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Musee des Beaux-Arts, museum in Dijon
Beneath the bustle of modern-day Dijon lies a rich cultural heritage. In the capital of Burgundy, France we not only found the local wines, good food and mustard for which the region is famous. We also found a history dating back to Roman times, including the Musee des Beaux-Arts, the most important museum in Dijon. Housed in the former Ducal Palace in Dijon, the museum holds an extensive collection of artworks and artifacts.
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Central to the history of Dijon is the imposing Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy, now a fine arts museum and administrative centre of the region.
The palace was once the home of the Dukes of Burgundy, whose extensive landholdings at one stage made them wealthier than the King of France.
Their estates became a seat of learning and fine arts, many noblemen making their homes alongside the imposing Ducal Palace. Phillipe le Bon began construction of the palace in 1450 on the grounds of a former Roman Fortress.
The turreted fortress remains today, the towering spires forming a landmark on the modern Dijon landscape.
Ducal Palace in Dijon
The limestone hewn buildings were extended continuously over the centuries and are heavily embellished with gargoyles. The Place de la Liberation, still a bustling city square today, leads us to the former palace and Musee des Beaux-Arts.
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Only a small fraction of the palace is open to the public, the remainder housing the city administration offices.
Entering from the tourist office and through the original chapel, you can see the remains of ancient 14thcentury murals. It is incredible to believe that these murals have stood the test of countless wars and revolutions to survive the ravages of time.
The chapel leads you to the elaborate and ornate royal tombs.
The Salle des Gardes contains the tombs of Philip the Bold (1363-1404), John the Fearless (1404 – 1419) and his wife, Margaret of Bavaria. The ornate tombs are embellished with carved marble cherubim and embellished with gold, showing that the Dukes were as wealthy in death as in life. Climbing to the musicians gallery above gives you a spectacular view down at the tombs below.
Paintings, sculptures and artifacts
The remaining rooms feature extensive displays of artwork and artifacts from the middle ages and renaissance periods.
The building was undergoing extensive renovations on the day of our visit to provide space for 17th and 18th century exhibits, so only two collections were available. Nevertheless we still spent several hours roaming through the old palace enjoying the displays.
The collection includes important paintings and sculptures from the Middle Ages to the 20th century. There is a focus on 15th century Burgundian art, including religious paintings from 15th century France and England.
The exhibits include a small Egyptian collection as well as a bequest of contemporary art.
Busts on display in the Musee des Beaux Arts Dijon
Tower of Phillipe le Bon
For a small charge we were given a tour of the Tower of Phillipe le Bon, or Terrace Tower. Built between 1450 and 1460, the tower stands some 46 metres high.
A guide directed our small group on a somewhat steep climb up 316 stone spiral stairs. As with many things in France, it is necessary to request an English tour, which are available.
Along the way we admired the richly sculpted decorations, passing doorways which would previously have led to the private chambers of the palace. The thick walls of the stairwell no doubt hold many stories of politics and intrigue across the ages.
From the terrace at the top, we were rewarded with unrivalled views across the signature tessellated tiled roofs of Dijon and the surrounding Burgundy region. Quite a climb to a dizzying height, but well worth the panoramic view.
Like many museums in France, entry to the Musee de Beaux Arts is free. It is closed on Mondays and it is well worth visiting the website to check opening times.