Between sloping roofs, timber-framed houses, and brightly glazed tiles, there is little to dislike about Burgundy architecture. And thanks to its centuries worth of history when it was largely self-governed by the Dukes of Burgundy, the region still retains a rather distinct feel from the rest of France, namely in its food scene, architecture, customs and culture.
Typical Dijon street, as seen at Dusk
Though not specific to the region (as the following architectural features can be found all throughout France, and in some cases, most of Europe) there are a few details you’ll want to be on the lookout for when wandering around the region.
For example, timber-framed houses can be found in abundance, particularly in the wine city of Beaune and Dijon. Ogee arches are yet another feature you’ll spy if you stroll around any central Burgundy city for long enough (Ogee arches comprise of two arches curving in ‘s’ like shapes, culminating in a sharp point).
Meanwhile, the houses of Mâcon (the most Southerly of Burgundy cities) have a distinctly Provençal feel, while there’s no doubt that towns like Vosne-Romanée and Nuits-Saint-Georges have been inspired by the grape-growing vineyards surrounding them that has so defined the region for centuries.
The pastel houses of the city of Mâcon
The Burgundy Romanesque Style
For those wishing to enjoy a taste of Romanesque in l’Hexagone, particularly in the form of French cathedrals, a visit to Bourgogne should undoubtedly be on the cards. After all, though Romanesque (a style dating from around 900-1200 CE) can be found all throughout Europe, Romanesque Burgundian architecture has specific characteristics such as rib vaults and pointed archways.
The Burgundian Romanesque style typically dates from around 1075–c. 1125 and, by and large, sprung from the Abbaye de Cluny. From there, the Romanesque in this Eastern French region helped to shape the Romanesque movement as a whole. Other characteristics to be on the lookout for include high relief carvings on tympanum (plural tympana, the arch above the entrance to the church) and tall proportions.
For some of the best examples of Burgundian Romanesque, be sure to head to the cathedrals of Beaune or Dijon. Other ecclesiastical buildings of note in the region include the Abbaye de Cluny (founded by William I, Duke of Aquitaine) and La Basilique de Paray-le-Monial.
Important to note is that until the construction of St Peter’s in Rome during the 17th-century, the abbey at Cluny was the largest church in the world! For the very best example of a tympanum in Burgundy, you need to head to the Cathedral at Autun. The carving likely dates back to the 12th-century and depicts the Last Judgement.
Beaune Collegiate Church provides an excellent example of Burgundian Romanesque architecture
The Burgundy/ Northern Renaissance Style
For those who have ventured to the likes of the Loire Valley, the French Renaissance architectural style likely needs no introduction. Characterised by its Italianate-esque style, the movement was popular in France during the 15th to 17th-centuries, particularly among the French nobility.
Well, in what has since become known as the ‘second Renaissance,’ the Burgundy Renaissance style is slightly different to the rest of France, predominantly thanks to Burgundy’s separation from the rest of the state right through the Middle Ages.
Also often referred to ‘Northern Renaissance,’ this artistic style is different from Italian Renaissance in that, instead of drawing directly from Antiquity, more inspiration was sought from later, medieval works (which were more readily available than their ancient counterparts).
For those wishing to see an example of this architectural style in action, a visit to the Basilique de Vézelay is an absolute must. Now a designated UNESCO world heritage site, this stop on the pilgrimage route through France to Santiago de Compostela in Northern Spain.
Specific and individual features of Burgundy Architecture
Glazed roof tiles
Bright, bold, and often in jewel-like colours, the glazed roof tiles of Burgundy were made to be seen! Château de la Rochepot and Guédelon Castle are both fairly faithful reconstructed examples of the French Châteaux that stood where the current buildings now lie and both offer the chance to admire the Burgundy-style of roof tiles.
However, by far the most famous example of Burgundian glazed tiles can be found within the Hôtel-Dieu (also known as the Hospices de Beaune). Founded as far back as the 15th-century when the hospital was established as almshouses and a place of care for those less fortunate, the North Renaissance structure now operates as a museum in the heart of the city.
Bartizan (corner turret)
Typical of many houses in the Bourgogne region, a Bartizan corner turret is identified by its nature of being an overhanging corner turret. And when it comes to the Burgundy region, these turrets are, more often than not, round in shape and topped with a bell-shaped dome roof.
A prime example of a Bartizan in Burgundy can be found close to the collegiate church of Beaune in the form of the Maison du Colombier. This 16th-century building once belonged to a wine merchant. Fairly frequently, Burgundy architecture can be a little over the top and buildings that have bartizans will also have octagonal or hexagonal towers of a fortified appearance.
The owls of Dijon
If you’re planning on going mustard tasting in Dijon, then keep your eyes peeled when walking along Rue de la Chouette. For there, on an otherwise unloved corner of the Notre Dame church, you’ll soon spy a small owl (or ‘chouette’ as it is so-known in French), a symbol that has since become emblematic of the entirety of Dijon.
Once upon a time, the owl figure was undoubtedly more defined. Dating all the way back to the 16th-century, though no one knows quite when, why, or who thought to add the addition, the chouette has been affixed to the side of a 13th-century chapel and is easily one of the best-kept secrets of Dijon. If you want some extra luck while in the area, be sure to rub the owl with your left hand, i.e. that closest to the heart!
Small rooftop windows (lucarnes)
On many of the larger mansion houses throughout Burgundy, you’ll soon spot the ‘lucarnes’. The name for these small dormer windows originates from the Old French ‘lucanne,’ which in of itself derives from the Frankish *lūkinna. All in all, the meaning of this word is simple ‘skylight, loft’.
These windows project beyond the roofline of a pitched roof and are typical of the region. Prime examples of lucarnes with regards to Burgundy architecture in the region can be found on most Château throughout the region, including the Hôtel de Montille in Beaune’s town centre.