Reims, 2000 years of History
From antiquity to the present days, Reims offers a variety of historical sites: Gallo-Roman, medieval monuments but also museums of the 1st and 2nd World Wars.
Clovis, Frankish king was baptized by Remi, bishop of Reims on Christmas Day 498 in a baptistery which is today situated where Notre-Dame Cathedral of Reims stands. It is thanks to Clovis’ baptism that Reims became the seat of the coronation of the kings of France.
The first royal coronation
In 816 took place the first royal coronation in Reims, the one of Louis the Pious.
The ceremony which lasted generally five hours used to take place in Notre-Dame Cathedral, as long ago as the Cathedral was built. It was followed by the coronation banquet in the Tau palace and a pilgrimage to the tomb of the bishop Remi, in the Basilica which bears his name. The most memorable coronation remains the one of the Dauphin Charles VII being lead into Reims by Joan of Arc on the 17th of July 1429 after the raising of the siege of Orleans.
In total, 33 kings got crowned in Reims, the last one being Charles X in 1825.
According to the legend, Reims was founded by Remus, Romulus’ brother who founded ancient Rome. The Celtic tribe who lived in the region might have taken therefore the name of Remes. After the Roman conquest, Durocortorum was integrated into the Roman province of Gallia Belgica and became its capital. At its height, with its 30 000 inhabitants, the Gallo-roman city was the most populated in the North of the Alps.
Still remain some vestiges of that era. Mars Gate is the only remaining monumental gate built in the first part of the 3rd century and giving access to the Roman city of Durocortorum.
Three partially buried galleries located beneath the Gallo-Roman forum of Durocortorum circa. 200 A.D. were once used to store grain. Only the eastern gallery has remained, but it is among the few cryptoporticus of the Roman world to have been excavated.
In the Middle Ages, Reims prospered with its sheets and cloth and other textile products on the fairs in the South of the region Champagne and by dealing with the Hanseatic League. The expansion of the Champagne wine from the reign of Louis XIV onwards completed the range of its productions.
Like everywhere else, the industrial revolution changed radically the appearance of the town which increased from 30 000 to 120 000 inhabitants within a century. Rich mansions replaced the half-timbered houses. Some of the first international air meetings took place in Reims at the beginning of the 20th century. Reims is in fact one of the birthplaces of the aeronautics.
On the 4th of September 1914, a month after the beginning of the war, the German army entered Reims. It was pushed back but it took refuge in the surrounding fortresses. From there, the German canons bombed the town during three and half years. Notre-Dame Cathedral was badly hit and received almost 300 shells. The siege ended with the destruction of more than 80% of the town and the death of more than 5 000 casualties.
The new Reims that sprang up from the ruins between the two wars, thanks to the intervention of 325 offices of architects, shows a face filled with an eclectic architecture marked in particular by the Art déco Style.
The Second World War had little effect on the town. During the conflict, Reims received the Headquarter of General Eisenhower. It was there on the 7th of May 1945 at 2:41 that the General Alfred Jodl, commander-in-chief of the Wehrmacht, signed the full surrender of Nazi Germany. The text drawn up in haste by the members of General Eisenhower’s staff had for objective to put an impending end to the conflict. It was ratified the next day in Berlin by the heads of the allied States.
On the 8th of July 1962, the German Chancellor Adenauer and General De Gaulle sealed the reconciliation between the German and French people in Notre-Dame Cathedral and set up Reims as a peace symbol between Germany and France.