Compiegne in Picardy, Hauts de France to the north of Paris is a vigorous, busy town. Its periods of victory and defeat though, still lie beneath the skin. It is a beautiful city surrounded by peaceful countryside, an attractive place to stop at, visit and reflect on the past with many places to hold the visitors attention.
Compiegne’s country castle of the Kings of France
Compiegne City centre is dominated by the Chateau de Compiegne. Its origins go back to an abbey built in the 10th century. Nowadays the Palace that evolved is very grand and imposing. It was developed by the French royal family as a place of leisure. The citadel is surrounded by wide open, peaceful and engaging gardens. They are open to the public and are a splendid place for walking and picnics. Louis XIV declared: “At Versailles I am the King, at Fontainebleau a Prince but at Compiegne I am a country man”.
The Palace itself is home to museums presenting features unconnected with the times of conflict. There is a fascinating transport museum presenting exhibits from the last hundred years or so. Motor enthusiasts take much interest in it. There is also a museum presenting figurines engaged in artistic, warlike activities that are beautifully exhibited in best French style.
The principal museum in Compiegne is the Museum Antoine Vivenel. It was founded in 1839 and is located in rue d’Austerlitz. It features many well-known paintings and sculptures and represents classic French culture.
Compiegne is the town where Joan of Arc was captured
Long before the Franco-Prussian war, France was engaged in conflict during the Hundred Years War with the English. Joan of Arc led the French army in clearing the English from Compiegne as part of that engagement. The Burgundians conspired with the English and captured Joan close to Place du 54 Regiment d’Infanterie. They sold her to the English for 10,000 francs. Later, she was taken to Rouen, tried, convicted and burnt at the stake. Twenty years later, Joan of Arc was re-tried in the same court room and found to be innocent of all charges of witchcraft and heresy. She was not around of course to receive an apology. There is a striking statue of Joan of Arc marking the spot where she was captured in central Compiegne.
Historic Railway carriage of two world wars
The vast neighbouring and associated forest on the southern edge of Compiegne is home to a simple railway carriage. It is a reminder of design from the earlier days of a transport network. The current one, residing in a museum, is an exact replica of the original. That one was used by France and her allies to receive the signing of the instrument of surrender marking the cessation of the Great War in 1918. In 1940 the German nation received the capitulation of much of France whilst it had also occupied Paris. That same railway carriage in the same position in the forest was prepared for the French signature this time. The German military had simply, very pointedly, reversed the positioning of the seating. Later during World War Two, the carriage was taken to Berlin as a spoil of war. As the Second World War was ending, the carriage was destroyed and buried without trace. An exact replica is now exhibited at the Armistice Museum.
Compiegne today is an attractive, vibrant town, full of cafes and restaurants, winding little lanes lined with shops and has a great vibe.
Bob Lyons is an ex pilot turned travel writer and a total Francophile.