When someone offers you the keys to the belltower, your answer should be just two words: “yes, please!” My visit to Dole in Jura, Eastern France was short and sweet. After all, this city is easy to wander around in a matter of hours and the view around each corner often gets prettier than the last. Truth be told, however, the real highlight of Dole is its impressive Collégiale Notre-Dame de Dole, along with its clocher (bell tower).
The often forgotten town of Dole itself can be found a little off the beaten tourist track, between the much better-known cities of Dijon and Besançon. Famed for being the birthplace of Louis Pasteur (the man who discovered the pasteurisation process that’s now named for the inventor) and as having the Collégiale Notre-Dame de Dole, this town more than merits a day or so during any visit to Eastern France.
A brief history of the Collégiale Notre-Dame de Dole
Up until the conquest of the city by Louis XIV (the Sun King who created the Versailles Palace we all recognise today) during the 17th-century, Dole was the capital city of Burgundy.
Rich, wealthy, and prosperous, Dole was at the very hub of industry and even had its own university, a hive of learning that was swiftly transferred to Besançon following the arrival of the French monarchy.
The Collégiale (a Collegiate Church is a church that has a chapter of Canon, but no Bishop’s See, meaning that it’s of greater importance than a church but not quite a cathedral!) at Dole was constructed between 1509 and 1574, with the clocher (bell tower) added in 1596.
Built in Franche-Comté, the architecture is typical of the area, while the bell tower itself stands at 73 metres high and provides a view of not only Dole, but of the surrounding limestone hills and the sprawling vineyards of the Jura area.
It’s also worth noting that Louis Pasteur was baptised in the building in on the 15th 0f January 1823. During the French Revolution, the church was used as a warehouse and was not used as a Roman Catholic Church for several decades.
While inside the impressive ecclesiastical building, pick up a free walk around laminated guide. These can be found at the start of the choir in both French and German (though unfortunately not in English, as far as I could see!).
The 3500 pipe organ dates back to the 18th-century, while the furniture is largely from the Renaissance era. Meanwhile, the stained glass windows are reminiscent to those of Belgian designs; the colours are bright and the figures more cartoonish than anything you’d find in a Protestant church back in England. Classified as a basilica since 1951, the building was restored extensively from 2007 to 2009.
How to visit the Dole Bell Tower (Clocher)
In truth, it’s not the vast interior of the church or the stone façade that’s most impressive about the Collégiale. Instead, the clocher is fortified in appearance and was constructed so as to serve as a symbol of Catholicism being the ultimate power of the city.
The bell’s main purpose was not decorative, but was instead utilised to inform the town of any and every major event; funerals, mass, religious festivals were all announced with the tolling of the bell.
For the project of completing the collegiate church, none other than eccentric architect Hugues Sambin was selected. A major player in the ‘second Renaissance’ architectural movement that took place across Burgundy and Franche-Comté during the 16th-century. Born in the Haute-Saône, he worked on plenty of major projects across France, including Fontainebleau.
For those who are wishing to see the city from another perspective, there is perhaps a no better way to find one than by ascending the two hundred plus steps up the winding bell tower staircase and admiring Dole from above. Climb to the very top, venture through the creaky wooden door and you’ll be rewarded with breathtaking views of the city laid out before you.
Prior to my city visit, I had no idea that this view was even accessible to the general public. However, when I was paying a visit to the city’s tourist office for a map of Dole, the guy behind the desk inquired as to whether I might be interested in climbing the bell tower.
I found myself saying ‘oui’ faster than you could say ‘fromage’ and soon enough I filled in a brief form, was given some rough directions, and was sent on my way, key in hand, excited to make the climb up to the top!
While walking up the narrow winding staircase, I soon noticed that many of the steps were distinctly carved with letters and engravings, typically a surefire sign that they’re repurposed gravestones like the ones in Paris.
Once you reach the top, there’s some information about the history of the tower, church, and wider town on large printed sheets in English, German, and French. While at the top, be sure to look out for the market hall (directly below), the town’s other churches, the historic Hotel Dieu (old hospital) and the winding maze of streets that form the city’s historic centre. For more inspiration, check out our guide to the best places to visit in Eastern France.