A bit of Normandy in Alençon!

Ok so let’s move out a bit as this is a part that I have passed many times, stop by several times, but never really went in deep as to say saw something. Did I told you that a Mr Hemingway wrote a postmortum book on the Movable Feast of Paris and he felled short, as the longer life would have made him write a second volume , France is a movable feast! So much beauty to see, already the world’s most visited country and we have just touch the surface on things to see, really. So, therefore bear with me please.

This town is one example, a wonderful city center or downtown ,beautiful historical buildings and great architecture not quite Norman even if in Normandy. I like to tell you a bit about Alençon. Alençon is in the Department of the Orne,no. 61 in the region of Normandy. It takes an advantage of its position on the Paris-Brest axis (route RN 12) when entered a period of dynamism, then, the route A11 autoroute puts Le Mans in a strategic position on the Paris-Brittany axis, which confirms at the end of the 1980’s by the opening of the LGV Atlantique train service. Alençon is again doomed to be only a relay city on a north-south cross-section, in this case the Rouen-Le Mans A28 autoroute. The town is situated between the Normandy-Maine Regional Natural Park and the Perche Regional Natural Park. Alençon is also located about ten km from the forest of Écouves to the north, the forest of Perseigne to the east, and from the Mancelles Alps to the south. The town of Alençon is located at the confluence of the Sarthe and Briante rivers which descends from the forest of Écouves.

The city is located 119 km from Caen, and 161 km from Rouen, the regional capital, while Le Mans is only 54 km away. It is located between Paris and Rennes, 192 km and 158 km respectively. Alençon is at the crossroads of the national road RN12 connecting Paris with Brittany with the old national roads RN 138 and RN 155. In addition, a few kilometers from Alençon you can connect respectively the old RN 158 and RN 176. In this way, Alençon is located at a road crossroads which departing routes to Caen, Rouen, Dreux, Paris, Chartres, Orléans, le Mans, Laval, Fougères, Rennes, Le Mont-Saint-Michel and Saint-Malo. Alençon is served by the A28, a north-south cross-section which is part of the Grand bypass of Paris and allows you to leave Calais and join Bayonne using only the autoroute network and avoiding Paris. It allows for the town of Alençon, in addition to a logical opening, a quick access to the cities of Le Mans, Tours, Angers, Rouen, Le Havre, Lisieux and Deauville. 20 km north of Alençon, at the level of the city of Sees, the A28 gives birth to the A88 leaving to connect the towns of Argentan and Caen.

Alençon ,also has a SNCF train station, the station is located on the line Caen-Alençon-Le Mans-Tours. Daily connections to the stations of Caen, Le Mans, Tours and Saint-Pierre-des-Corps are therefore offered. Connections to the Gare Paris-Montparnasse are organised via the Gare de Surdon or Le Mans stations, respectively thanks to intercity trains and regional express trains (TER) or the TGV Atlantique. The station of Alençon, rebuilt in 1952 after the bombardment of 1944, was originally a standard station of origin in the west of France.

A bit of history I like

Mentioned in the form Alencione at the time of the Merovingian. Its meaning would therefore be that of “nourishing place”, “fertile place”, which corresponds well to the situation of Alençon in a fertile plain that slices with the harsher lands of the surrounding hills.

Erected in Duchy, in 1414, Alençon is the place of residence of Marguerite of Angoulême, who married, in 1509, at the age of seventeen, the Duke of Alençon Charles IV, first marriage. Even after Charles ‘ death in 1525 at the Battle of Pavia, Marguerite of Angoulême, maternal grandmother of the future Henri IV, sister of King François I, establishes, after her widowhood, her court in Alençon, where she remained after her remarriage with the king of Navarre.

The Protestant Reformation was preached in the Duchy of Alençon, as early as 1524, and the spirit of tolerance of Marguerite de Valois, which also allowed the preachers to penetrate the new ideas in Alençon, made many proselytes among its inhabitants, during the first half of the 16C. The first city of Normandy acquired with Calvinist ideas, it quickly became a hotbed of reform, to the point that, in 1530, a German reformist called Alençon ,the Little Germany. The Protestants then took over the city, pillaged the churches and forbid Catholic worship.

On the death of the Queen of Navarre in 1549, the Duchy of Alençon, despite the disputes of the collateral heirs of Duke Charles IV, was definitively attached to the Royal domain of France. After the death of Francis II, Charles IX ceded the duchy to his mother Catherine de Médici, who enjoyed it until 1566, when she handed it over to the king, who gave it to his younger brother Francis, then twelve years old. It was in Alençon that Henri made his comeback in the Protestant church, publicly denying the Catholicism he had embraced under duress a few weeks after the day of the massacre of St. Barthélemy.

