A day in Dijon

Visiting Dijon, in Burgundy France, exploring the medieval town and visiting the Ducal Palace

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Home of the Dukes of Burgundy

Beneath the bustle of modern day Dijon lies a rich cultural heritage. In the capital of Burgundy, France we found local wines, good food, mustard of course and a history dating back to Roman times.

Dijon was 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 Roman Fortress.

Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy

The limestone hewn buildings, extended over the centuries are heavily embellished with gargoyles. The Place de la Liberation, still a bustling city square today, leads us to the palace which is now a fine arts museum and serves as the cities’ government and administrative offices.

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Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy, Dijon
Palace of the Dukes of Burgundy

Only a small fraction of the palace is open to the public. Entering from the tourist office and through the original chapel, you can see the remains of ancient 14th century murals.

Royal tombs

The Salle des Gardes contains the tombs of Philip the Bold and John the Fearless. The ornate tombs are embellished with carved marble cheribum and gold finishings, showing that the Dukes were as wealthy in death as in life. Climbing to the gallery gives you a spectacular view down at the tombs below.

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The Salle des Gardes contains the tombs of Philip the Bold and John the Fearless in the Ducal Palace, Dijon

The remaining rooms feature displays of artwork and artefacts 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 exhibits.

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Medieval tapestry on display in the Musee des Beaux Arts

Like many museums in France, entry to the Musee de Beaux Arts is free. For a small charge we were given a tour of the Tower of Phillipe le Bon, or terrace tower. Climbing some 316 stone, spiral stairs to the roof terrace we had spectacular views across Dijon.

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Tower of Phillip le Bon

Cathedral of Notre Dame

The Cathedral of Notre-Dame and the spires of the the Cathedral of Saint Benigne rose up to meet us amongst the multi coloured Flemish roofs, the bustling town and rolling vineyards stretching out beyond.

Cathedral of Saint Benigne from the top of Dijon

The 13th century Notre Dame cathedral provides a somewhat sombre facade, with gargoyles surrounding the Gothic structure. A famous owl sits unobtrusively on one side. Carved into the structure in the 16th century, it is said that if you rub your hand on the owl, your wish will come true.

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Hundreds of gargoyles surround the cathedral of Notre Dame, Dijon

Dijon Owl Trail

The owl has been adopted as the official emblem for Dijon and the “Owl Trail” is the best way to ensure you don’t miss out on the many treasures.

The tourist centre provides you with a walking map, or you can download the “Owl App” if your prefer an audio tour, following the numbered brass owl plaques embedded in the cobblestones.

The owl took us through ancient alleyways, admiring stone buildings and carved gargoyles, town squares with elaborate fountains and half timbered buildings that had weathered the ages.

Roman temple ruins

Our owl friend brought us to a chapel containing an elaborately carved altarpiece, where you could see the excavation of roman temple ruins.

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Marble carvings in the chapel on the site of an old Roman Temple

Mustard was of course in ready supply, as were local wines,cheeses and local culture. We visited Dijon on the summer equinox. The town was abuzz with preparations for the traditional music festival traditionally that evening. Stages were being erected and sound checks performed in every square and park in Dijon. Because the town was becoming so crowded we felt it best to find our way back to the tram and our little village courtyard.

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