June 2009
In this Issue:
Honfleur or the Charm of an Old Harbor in Normandy
Honfleur or the charm of an old harbor in Normandy, France
The Salt Granaries
The 17th century was a prosperous time. It was a period of great inventions, explorations, and trade . . .
An Eclectic and Irresistibly Charming Style
The region did not have any stone quarries but was covered in forests . . .
The Ste Catherine Church

Honfleur was an important shipbuilding city, and the navy carpenters were also very competent builders . . .

The Ste Catherine Bank
This estuary bank offers the passerby an exceptional postcard-perfect image due not only to . . .
Samuel de Champlain in "Kebbec"
Honfleur was a city of sailors, considered one of the best in the kingdom of France as early as the 15th century . . .
La Lieutenance, Honfleur, Normandy

Honfleur or the charm of an old harbor in Normandy, France onjour!
Bonjour, this month we would like to take you on a tour of Honfleur, a city in Normandy that is so picturesque and so charming that we would like to share a very enjoyable walk along its port with you. This little town with its small streets will take you right back to the heart of the Middle Ages. So let's set off to discover Honfleur, located about two hours northwest of Paris.

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The Dukedom with the Scandinavian Origins
Normandy dates back to a time when Viking pirates from the north would sail up the river Seine on their terrifying longships and devastate the region, leaving nothing but a trail of death and destruction behind them. A treaty signed in 911 between Charles the Simple, King of France, and Rollo, leader of the Vikings, finally put an end to the atrocities.
Viking longship on the Old Bassin, Honfleur, France
  Viking longship on the Old Bassin
(Click photo to enlarge)
Rollo was given Normandy in exchange for which he agreed to stop the pillaging. About a century passed after this treaty that gave birth to the dukedom of Normandy before any written document mentioning Honfleur would surface. However, the very name of the town attests to its Celtic origins. Indeed, the origin of the name Honfleur comes from its Scandinavian landowner "Honna" followed by "flow" which in that Nordic language meant "cove or small estuary". The word eventually became "fjord" in Scandinavian, while in French it evolved into "fleur", which can be found in the name of many small Norman towns: Barfleur, Harfleur and Honfleur. As early as the 11th century, Honfleur was one of the most important towns in the dukedom of Normandy.
The Lieutenant's Residence in the Remains of the Ramparts

This city built on a strategic site to protect the Seine from enemy invasions was as early as the 12th century already surrounded by imposing ramparts. The port and all the boats were themselves integrated within these protective fortifications which opened onto the ocean by way of a series of locks. These locks were used to maintain the water level but also to fight any silting up, which was such a crucial problem for the inhabitants that they had built a church entirely dedicated to this scourge, "Notre Dame de l'envasement" (Notre Dame of Silting Up). Two gates opened onto what was called "the Inside Haven". One (no longer existing) was located at the south end in the direction of Rouen, while the other one, the Porte de Caen, was at the northwest corner. Much more than just a gate, it was a real little fortified castle equipped with a drawbridge. The only, but nonetheless substantial, remains of this structure that can still be admired today at the tip of the "Vieux Bassin" (Old Basin) are called "la Lieutenance". In the 16th century, the life of the city was centered on this building, topped by a belfry inside of which a bell would sound wildly at the slightest alert. It was used as a residence by the king's lieutenant up until the French Revolution.

Honfleur or the charm of an old harbor in Normandy, France
Recipe for June 2009  
Cherry Clafoutis
A Traditional French Desert
Preparation and cooking time: 45 minutes
Serving 6 people
Click here to read the Cherry Clafoutis recipe in English.
Click here to read the Cherry Clafoutis recipe in French.
Cooking SOS! If you run into trouble with one of our recipes, send an SOS e-mail to Chef@FranceMonthly.com


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The Salt Granaries
  The 17th century was a prosperous time. It was a period of great inventions, explorations, and trade with recently discovered and explored lands. After years of wars and British occupation, Honfleur was finally able to rise from its ruins but its ramparts were preventing it from growing. Besides, these ramparts had been rendered virtually obsolete by the invention of higher performance weaponry.
Place Arthur Boudin, Honfleur, France
Place Arthur Boudin in Honfleur
(Click photo to enlarge)

 
Colbert had great ambitions for France, and wanted to revive the economy of Honfleur as part of his larger plan for the country. He had part of the ramparts dismantled to enlarge the basin and allow more boats to enter the port. Louis XIV's famous minister also chose to make Honfleur the salt storage center for herring and cod fishing, which became a real godsend for the city's economy. The unpopular tax on salt, the "gabelle", was collected there on salt for the entire Norman territory. To build the three granaries necessary to store about 10,000 tons of salt, the builders used the stones from the recently torn down ramparts. One of these three salt granaries still exists today, on the "city street", the oldest street in Honfleur.
 