In 1605, Henri IV ceded the city and the duchy to Duke Frederick I of Württemberg, to whom Marie de Medici bought it in 1613. Later included in the privilege of the brother of Louis XIII, Gaston d’Orléans, the Duchy of Alençon passed, in 1660, to his second daughter, Elisabeth d’Orléans, wife of the Duke of Guise. During the definitive proclamation of the Edict of Fontainebleau, the pastor of Alençon addresses his flock his letter of a pastor banished from his country to a church that did not do his duty in the last persecution, following which not a single Protestant will remain in Alençon. This strong emigration of the lively forces of the alençonnaise economy, occupied in lace and printing, will flee to England, the Netherlands or the Channel Islands, leaving the city without traders or basically empty.

Alençon soon submitted to the authority of the Convention. In the same year, after the defeat of the Vendéens at Le Mans, a large number of insurgents were taken and led to Alençon, where they were executed. Later, the surroundings were ravaged and bloodied by the Chouans, under the guidance of Cadoudal and de Frotté, their last chief, who was arrested while negotiating with General Guidal at the Hôtel du Cygne (Swan Hotel) in Alençon before being shot, after which the city found the calm.

During WW II, Alençon was occupied by the Nazis from June 1940, after they bombed the city on 14 June, making 31 casualties. The Gestapo arrives in Alençon during the summer of 1943 and had   executed several resistance fighters. During the occupation, 38 persons are sentenced to death and executed for resistance. A Frontstalag (Camp of prisoners of the Nazis army in occupied area during WWII) was created in Alençon. On 12 August 1944, coming from Champfleur, the 2nd Armoured Division of General Leclerc returned to Alençon and liberated this city from the Nazi yoke before leaving after a few days to Argentan and then to Paris

Things to see that I like

The Castle of the Dukes was built under Peter II, Duke of Alençon between 1361 and 1404, dismantled in part under Henri IV, serving as a begging depot from 1768 to 1824, the existing buildings represent only 10% of the original. There remains the Châtelet, a curtain, the crowned tower and a posterie; The courthouse dating from the first Empire (Napoléon I) is next door. The castle of the Dukes became an arrest or prison house where during WWII many people were tortured by the Gestapo. The Alençon arrest house was transferred to Coulaines and Le Mans in 2010.

Alencon

The City/Town Hall (place Foch) was built in the shape of an circular arch from 1783 to 1788 Originally, the city/town hall occupied only the central part. Done in the style of Louis XVI. It was not until the 19C that the town of Alençon acquired the right and left parts which were the property of private individuals. Before the end of the 20C, the city/town hall occupied only 60% of the total area. In 1966, during the renovation of the mayor’s office, we found in the ceiling 297 posters of Charles Éléonor Valazé from1793, member of the Orne in 1792 and who suicide in 1793. One could read on these posters “I am arrested without knowing why, without even having an accuser”. In front of the city/town hall you can see a bronze statue of Louis Derbré.

Alencon

The House of Ozé from the 14C ,(1449 exactly) with renovations by the Alderman Jean de Mesnil in 1450 Charles de Valois, Duke of Alençon and his wife, Marguerite of Navarre lived there and even invited the future Henri IV in 1576.   It is now home to the tourist office. At its feet is the conservatory of the House of Ozé which is not strictly speaking a public garden because if it can be a place to walk, it is rather a place of learning and experimentation on plants and other plants. This 585 m2 Orchard is managed for maintenance by the town of Alençon and the Orne Horticulture Society.

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The Halle au Blés or wheat market is a circular building, built 1801 and a glass dome built on top in 1865.   Originally dedicated to the grain trade, this place is used today for various exhibitions and events.

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The pharmacy Pesche, at 4 of the place aux Cornes. The dispensary was created under the Directory (French revolution) in a building that belonged to a canvas merchant, then prosperous industry in town. Inside, the fully painted ceiling reminds, by its palms, its serpents, its amphoras, its hive and its bees and the sham of a military tent that its first holder was a pharmacist to the armies returning from the campaign of Egypt. In addition to two monumental vases in Italian ceramics showcases, the pharmacy has a beautiful collection of Empire jars .

The islet Aveline (between the rue du Collège and the Rue Julien) in the Carré de la Dentelle brings together buildings set up from 1675. This site first sheltered the Jesuit college, then the Central School of Orne, then a college, then in 1848 a high school , until the transfer of it in 1963 in new buildings by Boulevard Mézeray, then Aveline high school from 1963 to 1975. The buildings of the 17C were then restored and renovated to bring together the cultural activities of the city such as the Museum of Fine Arts and Lace, library and bookcase, Lace Workshop, municipal Archives, Conservatory, and Auditorium.

