- Population: 1,780,192
- Pop.density (people per km2): 145
Three principal communes
Historically, Rouen with its many spires and churchtowers, is an important city. It has around 200 half-timbered houses, with rough-hewn beams, posts and diagonals leaning this way and that, and a cathedral considered to be a masterpiece of French Gothic, famously painted in a series by impressionist Claude Monet. Rouen was once the furthest point down river where you could cross the Seine by bridge.
Le Havre (248,547)
France's second most important port is a gateway for ferries to the UK and Ireland. At one time it was a prosperous trading post and home to great luxury liners (and home to Jean-Paul Sartre: it is here that he wrote La Nausée while he taught in a local school) but WWII came and the city was obliterated by bombing raids. Redesigned by architect Auguste Perret between 1946 and 1964, it is now a regimented grid of wide, straight central streets (with the sea visible at the end of each), lined with rows of three-storey concrete buildings. Although Perret's famous dictum was "concrete is beautiful", many visitors find the buildings dreary.
This industrial town and river port, just 70 minutes by train from Paris, is located in a tight loop on the river Seine and is surrounded by wooded hills and high cliffs. From the 16th century the town was known as an important wool and cloth manufacturing centre, but after WWII it became heavily industrialised and is now known for producing automobile parts, electrical equipment, and chemicals. The town was badly damaged during the war when it became a point for Allied armies to cross the Seine, but it has since been restored. It has numerous churches dating from the 15th to the 17th century.