Dijon is a name almost everyone has heard before. Dijon mustard, originated in Dijon, France, and you can’t miss it in the gift shops in Dijon, usually available in varying sizes of jars in about a dozen different flavor variations. Some shops only sell mustard—row after row of this creamy delight! What gives Dijon mustard its unique aroma and flavor is white French wine and a special juice called verjus, a very tart liquid made from unripe grapes. Most Americans just call it French mustard. Having grown up with bright yellow “American” mustard, I must say that my first introduction to Dijon mustard while in college was at that time a major culinary advancement for me, and has since been for me a major condiment of choice. And, hey, what ever happened to those fun Grey Poupon TV commercials? They have been replaced with an annoying plethora of tacky commercials from insurance and drug companies trying to convince you they are your good friends. Yuk! Bring back the GP mustard commercials!
With a population of approximately 153,000, Dijon, the capital city of the Burgundy region, is a mid-sized city with a pleasant historic town center full of notable Medieval and Renaissance architecture, churches, museums restaurants, and grand boulevards and plazas. The most historic and visited church, Notre Dame, has a very strange and unusual front facade which is in the shape of a tall cereal box with two upper rows of repeating narrow Gothic arches, and 3 rows of projecting gargoyles at each of the arches—nothing like the usual front facade with twin towers found on most medeival churches. It is very strange. The gargoyles, however, are each very unique and fun. On one side of the church is an owl carved into the stonework at about 5 feet above the ground. It is said that it is good luck to rub the owl with your left hand, and much of the shape has been worn away, but the tourists and myself find it irresistible, and do the rub. The owl has become such an icon for the city that the Office of Tourism has used the image of the owl on brass markers inlaid into the sidewalks and are located at all major points of interest throughout the old center. Each sidewalk marker also has a number which corresponds to a number on a map which is part of a descriptive brochure that is available at the Tourist Office (for 3.5 Euros). The brochure describes 3 different routes through the city center and is well worth the cost, it gives a good do-it-yourself tour.
Another major site worth a visit is the Musee des Beaux Arts (Museum of Fine Arts) which is located in a very classily renovated wing of the Palias des Ducs (Palace of the Dukes). The main feature, located in a grand two story space, is the elaborately carved tombs of Philip the Bold and John the Fearless both of whom reigned as the Duke of Burgundy during the 14th century, the beginning of Dijon’s golden period. These tombs are amazing. Sitting on a stepped black onyx platform are a series of carvings of saints and angels carousing within a loggia of ivory pillars and arches which are guarding the main body of the tomb. On top sits another black onyx platform upon which is positioned a reclining carving of the Duke complete with carved angels and pet lions. I’ve never seen anything quite so moving.
Musee des Beaux Arts Tomb
Also, at the museum, I found very interesting a series of gilded carved wall panels rich with architectural details and carvings of saints and noblemen. Just incredible. They just never did anything half-way.
Dijon’s main Cathedral, Saint Benigne, is gigantic. It’s exterior, though, is very austere and bland. Unlike the Church of Notre Dame, it does have the more characteristic two symmetrical and very tall bell towers on the front façade. It was Sunday, and services were underway, so I did not enter, but luckily I was there just when the bells began ringing. These bells must be extremely large, I tell you, the ground vibrated from their melodic chant. I love church bells, these really moved me.
In addition to a broad collection of excellent medieval buildings, some of half timber construction, some of stone construction, and many fine Renaissance structures, are some excellent 20th Century Art Nouveau buildings such as this one with unique pagoda shaped roofs and beautiful iron railings on balconies. This building kept calling to me to photograph it every time I passed by—see photos.
And finally, I had fun strolling through cobblestone streets near the Church of Notre Dame where an outdoor antiques fair was underway. I saw lots of fun items for sale, including a stuffed fox and I was very tempted to buy an old rusted iron chicken, but when I picked it up, found it weighed about 10 pounds—not nice when you are trying to travel light. But, I still wish I had bought it. Maybe I will go back and get it.
Antiques Street Market