notre Dame de Chartres”. The knightly order of St. Michael the Archangel never found its justification in Mont Saint-Michel, because because of the distance it was difficult for the knights to travel 360 kilometers once a year, and therefore the order ended up in the capital of France, where the Montmartre miracle also pleases with white beauty – “Sacré Coeur” and the famous “Notre Dame de Paris”. And the circle of time continues its movement, giving our imagination the opportunity to penetrate the secrets, and we will continue our paths-roads in dreams and in reality – 90 kilometers southwest of Paris there is the Church of Notre Dame, no less mysterious than in the capital itself and it is located in Chartres, in the once ancient place of central Gaul, which was inhabited by the Celtic tribe of Carnuts, worshiping the ancient spirits of nature, otherwise practicing druidism. It was on their sanctuary that the first church was laid in Carnutium (Chartres), created where there had previously been a dolmen, a well and a burial ground. Earlier there, the priests of Gaul even opened a training center where they initiated into their art, and they had a revelation, after which they created a wooden statue of a virgin with a baby and began to worship her. … Christians were then persecuted throughout the Roman Empire, but having found this image made of wood in the 3rd century, they began to venerate her as the “Black Virgin”, and a church was built in honor of the Virgin Mary at the location. The ancient figurine itself, according to legend, died during the French Revolution, because then the “enlightened revolutionaries” created idols for themselves, and tried to destroy Christian shrines. But Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ and historical memory could not be taken away. Ten years after the mutual excommunication of each other by Patriarch Photius of Constantinople and Pope Nicholas of Rome, it was in Chartres in 876 that the Protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary (Sancta Camisa) appeared, according to legend, this priceless Protection was transferred by King Charles the Bald, who reigned at that time, the grandson of Emperor Charlemagne , during the consecration of another church in Chartres, which his famous grandfather received as a gift from the Byzantine Empress Irina. The spiritual battle for this holy place is expressed in fire – fires rule here, the first cathedral burns in 1020, after which a Romanesque cathedral with a huge crypt was erected. Read more about the Cathedral and its history..
It was here, and not as it was then customary in Reims, that Henry IV, the first Bourbon on the royal throne of France, was crowned. And in the following centuries, the spiritual battle for the holy place did not stop – fires, wars and historical upheavals, everything happened and everything passed, and Chartres Cathedral survived and survived to this day, and right up to the 20th century. was not just a historical monument, but also a center of religious pilgrimage and a stronghold of French Catholicism.

Virtual tour inside

Lower city walking tour.
Contrary to popular belief, Chartres is not only a cathedral, widely known throughout the world among tourists. According to experts, the most interesting place in Chartres is the lower city. Actually, it can also be attributed to the infrastructure of the Cathedral, houses and fortress walls, its surrounding, old buildings. But in reality it is a whole city-fortress. For some reason, there are few tourists here (they don’t know, apparently 🙂), but there are many interesting places. We already wrote that “individual” tours in micro-groups are now being strongly offered at reduced prices, but which are really group tours. Tours with such “guides” and “experts” naturally include only a quick tour of the city (upper) and the Cathedral and do NOT include a walking tour of the lower city. If you ordered a real individual tour from Paris to Chartres, then you can see this historical part of the city, shown below in the photo album. Fortress, large castle and fortification.
For some reason, everyone forgets that any ancient city in France was built as a large fortress, castle and reinforced fortified area. All tourists, as a rule, walk around the upper city, also ancient and interesting, inspect the Cathedral, but only a small part visits the lower city. If you don’t know about it, you will circle around the cathedral and never guess to go through difficult paths through narrow streets, old steep stairs, various labyrinths and exit to the lower city. Reviews and photos:

