Amiens and its Soaring Cathedral

Amiens is a small city (pop 135,000) in the Picardie region, just 120km/75m north of Paris. It’s main claim to fame is its Cathedral, a large High Gothic structure overlooking the Somme River. There are extensive hortillonnages  (gardens) where people were resting and playing as we walked in the cool May evening. There’s a lovely row of restaurants in the Saint Leu district along the river featuring moules frites (mussels with fries), huitres (oysters), as well as “macrons d’Amiens (almond paste biscuits), tuiles amienoises”, (chocolate and orange biscuits), “pâté de canard d’Amiens” (duck pate in pastry), “la ficelle Picarde”, a baked crêpe with cheese; and flamiche aux poireaus, a puff pastry tart made with leeks and cream. Gone are the Belgian beers, it seems, so readily available elsewhere in the region, so you are mostly getting lighter blond brews.

The first settlement here was called Samarobriva , built by a Gaullic tribe called the Ambiani. The Romans renamed the town Ambianum, which morphed into Amiens. Those marauding Normans wreaked havoc in 859, returning for more in 882. In 1597 during the war with Spain, Spanish soldiers occupied the city for six months. In the 19th century the defensive walls were demolished to allow for larger streets in the center. Rail arrived in 1848.


The 1918 Battle of Amiens led to the Armistice with Germany that ended the war. The town was fought over during both wars, suffering significant damage, including bombardment by the Royal Air Force during the Second World War. The downtown streets were widened. New buildings used brick, concrete and white stone with slate roofs.

The Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of Amiens  was built between 1220 and c. 1270 CE, rapid for this type of structure. It’s style is High Gothic. This is a fine example of the stle, with it soaring ceilings and thin walls.  It also has some Rayonnant features, a movement that came about in the mid-13th to 14th centuries. This brought more spacial unity, refined decoration, more and larger windows.

christ rendering judgement
Christ Rendering Judgement, high relieve in the Cathedral

While we were waiting for the tour of the choir an English speaking volunteer appeared, so we joined in. The choir was built by highly skilled wood workers from 1809-1819. It portrays stories from the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament).

Jules Verne was born here, there is a museum in his name and the University carries it as well. The Musee de Picardie has a large collection of monumental paintings circa mid 1800’s, including a Lady Godiva. The large rooms with very tall ceilings make a good space for these. The archaeological section is in the basement. There are excellent examples of glass and pottery from the Roman era. In addition there

Samura Parc Nature is an open air museum exploring pre-historic times. We took the boat there, taking advantage of the mooring at the pedestrian entrance. Discoveries in this area include remnants of skin covered tepee-like structures, some with smoke exits, dating from paleolithic times. More sophisticated shelters appear, with thatched roofs with about 30 square meters ( about 400 square feet). Dwellings from the Gaulic era, 5000- 1st century when the Romans conquered Gaul, could be quite large and advanced. They show one example on the site.

Skin huts

The site provides demonstrations of flint starting with a huge piece so you could see what flint looks like before it is worked, and other tool making, including a forge with basic bellows. They demonstrated spear hunting, showing how using a sling greatly increases velocity. They made bread using nettles, honey and water as a starter. Honey feeds the yeast that naturally occur in the environment. There is a display of human skulls starting with Lucy, including a Neanderthal and a modern human so you can readily compare them.

Making flint tools

The demonstrations are entirely in French, with explanatory plaques also in English . You can buy honey products, including drinks, at the store you find at the usual places, at the exit.

The boat moorings are very convenient to town. However they are close to the English Pub. On a Thursday night we were kept awake until the wee hours.

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