The Place Ducale in Charleville-Mézières
The geometric centre of the model town built by a young prince in the early seventeenth century, the Place Ducale is an architectural gem and the focal point and beating heart of the capital of the French Ardennes..
In 1606, Charles I Gonzaga, Duke of Mantua, Montferrat, Nevers and Rethel and self-proclaimed Prince of Arches and Charleville, launched the most important building project of his life: an entire new town, laid out on a geometric plan, named Charleville, after him. It was the smaller neighbour of Mézières, the mediaeval town it would merge with 300 years later. Prince Charles spent a good portion of his fortune on the town, most of which remains for us to admire today. The pavilions and arcades of the Place Ducale remain the jewel in the crown.
A square decorated with pavilions and arcades
The square is 127m long and 90m wide. It reminds many visitors of the Place des Vosges in Paris, which is not surprising as the architects of the two squares were brothers: Clément Métezeau designed the Place Ducale (built 1606-1624) and his brother Louis the Place des Vosges (built 1605-1612).
Three of the square’s sides are identical and symmetrical. In total, they are made up of 27 pavilions which embody the “rule of four”, i.e. they have four arches in the ground floor arcade, and four windows bays on each of the three floors. Originally, the fourth side of the square was filled with an identical façade, but the Prince’s palace that was supposed to be built behind it was never built, due to a lack of funds, so it stood as an empty façade until it was demolished during the French Revolution. In 1843, a new Town Hall was built on the site.
The heart of the town
The square’s huge, cobbled open space has become a natural place of business, exchange and celebrations. The Prince’s decisions to grant his new town tax-free status and to welcome Protestant refugees quickly led to a boom in cloth manufacturing and trading, though today most visitors are tourists attracted by the splendid views and the many café terraces in the square.
One of the most beautiful panoramas of the Grand-Est Region !
In the footsteps of Arthur Rimbaud
The famous nineteenth-century poet Arthur Rimbaud (1854-1891) was born in Charleville and the Place Ducale is a hub for visiting places linked to his life: following the Rue de la République south from the square brings you to the house where he was born. Walking north from the square brings you to the bank of the River Meuse where you’ll find the Maison des Ailleurs where he lived as a teenager and the Rimbaud museum. Walking north-east, you’ll come to the school where he was a model pupil. Walking south-east from the square you come to the railway station he mentions in his poem “To Music” and from where he travelled to Paris and Charleroi. Finally, following the street that runs north-west from the square brings you to the cemetery in Avenue Boutet where he is buried next to his sister, and where you will often find his fans visiting his grave.
Charleville is the hometown of the famous French poet Arthur Rimbaud