What is the lower city of Chartres? The French themselves often call it Cité (just like an island in Paris). In fact, this is a large fortified area, a fortress and ancient, also fortified buildings located at its base. And so, a small photo report about the tour of the lower city, made in the summer, in June. This photo shows the multi-tiered defense system of the city. The wall is quite high, but not the same as in the castles of the Loire. Loopholes and corner towers. On the Loire, almost all castles have a one-level defense system with one large and high wall. Here you can also see several levels, on each of which the walls are not as high as compared to classical castles. Narrow steep stone stairs lead from the upper tier to the lower tier, which, presumably, are blocked in case of a siege of the city. Trees grow on the upper tier and a small park or garden is organized where you can sit and relax. On the tier just below there is a magnificent landscaped garden. Bizarre purely French tree forms, from cubism to cones, lawns and even a labyrinth. From the upper tier, a beautiful panoramic view of the Ayr River, the island and the surroundings of the city opens. The photo just shows such a tourist admiring the surroundings. Paths between grassy lawns are lined with rubble. Judging by personal experience, it takes about ten minutes to walk around the upper level, take photos and go down to the middle level. Depending on the love of fortresses and fortifications, this level is also worth spending ten to twenty minutes, if not for one but.. corresponding photo.

Medieval fortifications (fortresses and castles) fans will spend an extra ten minutes here to explore the loopholes and windows. And even more if they go to look at the corner tower. While children or the fair sex walk through the maze.
In general, the length of stay at this level is highly dependent on the interest of the tourist. 21 Continuing the tour of the lower city, we go down one more tier below. In reality, it turned out that this level also has a sublevel, which is used technologically to strengthen the soil and, of course, for defense. You can walk along it, or you can study the structure of the fortress wall. If you go down a small stone staircase, then we get to the middle level. Bishop’s Gardens (jardins de l’évêché).

The landscaped gardens at the base of the fortress are reminiscent of the gardens in the castles of the Loire. Tapered trees, lawns and even a labyrinth. Behind the labyrinth, you can approach and inspect the corner tower close by. This part of the fortress also resembles the castles of the Loire. We reach the end of the lawn, admire the view of the corner tower and turn back towards the Cite and descend to the river Eure to the lower level.

Personal experience and reviews. Spent 20 minutes (maze) and inspection of the tower. Went through the labyrinth. We took dozens of photos. We met only a couple of tourists. The weather was hot. We sat down on a park bench and did something that is forbidden in Russia and welcomed in France (“tasted” a small bottle of liquor bought in the upper city at the prompt of local residents). Let’s travel further, down to the river. 22. Gardens and parks at the foot of the Cathedral near the River Eure. After we went down two levels from the Cathedral, walked along the terrace, we get to the middle level, where there are parks and gardens. On one of the lawns is a labyrinth. In the Cathedral itself there is a ritual labyrinth for pilgrims, through which believers have walked for hundreds of years. The labyrinth in this garden is interesting for both adults and children. Most likely, its purpose is the same as in the Cathedral. 23. Walk along the middle tier, where landscaped gardens are located.

