Most people know of Amiens, the northern French city for its world-renown cathedral. But little is known that Amiens was a place of bloodshed although it rises again and again like a phoenix.
Amiens comes from the Roman name ‘Ambianum‘ after its Celtic inhabitants the Ambiani people. The first known name of the city was actually Samarobriva – ‘the bridge over the Somme river‘. The city is still closely linked to the river, which used to be the historic divide between Celtic and Germanic peoples, south of the Somme lived the Gauls while north were the Franks.
Today, Amiens is a modern city with beautifully restored quarters and lots of nature. The legendary ‘Samarobriva’ bridge was restored and Park Saint-Pierre is the city’s idyllic get-away.
What to visit in Amiens
The Amiens Cathdral is a UNESCO world heritage site. It is one of the tallest of Gothic in France and certainly the largest in the country. Built in the 13th century, the church (and now the cathedral) was destroyed several times by fire. First during the Norman invasion in 850; then in 1019, again in 1107. After this cathedral was built, it was destroyed by a lightning in 1218. The bulk of the building was done in 1288, all was safe until 1528 when the transept spire was destroyed by a fire. In 1918, the cathedral suffered damages from German troops’ fire and Pope Benedict XV told them to spare the cathedral. The Germans did, and them and the Allies also avoided the monument when they bombed the city in 1940 and 1944.
The impressive facade was originally painted. In summer, the ‘Son et Lumière‘ lightshow sheds light onto the facade to show how it actually looked like in the middle ages.
This is a must-see in Amiens. During the middle ages, inhabitants cultivated ‘floating gardens‘ to grow edible vegetables in the minor branches of the Somme and Avre rivers. Covering 300 hectares, these ‘hortillons‘ are now a national treasure, used as private garden retreats of city dwellers. Accessible only by boat and limited in time and numbers to protect the banks of these hortillons, one can only tour these beautiful gardens at the Association pour la Protection et la Sauvegarde des Hortillonnages.
Address: 54 Boulevard de Beauvillé
What to eat in Amiens
La Ficelle Picarde
Benoît, my friend from Amiens is really proud of this one: La Ficelle Picarde. Picardy is the region of Amiens in the north of France. The Ficlle Picarde is a roll of savoury pancake stuffed with cheese, mushrooms and ham, further gratinated with more cheese under a grill.
Cidre rosé/Pink Cider
This drink is popular in the region north of Paris. Cider is the traditional produce of these regions and in recent years, a naturally pink cider has been developed. Drunk in a large cup, they go really well the savoury cheesy Ficelle Picarde!
Where to stay in Amiens
We stayed in the ibis Styles Amiens Cathedrale. Located right in the historic St Leu quarter, it is literally a stone’s throw from the cathedral and other historic sites.
I really liked the wooden beams and the 18th century facade that were retained. Breakfast was quick and easy and the beds were very comfortable.
ibis Styles Amiens Cathedrale
17-19 Place au Feurre
Tel: +33 322220020
Day trips from Amiens
You shouldn’t waste your trip to Amiens by restricting your stay to the city only, not that it isn’t full of sights and wonders. But as the region is the site of many historic events, you will not regret venturing outside of the city.
Driving along the Somme river towards the sea, you will pass by the town of Abbeville. During the middle ages, this was the lowest point of the river. In his bid to snatch the French throne, English King Edward III’s army crossed here at Abbeville en route to the Battle of Crécy in 1346. Not to miss in Abbeville is the Église Saint-Vulfran d’Abbeville – St Wulfram Church, built in 1488, which has one of the most beautiful flamboyant Gothic facade in the north of France.
Abbaye de Saint-Riquier/Abbey of St-Riquier
Founded in 625, the abbey was rebuilt by the Frankish Emperor Charlemagne and his son Angibert between 789 to 799. Nithard, son of Angibert and grandson of Charlemagne was made the lay-abbot in 841-842. During those years, Nithard wrote the famous “Les Serments de Strasbourg” (Oaths of Strasbourg) – the pledges of allegiance between Louis the German and Charles the Bald (both his cousins and also grandsons of Charlemagne). The text of the Oaths of Strasbourg was the first ‘pre-French’ and not Latin. Nithard was hailed as the first writer of the French language. You can visit the abbey and also look at his skeleton.
Right at the end of the river is the medieval village of Saint-Valery-sur-Somme. You can visit its stone walls as also the tower where Joan of Arc was imprisoned. A bit further down by the beach is an old 10th century stone tower, where Harold the Duke of Kent was imprisoned by William the Conqueror in 1053. Later in 1066 at the Battle of Hastings, Harold was killed by William, who took the throne of England.
The whole bay is extremely picturesque, and has been visited by many French artists and writers throughout the ages. Its tiny seafood restaurants serve the best seafood plateau!