An ancient locality with half-timbered houses and picturesque streets, Limoges Cité is dominated by St Etienne Cathedral. It is the oldest part of the city. Formerly a religious stronghold, many centuries old buildings remain. A long time age, the clergy and mostly working class people settled here on the hill and along the banks of the river.
The Quartier des Ponts literally translates to the Bridges' Quarter. It refers to the Vienne river, its banks and the two ancient bridges that cross it just below the Cité.
Delightful areas full of history and charm await you...
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Quartier des Ponts
The Bridges Quarter
Towering over the city and the river, the Cathedral is one of Limoges's landmarks. Incredibly, the building took over 600 hundred years to complete between 1273 and 1888. It was built on the foundations of an earlier church that was burnt down twice on the orders of the occupants of the Chateau. Only the crypt and the bottom of the bell tower remain of the original 11th century building.
Over the years, wonderful examples of the craftsmanship of particular eras have been added. In the 16th century one of the most beautiful pieces of Renaissance art in Limousin, a rood-screen, was put in the choir stalls beneath the organ. St Johns Gate in the north facade boasts incredibly detailed carvings that took 15 years to complete.
Installed in the 1860s to 1880s, the murals and stained glass creations of Louis Steinheil reflect their colours on the granite walls whenever sunlight streams through them.
Open daily from 10.00 - 12.00 and 14.30 - 18.30, except Sunday morning.
From the back of the cathedral, it is a short walk along Rue Porte Panet and right into Rue du Pont Saint Etienne where, at number 37, you will find Marshal Jourdan's former home. Jean-Baptiste Jourdan, a famous army General and Marshal of France, was born here in 1762.
The Historic Model Club of Limousin with nearly 25,000 model soldiers in full battle order on view has now taken over his birthplace.
It is open daily in July, August and September, 10.00 - 12.00 and 14.00 - 19.00.
Keep to the right and continue along Rue Saint Domnolet. The charming narrow streets to the left - Rue des Laveuses and Rue du Rajat - with their half-timbered houses were once the homes of the clergy and the workers. Washerwomen, carpenters and cobblers lived in these narrow streets that go down to the river.
At the bottom of Rue du Rajat the fountain of Pere Peigne would have been very useful for the washerwomen who cleaned the laundry of the townspeople. Another reminder of the washerwomen is the small statue about halfway down the street of Notre Dame du Peiteu. A 'peiteu' was the paddle used by the women.
At the bottom of Rue Rajat, St Etienne bridge can be seen just across the main road. This is the starting point for our Quartier des Ponts circular walk along the Vienne river banks.
Turn right at the end of Rue Saint Domnolet and go up Rue de la Règle until you see a large gateway on the left. The ancient Abbaye de la Règle was founded here in the 9th and 10th centuries. Little now remains, apart from the 18th century main door and a 19th century refectory.
The Compagnons du Tour de France, a corporation of craftsmen, renovated the former abbey refectory. The Cité des Métiers et des Arts is now an exhibition centre. It is also one of the main training centres in France for builders, carpenters and stonemasons. Their contemporary designs are on show here.
In the 'underground city', discover a warren of subterranean passageways and vaulted cellars.
The origins of this city underneath the city probably date from Roman times with the construction of an aqueduct to provide water to the burgeoning town. Extended over the years and now covering many kilometres underground, the passageways have been a place of refuge from enemies, a shelter from the climate and storerooms for provisions. Some of the cellars go down three levels and many are still used today. Stand quietly for a moment and you may hear voices echoing around you from the distant past...
The entrance is near the ancient doorway of the Abbaye de la Règle and the Tourist Office do regular guided tours of this fascinating world hidden beneath our feet. During July and August, tickets are available from the Cité des Métiers et des Arts 30 minutes before the daily visits at 14.45, 15.45, 16.45 and 17.45. At other times, book directly at the Tourist Office.
The Bishop of Limoges had his residence built in the heart of the Cité in the late 1760s. The former Bishop's Palace is now the Musée Municipal de L'Evêché, Musée des Beaux Arts.
The museum has collections of some remarkable art works and also several paintings by Renoir who was born in Limoges in 1841.
It is also where you can learn about the history of Limoges and includes several model villages showing representations of the city through the ages.
The gardens in front of the palace were landscaped at great expense by the Bishop. Today the Evêché Gardens, laid out on terraces overlooking the Vienne river valley, have been recreated. The terraces were rebuilt in 1976 as a botanical garden with flowers, tree lined paths and ornamental ponds.
No French vacation city tour would be complete without a break for refreshments. Just behind the cathedral is the ideal place to stop for a bite to eat or a refreshing drink. Rue de la Haute Cité is a delightful square of small shops, bars and restaurants. For opening times, see our French restaurant guide.
