Discovering Troyes in the Champagne Region of France

Monument des Enfants - Troyes. Credit: D.Clarkson

Monument des Enfants – Troyes. Credit: D.Clarkson

by Douglas Clarkson,

Troyes is a historical town in northern France with fascinating historical associations as described in references to its various quarters. By all accounts, Troyes, in the Champagne region of France would appear to be a small provincial town. It is, however, full of surprises, especially within its remit of art and architecture. In Roman times the equivalent town of Augustobona Tricassium guarded a bridge of the via Agrippa which ran from Milan to Boulonge-sur-Mer.

Joan of Arc was here on 10h July 1429 to receive the town’s surrender to the cause of France and celebrate mass in the cathedral. Troyes became a center for mechanised production of fabric during the 19th century, when power looms were introduced. The town can be described according to its various quarters – with each having distinctive architectural features and associated history.

The Vauluisant Quarter

The Vauluisant Quarter of the town was home to some of the richest families from the 14th to the 16th century and with many living along rue Turenne and if possible close to the town squares where the famous fairs were held. The highly developed textile industry within the town attracted traders from other regions of France and also from other countries. Extensive buildings within this more affluent quarter were owned by the powerful Clairvaux, Vauluisant and Montier-la-Celle abbeys.

The church owned around one third of the town in the period towards the end of the middle ages. There are links in this quarter with the Knights templar. A Templar commander’s house in this quarter was destroyed in a fire which broke out in 1524. Over time areas within the quarter became very dilapidated and were demolished in the 1960’s. Many of the historic fine buildings of Troyes date from the period of rebuilding after the fire when stone was used in preference to wood as a building material.

Building in Troys

Building in Troys

The Canal Quarter

Water has played a key role in the life and times of Troyes with use of water to drive water mills within the confines of the city in the 12th century. Numerous wells within the town provided a significant demand for water – especially between the 15th and 19th century. Running water was, however, introduced in 1850 and the use of wells decreased. As part of a restoration programme some of these wells are now being rebuilt.

Medelaine Quarter

The Medelaine Quarter is now in the part of town closer to the railway station. The shape of this quarter resembles that of a champagne cork. The town was sacked by the Normans in 887. As part of the subsequent re-building in the 13th century, a new wall was constructed which incorporated this quarter into the town. Within this quarter, the ‘Monument des Enfants‘ displays names of the fallen from the war of 1870-1871.

The Saint-Jean Quarter
architecture of building

architecture of building

This quarter is particularly associated with the great medieval fairs which were supported by the merchants of Troyes and the Counts of Champagne. The establishment of a fair code of conduct in 1137 guaranteed that any merchant harmed during a fair would be appropriately compensated. The ‘foire chaude’ was held on St. John’s day in June and a ‘foire froide’ was held on St. Remi’s day in October. Such fairs would last for several weeks.

During such fairs the work of the craftsmen of Troyes and surrounding district would bring merchants from all over Europe. The system of ‘Troy’ weights originated in the town. Items sold would include various types of clothing, woollen goods, silks and dyed fabrics. Local tanners would put on display a wide range of leather goods including saddlery. Items would also include jewellery, precious woods, animal parchment and paper made from rags.

Place Jean Jaures

Although this area is named after a 20th century politician, the Place Jean Jaures has a long history of commercial activity as a centre of treading in cereals. In the 16th century the area had two pillories and a gallows. During the French revolution, a guillotine was set up in the square. There are associations with a certain Claude Gueux who was later written about by Victor Hugo.

The local information in Troyes is that Claude Gueux was a real individual who was a victim of social deprivation – leading ultimately to his execution in the square in 1832. Other sources indicate that Claude Gueux was merely one of Victor Hugo’s imaginary characters. It is more likely that the local story is the real one. In early morning the square is empty resonating to the sound the sound of running water from numerous water features.

Progressively during the day tables and chairs of numerous cafes spread over the smooth Etrochey paving stones. Jean Jaures is remembered throughout France for his efforts to avert the conflict of World War I. He was assassinated in Paris on July 31st, 1914 the day before Germany declared war on Russia.

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