France After Dark: Cathedrals and Light Shows

 

I’m not one to waste time when I travel. If I’ve set aside time for some sort of relaxing activity like a spa or the beach, that’s one thing because it’s part of the experience. I’m generally on the go, though, and don’t like sitting around if it isn’t adding to the trip. A lot of monuments and locations close in the early evening, leaving the night time for wandering, food, and drinks. In larger cities like Paris and Bordeaux, there’s still plenty to see at night that you didn’t get to during the day. If the city is small, however, you may end up viewing the same things you’ve already seen in daylight.

Enter nightly light shows.

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Cathedrals and basilicas abound in every city in France and are absolutely stunning in the daytime. At night, things get taken to a whole new level. Many of the cathedrals I visited are UNESCO World Heritage sites and historically, are very important, thus drawing large crowds of visitors. Though the doors close in the evening, designers have created an entirely new way to experience not only the impressive architecture of the structure itself but the history and art surrounding it as well through a mesmerizing display of lights, projections, and music. Not to mention, the entertainment is free! Suddenly, nighttime exploration prospects just became, well, brighter!

Amiens

The UNESCO titled cathedral in Amiens is positively massive. Due to time constraints and poor planning on my part, I didn’t get to view the inside, but the size and architecture were impressive. In fact, this particular building has the greatest interior volume of any French cathedral. The structure is so large that there were actually problems with the design and flaws developed and were fixed over the centuries, mostly due to the amount of weight and pressure being exerted by the ceiling.

It was discovered relatively recently that the statues on the facade of the cathedral were, at one point, painted in polychrome. The revelation is part of the inspiration as, at the end of the show, the face of the cathedral is lit by precise projections that display the bright colors that used to adorn the stone.

This particular location drew a massive crowd, so much so that there was security personnel walking through the crowd and checking people’s bags (mine was checked three times!) I set up my tripod as far back as the surrounding buildings would allow, AKA, my back was against a wall and my tripod was pulled up to my body. I was trying to take up as little space as possible so others had plenty of room. There was a good ten-foot radius around me where nobody was sitting so I thought I was in the clear. Cue the gentleman who decided to sit right next to me. And then he leaned against my tripod, which, keep in mind, is a light-weight, travel tripod made of aluminum and only intended to support the weight of a camera. He also decided to put his bag under my tripod, basically on my feet. Luckily, I think he realized his error pretty quickly and didn’t stay there long enough for me to say something but needless to say, I was annoyed.

Once the show started, you almost forget other people are there. The projections were enthralling and beautiful, as was the music that went with it. I’ve put my own pictures below.

 

Reims

I think the cathedral in Reims was probably my favorite. Not only was the history vastly important but the inside was breathtaking. Getting to see where the kings of France were crowned was such a memorable experience and the Rêve de Couleurs (loosely translated: Dream of Colors) only added to it. I also enjoyed this particular show more than the others. The colors and music were bold and intense. I thoroughly enjoyed the combination of an ancient architectural artform and a modern technological masterpiece!

 

Chartres

I had no idea the light shows even existed until my first day in France, which I spent in Chartres. I had decided to stroll around the city and I was out until dark. As I was coming back up one of the narrow streets that led towards the cathedral, I realized that the side was illuminated and went to investigate further. I missed the actual show on the main facade, due to the fact that I was unaware that it was happening, but luckily for me, at least one of the facades remained lit for me to grab a few quick photos.

 

The fun thing about the projections in Chartres is that the cathedral isn’t the only place that art is displayed in this fashion. Behind the cathedral is a park that looks out over the river with a tree-lined pathway lit in purple and a building at the end of the path that also displays a light show, which I was just in time to catch. And then, on top of that, when I glanced down toward the Eure, I realized the bridge I had crossed earlier was also lit up. It was definitely a memorable way to end my first day there!

 

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