The French Resistance were very active in this area during the Second World War and this museum relates their story. The population took action against the invaders wherever possible, distributing secret newspapers and organising armed raids. General de Gaulle called Limoges the "capital of the Resistance" and it was second only to Lyon in the number of people shot by the German army.
The occupation of Haute Vienne and the deportations that took place here are also prominent in the historical commentary and displays.
On Rue Neuve St Etienne, the museum is in a former convent from the 17th century. The building has been modernised and the story of this time is told in 10 sequences starting in 1939 with one room dedicated to each theme.
Audio guides in English are available.
The Enamel House is at 18-20 Boulevard de la Cité. Open Tuesday to Saturday from 10.00 to 12.00 and 14.00 to 19.00, it is a shop and exhibition centre. Around 40 local and worldwide artists specialising in enamel have their creations on show. Workshops and demonstrations are also offered.
Flowing quietly below the cathedral, the Vienne river and its banks, are a peaceful retreat on the edge of the city centre. Once bustling with factory workers, washerwomen and fishermen, a stroll along the river banks today is a delight.
Just below the ancient streets of the Cité, St Etienne bridge was completed in 1203 to take some of the traffic from the older bridge downstream. Paid for by the Bishops, it provided direct access to the ecclesiastical part of Limoges for pilgrims and other religious travellers during the feuds with the Château district and the Viscount of Limoges.
Cross the bridge to Place de la Compostelle, a pretty square with a couple of bars and restaurants. The path to the left of the bridge continues for about 6km.
We are going to take the small road to the right, as this is the start of our shorter circular walk of a couple of kilometres between the ancient bridges.
Just a few metres along the road , you will see this sign on the wall. It is worth leaving the riverside for a small but very agreeable detour along the Traversière. The alley runs along behind the riverbank houses.
Packed closely together, most of these homes and their gardens have been lovingly and prettily maintained. At the end of the alley, turn right to return to the river.
Continue along the path, going under Pont Neuf, the New Bridge, built in the late 1830s. Past the bridge, you are on Auzette Quay. Further on, the path widens into a small garden. Cross the garden and the road.
To the right and on the far side is the start of Auzette Park, a series of recreational gardens and woodland alongside the Auzette stream that stretch back about 1.5 kilometres from this entrance.
Return to the riverside through the passageway opposite and right onto Allée Gabriel Ventejol. Just before you get to a river sluice and the small island, you will see the climbing wall on your left.
Go onto the island for some lovely views of the river. The Allée continues to Place Paul Parbelle. On the corner is Rive Gauche, a popular restaurant and tearoom in a superb position overlooking the Vienne and our destination, the Pont St Martial.
The Romans were the first to build a bridge here over the river, two thousand years ago. It survived until 1182 when Henri II, King of England, had it destroyed. It was rebuilt in 1215 on the remains of the original bridge.
It was a busy crossing as the roads from Bourges and the south of Gaul met here. As the only way into the city over the river, it was once heaving with traders and pilgrims travelling on foot, on horseback and carts laden with goods.
St Martial bridge was the medieval equivalent of the massive Pont de la Révolution just 100 metres downstream that now towers over it.
On the left bank, ancient houses cluster close to the bridge and the river banks. The Place Sainte Félicité is a long established square to the right where Molière is rumoured to have spent a night in 1669.
Go through the square and continue along Rue de la Fontaine Pinot. At the fork, keep right and after about 100 metres, turn right at the car park barrier. Go left along the river and follow the path back to St Etienne bridge.
After the bridge, follow the footpath through the garden. This is Port du Naveix. In fact, it was never a harbour as such. It was where the huge logs arrived that had been floated downstream. They fed the kilns of the porcelain factories and the ovens of other growing industries in Limoges.
The bottom path stays close to the river. When you get to the Base Nautique, turn up into the car park and go to the traffic lights. Cross the road to go to the Royal Limoges porcelain factory.
Or continue along the path to go through the Vienne Riverside Park, with its pretty gardens, playground and sports areas.
Royal Limoges is the oldest established porcelain manufacturer in Limoges. It has been producing Limoges china since 1798.
The factory is open to visitors Monday to Friday 10.00 - 12.00 and 14.00 - 17.00 all year, except Bank Holidays.
The factory shop opens Monday to Saturday 10.00 - 12.30 and 14.00 - 18.00.
On the same site is the Cassseaux Kiln. This is an opportunity to see a late 19th century oven up close. A video guide in English is available. Open Monday to Saturday 10.00 - 17.30, except Bank Holidays.
Hundreds of years ago, the modern city centre was the domain of the Viscounts of Limoges. Our French vacation tour of the Limoges Château District will guide you through the streets where plenty of reminders of the past can still be seen.