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Langres

Langres is a walled town built on a limestone promontory overlooking the Mediterranean, and its history stretches back about two millennia. Its walls include a veritable march through history, from the second century Roman Triumphal Gate (when the city was known as Andematunum) to fifteenth and sixteenth century towers, and then other gates dating back to the sixteenth and eighteenth centuries. The most interesting building in town, the 12th century Saint-Mammes Cathedral, has an 18th century façade. You can almost smell history as you walk down the streets.

This is particularly true during August, when Medieval Week brings the town back centuries in time. You can watch and even participate in medieval reenactments, taste medieval-style foods, and just enjoy the festivities.

What to do

Langres's favorite festival is Medieval Week, an annual celebration during L'Estivale des Hallebardiers. You can wander the town's tiny alleys, discover hidden gardens and courtyards, and gaze over the ramparts of the town while five groups of costumed entertainers play out medieval stories. And since it's interactive, you might find yourself swept into the midst of the entertainers: as a maiden in distress, a bearer of a note, even shanghaied by revolutionaries or fighting them from the King's Guard. This unique entertainment is suitable for children as well as adults.

The Middle Ages were the high point of Langres's history; the bishops who ruled them during this period were politically powerful and even gained the right to coin money in the 9th century. The Bishop of Langres was a duke in his own right. But the stories from Medieval Week are largely drawn from the more troubled 14th and 15th centuries, and later from the Renaissance.

When Medieval Week is not in performance, you can visit the cathedral of St-Mammes, a late 12th century structure devoted to a 3rd century martyr. You can also visit the citadel of Langres, which was built in the middle of the 19th century as a treasury for the city, but is now in disrepair. The city has plans to renovate it, to rebuild the ditches and replace the greenery that used to brighten its gray walls.

Bringing technology to the past

Langres has instituted something very different from its general medieval theme recently that sets them apart from most other French villages. Navi'Langres is an innovation based on GPS and on tourism maps and guides developed by the city. By downloading Navi'Langres to your pocket PC (ask about it at the tourism bureau), you can guide yourself through the tangled alleys of the street, get pictures of the interiors of buildings as you go past whether they're open to the public or not, and learn more about the history of Langres than you otherwise would be able to, even with a skilled guide.