Bishop’s gardens (jardins de l’évêché). As we wrote, very similar to those that we saw in the castles of the Loire. Trees in the form of pyramids, cubes or balls. In combination with grass on lawns and gravel paths. On the left side of photo 23, a stone staircase leading to the Cathedral and the upper city is visible. Dead end des Minimes. The road leads down to the right, to the river Er and the island, which forms its two branches. 24. Continuing to go down towards the river, we get to the lower tier. The paths are made in the image of bicycle paths, like a mountain serpentine. Whether or not you can ride a bike on them is unknown, but for pedestrians they are clearly more convenient, especially if you go in the opposite direction – up to the Notre-Dame de Chartre Cathedral. All this is called the Bishop’s Gardens (jardins de l’évêché). Pay attention, among the deserted lawns at the very top, a small excursion group is visible, the route of which just passed from the river Eure to the hill with the Cathedral. In photo 24, taken from la Corroierie street, the “rear” part of the Cathedral is visible, which is closed by scaffolding. There is a reconstruction. To the left of the cathedral is Saint-Yves, either a hotel or a guest house. From this side, the structure is more reminiscent of a castle or a fortress than a religious institution. 25. This photo shows two tiers of fortress walls and their structure. Between the street of St. Andrew the First-Called and Pogromov (? Massacre) street there is an old building of the collegiate church of St. Andrew. Behind it flows the river Eure, which is not visible because of the growing trees. 26. Descending from the Notre-Dame de Chartre Cathedral through the episcopal gardens to the embankment (Tannery Street), we come to the river Eure. At this point, the river forks and forms a small island, very reminiscent of the Cité in Paris, but without the Cathedrals and government offices. The second branch of the river is about the same width as this one in the photo. Behind the second sleeve there are streets bearing the names of the national heroes of France (Marshal Foch and Clemenceau Boulevard). On the left is the Chemin des Arts (Path of the Arts). 27. Going down from the Bishop’s Garden down to the embankment (St. Andrew the First-Called Street), we get to the river Eure. To the left is a small island formed by branches of the river. The embankment bears the name either Pogromov, or massacre. On the right is the ascent along the mound of St. Nicholas at the Cathedral of Our Lady. The ancient stone bridge Minimes (Pont des Minimes) is visible across the river Eure.
To the left of the bridge, on the Corner Dead End, there used to be a good French restaurant where you could have a bite to eat, relax, drink a glass of good wine and continue the tour. Alas, the lower city is little known to tourists and, as a result, the restaurant has become unprofitable. The building is for sale. Too bad, restaurants by the river always have a special charm. At the suggestion of local residents, we found very good and inexpensive restaurants in Chartres, but more on that in another section. 28. Collegiate Church of St. Andrew the First-Called and Art Gallery. It is believed that this is the center of ancient graying, where the city of Chartres came from. Usually this area is called the “lower city”.

Cité, Lower City. The lower quarters of Chartres were organized around three water courts (the rivers Eure, “Grand Bouillon”, “Petit Bouillon”, – a large and small bog, which the French call “bouillon”). Perhaps this is the old “Celtic Pit”. In the Middle Ages, leather goods and the textile industry were located in these quarters. From that time, the names of the main streets of that period remained – Corroierie, Foulerie, Moulin-a-Tan (Tan-mill), Tannerie (“tannery”). Having fallen into decay in the modern period, since the 1970s, the quarters began to be updated and reconstructed, as well as to resume their production activities. For example, at 46 rue Tannery is the oldest stained glass workshop in Chartres. 29. Unusual houses near the river. Sort of like a little Venice. Once it was a restaurant by the river, but now the building is empty and is for sale. Photo (29) was taken from the stone bridge of Minim. To the right, the road leads to the Cathedral of Notre-Dame de Chartres. 30. View of the collegiate church of St. Andrew the First-Called and the art gallery. Photo taken from the Pont des Minimes. On the left is the ascent to the gardens of the Bishop, on the right is the embankment, a street of either pogroms or massacres. 31. River Er and the ancient stone bridge Minim. Street of Pogroms (? or Massacres). From here you can see the cathedral and the houses of the lower city, where once there were workshops.

What else interesting to see in the vicinity, interesting places.

Stained glass museum. To the north of the cathedral, on the first floor of a half-timbered building, is the famous stained glass museum, which is worth a visit at least briefly, as it serves as a continuation of the history of the cathedral. Connoisseurs of beauty conduct a tour of this museum in more detail and for at least two hours.
Opening hours: daily 10.00-18.00

Museum of Fine Arts (Musee des Beaux-Arts) occupies the former episcopal palace (XVI-XVII). Opening hours: April – October daily 10.00-12.00 and 14.00-18.00, November-March until 17.00, closed on Wednesday. From these monastery walls you have a magnificent view of the Old City and the valley of the river Eure.
How to get to the city of Chartres.

  • Private guide tours by a car from Paris or airport Charles de Gaulle, Orly and Beauvais, from Disneyland.