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Architectural Masterpieces of France

The impressive collection of architecture is another accomplishment that ranks very highly in France’s list of achievements, many examples of which you will be able to see during a ‘Delights of France’ cruise from Emerald Waterways, one of five fabulous river cruises in Europe that are new for 2015.

From fortress-like Romanesque Abbeys and Roman amphitheatres to beautiful examples of Renaissance and late 17th Century architecture, there are plenty of lesser-known architectural masterpieces of France to discover during your next river cruise in France. Take a look at our round-up below.

Gems of Burgundy

The Burgundy region of France holds some of the country’s most picturesque architecture. The Roman riverside town of Tournus houses the Abbey of Saint Philibert at its centre, an impressive example of Romanesque architecture. The Abbey’s distinguishing features include a remarkably tall nave, a 10th Century crypt and a 12th Century floor mosaic depicting the signs of the zodiac.  A notable Romanesque feature of the Abbey is the carved statue of the Virgin Mary and Child and a collection of relief sculptures in one of the chapel’s arches.

Another architectural masterpiece to be found in Burgundy is the beautiful castle Château de Cormatin. Having undergone an extensive restoration project after years of abandonment, Château de Cormatin and its vast 11-acre gardens have been lovingly transformed to reimagine all their former glory and grandeur.

From the Roman era to the Renaissance

France’s second largest city, Lyon, was once the ancient capital of Gaul, a Roman region of Western Europe. Many Roman Emperors visited the city, including Augustus, Caligula, and Claudius. Examples of Roman architecture in Lyon include an ancient amphitheatre; the Ancient Theatre of Fourvière is open to the public and is thought to have been built between 15 BC and 2 AD, once seating around 10,000 people!

Another example of Roman architecture is the Imperial Temple of Augustus and Livia in the department of Vienne, a provincial capital founded by Julius Caesar. This remarkable structure has stood since the end of the 1st Century BC and still survives relatively intact to this day.

From Roman ruins to Renaissance architecture and the French Revolution, you can explore the architecture of Southern France along winding streets while enjoying the beautiful tropical Mediterranean climate. Perched along the water’s edge of the River Rhône, the historical city of Viviers is well worth exploring. Take a trip back in time as you wander the cobbled labyrinthine streets. A fine example of the city’s Renaissance architecture is the Maison des Chevaliers or the House of Knights, which is a 16th Century building at the heart of the Old Town.

Following the course of the Rhône south leads you to a World Heritage Site, the Pont Saint-Bénézet. This medieval bridge is also known as the Pont d'Avignon as it spans the River Rhône from the town of the same name across to Villeneuve-lès-Avignon. During its near-on 900 years of existence, the bridge has been destroyed, collapsed and re-built multiple times, until it was abandoned in the middle of the 17th Century. Now only four of the great stone arches remain, which are lovingly preserved as a World Heritage Site.

20th Century architecture

The architecture of the Provence region is a wonderful mix of monuments spanning a rich 2,000 year history. While quite a poor region in the 18th and 19th Centuries, the economic boom in the 20th Century saw an architectural revival and the construction of one of the century’s most influential architectural masterpieces. The Unité d’Habitation in Marseille, built by French architect Le Courbusier, is a modernist block of residential apartments and the most famous of a collection of similar structures across Europe. The building was designated a historic monument by the French Ministry of Culture and is currently pending its designation as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Image Credit: Carole Raddato (

This content was written by Angela Sloan. Please feel free to visit my Google+ Profile to read more stories.