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The Museum of Fine Arts and Lace of Alençon, adjoining the library, is devoted, in addition to lace, to schools of French, Italian and Nordic painting of the 4C to the beginning of the 20C and to the arts of Cambodia. Temporary exhibitions, especially on famous fashion designers, are organized regularly.

alencon

The birthplace house of Sainte Thérèse, located 50-52 Rue Saint-Blaise, was reopened after extensive works of accessibility and scenography. It has a foyer, a gallery exhibiting personal objects of the family Martin. An auditorium with film presentation, and the various furnished rooms of the house such as the living room, bedrooms, and kitchen. The parents moved here in 1871 and she was born here in 1873 for the first five years of her life before moving on to Lisieux. There is a chapel added on the house next door in 1925 very nice. For an anecdote before purchasing the house where Saint Teresa was born, the parents lived at 35 rue du Pont-Neuf  where the father Mr Martin had a jewerly store. the parent Luis Martin and Zélia Guérin are Saints too.

alencon

Built in 1679, the former St. Joseph’s Church of the Collège of Jésuites, characterized by its imperial roof, became a library. Its 18C carved oak cabinets from the Val Dieu Abbey contain, among other things, rare editions dating back to the 16C, and medieval manuscripts. There is a library from 1779, today is the Mediathéque of the city opens to all

The hotel of Préfecture of the Orne is originally a mansion built around 1630 by a catcher of sizes in the election of Alençon, Charles de Fromont de Bouaille, Lord of the Besnardière. In 1676, Elisabeth d’Orléans, half-sister of the ” Grande Demoiselle”, and cousin of Louis XIV, Duchess of Guise and apanagist of the Duchy of Alençon, took possession of it. Since 1815, the Hôtel Fromont de La Besnardière  has become the Préfecture of the Orne department 61. Located behind, were erected gardens on more than three hectares contributing to the embellishment of the whole. They are open to the public only on heritage days.

alencon

The Tribunal du Commerce or commercial court with its polygonal turret, this elegant construction of the mid-16C described by Balzac in the Le Cabinet des Antiques was the seat of the finance office from 1640.

The Palais de Justice (courthouse) built from 1818-1824 in neo classic style. It was built due to the visit of Napoléon 1er in 1811 to Alençon.

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The Grande Rue is a main thoroughfare of Alençon which leaves from this district to end at the crossroads of Saint-Blaise district streets, where the prefecture, the rue Cazault and the cours Clemenceau are located. It passes through the Place de la Magdeleine, whose name comes from Mary Magdalene, a Saint who witnessed the burial and resurrection of Christ. Until 1789 there was a cemetery there. Today, this place serves as a match to the lines of the bus network Alto and a market is held on Thursdays and Saturdays. This place has become a major part of Alençon over time. This area is entirely pedestrian except for buses.

alencon

The Basilica of Notre-Dame has a 15C nave, flamboyant porch, early 16C. Following a fire, the choir and bell tower were rebuilt in the middle of the 18C. The Church of Notre-Dame of Alençon was elevated to the rank of basilica on 6 June 2009 by Pope   Benedict XVI by a decree of the Congregation for Divine Worship and the Discipline of the Sacraments. The Tribune organ is from1535.

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The Church of Saint-Léonard of Flamboyant Gothic style of the 15-16C, St. Martin’s Tower of the 12C, very reworked in the 17C following the collapse of the vaults of the nave and restored outrageously in the 19C.

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The park of the promenades of more than 4 ha is the preferred place of the Alençonnais and visitors alike. Built in 1783, renovated in 1999, located close to the city/ town hall and the courthouse, it offers a music kiosk (1888) , a pool, playgrounds for children and animal pens. It also offers a bowling ground as well as a snack bar.

alencon

The Alençon Racecourse is located in the Croix-Mercier district not far from the Écouves area. It is run by the Alençon Racing company. An average of eight trotted or mounted trot races are included in the program six annual races.

Some webpages to help you plan your trip to this nice city and you should are

City of Alencon on heritage

Tourist office of Alencon

Tourist office of Orne dept 61

Tourist office of the Normandy region on Alencon

There you go a summary of what is best about the wonderful Alençon, in south just limits of Normandy and worth the detour with easy road connections . I always passed it stop by going on the in N12 national road from my house. Hope you enjoy the recap

And remember, happy travels, good health, and many cheers to all!!!

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2 Comments to “A bit of Normandy in Alençon!”

  1. Normandy is a beautiful area and we make regular stops in this region, but Alençon always seems to catch us on our way to and from the Loire and, apart from doing a bit of shopping at Leclerc, we haven’t really explored the city. I know we must one day.

    Liked by 1 person

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