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In Search of Renaissance France: Le Gros Horloge of Rouen (Rouen Clock)

For close to 700 years, the people of Rouen have been able to quite literally run their businesses like clockwork thanks to the very public Gros Horloge of Rouen. When searching for hints of the Renaissance in France, you never have to look very far…

Glittering and golden, you’d be forgiven for thinking that le Gros Horloge of Rouen is a modern-day installation. However, this clock is not contemporary at all, but in fact, contains one of the oldest mechanisms in all of France.

Le Gros Horloge, Rouen, Normandy, France

Literally translated as ‘the Great Clock‘ in English, Le Gros Horloge of Rouen sits in pride of place in the very heart of this medieval city. Set amidst a forest of half timber-framed houses it’s situated halfway along the main pedestrian walkway that cuts through the very centre of Rouen.

The Clock is also located just a short distance from the gothic Rouen Cathedral. A little further down the street is the site where many historians believe Joan of Arc was burned at the stake. If you’re looking for more of a glimpse into the historic and medieval city, be sure to take this free and self-guided Rouen walking tour.

medieval streets rouen

A brief history of Rouen Astronomical Clock

The movement of the clock dates all the way back to 1389, just 19 years later than the oldest clock in Paris (situated in the very heart of Île de la Cité), while the Renaissance Arch it rests in dates back to 1527. The buildings surrounding the clock, including a Belfry all date back to the 14th and 15th Centuries.

All in all, the clock is very in keeping with the rest of the city of Rouen, which in itself is a beautiful blend of Renaissance meets Medieval. Indeed, Rouen is home to one of the most beautiful clocks in France.

So inspiring is the clock of Rouen, that it has been drawn, painted and written about ever since it was first installed in the 15th-Century. Even iconic artist J.M.W Turner himself was inspired by the clock on a trip to Rouen. He painted the grand clock in the 1700s on a trip to the already iconic city.

Gros Horloge, Rouen
The Gros Horloge at Rouen, Normandy c.1832 Joseph Mallord William Turner 1775-1851 Via Wikimedia 

Details of the Rouen Clock in Normandy

A little lamb jumps through time and is situated at the end of the hour hand, which spans an impressive 2.5 metres long. The sheep is not only a traditionally religious symbol in Christianity but a reflection of Rouen’s main historical industry of farming- particularly in the wool trade.

The astronomical clock in Rouen also displays the moon phases (a full rotation takes 29 days), as well as days of the week (represented by Roman gods and the planets). Below, you’ll find images of the West and East faces, one below the other respectively.

Gros Horloge of Rouen, Normandy France
Gros Horloge of Rouen, Normandy France

How to visit the Gros Horloge of Rouen

The clock was heavily restored in 2006, restoring the astronomical clock to its former shining glory. Although the 14th-Century mechanism is still in perfect working order, it has been operating through electricity since the 1920s.

And you don’t have to just admire the clock from the outside. Instead, you can partake in audio-guided tours throughout the year at various times of the year. Tours through the museum (comprising of the belfry, plenty of history about Rouen and beautiful panoramic views of the cathedral) last approximately 45 minutes. In the museum, you’ll also find the clockmaker’s workshop, the bells, and weights of the historic clock.

During the festive period, the pedestrianised road is decorated with beautiful Christmas decorations. Follow the road down to the very end from the end of November to the end of December and you’ll discover not only Rouen Cathedral, but also the wonderful Rouen Christmas Market.

rouen clock in winter

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