 
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An Eclectic and Irresistibly Charming Style
 
    The region did not have any stone quarries but was covered in forests. Therefore, the houses were mainly built out of wood, to which were added all the various other materials available in the area: clay, flint, and slate.
Rue de la Prison, Honfleur, France
Rue de la Prison in Honfleur
(Click photo to enlarge)
The use of these varied materials gives the facades of these houses an eclectic appearance and contributes to the charm of the city. Some of the small streets take you right back to the Middle Ages with their corbelled wood-sided houses typical of a time when, to avoid paying a tax based on the ground level surface, people were adding on more space by stacking up larger and larger floors. When all was done, the houses that faced each other would even sometimes touch each other, which considerably increased the risk of fires spreading! This is why King Francois I eventually banned this type of architecture. But these corbelled houses represented no less than the carpenters' trademark and their way of distinguishing themselves from the competition. They were none too pleased by this royal injunction, and although they did eventually resign themselves to it, they didn't immediately give up what was a real architectural challenge. The houses on the "rue de la prison" are the legacy of these ultimate attempts at showcasing their talent.
 
 
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The Ste Catherine Church
 
  Honfleur was an important shipbuilding city, and the navy carpenters were also very competent builders. However, their skills were severely put to the test in 1460 when, finally rid of the British enemy, it became time to give the Ste Catherine neighborhood a new church.
Eglise Sainte Catherine, Honfleur, France
Sainte Catherine Church in Honfleur
(Click photo to enlarge)
Despite the lack of resources and knowledge of religious architecture, the inhabitants got down to the job with great passion. When it came time to build the bell tower, they were afraid it would collapse should they make an error in their calculations, so they agreed to simply erect it right next to the church. The church itself quickly became too small and had to be enlarged. Then, feeling that the church looked more like a market hall than a place of worship, two side aisles were added. Finally, in the 18th century, when it was decided to add great organs, the walls were taken down to lengthen the structure. Today, the Ste Catherine church is the largest wooden church in France. Several times altered over time since it was originally built, it is also one of the most unusual churches with its two naves, two altars, two apses and two buildings. It is nonetheless very warm and welcoming, a simply magnificent church!
 
 
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  The Ste Catherine Bank  
  This estuary bank offers the passerby an exceptional postcard-perfect image due not only to the surprising variety of styles and the diversity of the facades' colors, but also to the narrowness and height of the houses that line the "Vieux Bassin" and contribute to its charm. The hill on which the houses were built belonged to Madame de Montpensier, the wife of Monsieur, brother of King Louis XIII. This hill was not the most glamorous spot on earth, and Madame de Montpensier, a good businesswoman indeed, decided to get rid of it by selling the land in several plots for economic reasons. A law required that the first houses built not exceed about 25 ft on the ground floor and not be more than 3 stories tall. But a few decades later, because of its economic and demographic development, Honfleur was facing a serious housing crisis. For lack of space, houses were then built one on top of the other. In fact, these buildings were essentially just like two adjoining ones, only instead of being built side by side, they were built on top of one another: the base house had its first floor on the bank, while the second one also had a first floor but it gave onto the opposite hill.
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  Samuel de Champlain in "Kebbec"  
  Honfleur was a city of sailors, considered one of the best in the kingdom of France as early as the 15th century.
Sainte Catherine Bank, Honfleur, France
Sainte Catherine Bank in Honfleur
(Click photo to enlarge)
Fishing expeditions towards Newfoundland were growing in number and fur trade with the natives was taking off. On April 3, 1608, Samuel de Champlain left the port of Honfleur. This wasn't his first expedition towards the New France, but this time he wanted colonists to settle down there and went up the St-Laurent River to a place the natives called “Kebbec”. Samuel de Champlain was not like his predecessors, in that he was not arriving on conquered land. He actually befriended the Indians, learned their language, even fought alongside the Algonquins and the Hurons against the Iroquois and was eventually wounded during combat. He loved this region despite the extreme harshness of the winters and the many dangers he and his travel companions faced. He would spend 30 years of his life convincing the king of France to pursue his exploration of Canada and help the first colonist families to clear and cultivate this new land. His dedication would ultimately result in the foundation of Quebec.
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  An Invitation to Travel...  
  Normandy is really a very special region, with its mosaic of small districts: Braye, Norman Switzerland and the Auge area that includes Honfleur, one of the few Norman cities that weren't bombed by the Germans during WWII. Honfleur was therefore able to preserve all of its style, much to our delight. Witness its 15th, 16th and 17th century houses whose walls contain a very eventful history and its "Vieux Bassin" around which people still enjoy strolling. Every year, 3 million visitors come to visit this small town of less than 10,000 inhabitants and are charmed by the most unusual light that has amazed and continues to inspire so many painters.

 
 
 
 
 
Honfleur or the charm of an old harbor in Normandy, France

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