Architecturally, Beaune is a charming hotch potch of attractive period houses and buildings, spanning the centuries since the construction of the Cathedral Notre Dame, which began in circa 1115 AD, and continued for the next 100 or so years. Dig a little deeper, and it is not difficult to find evidence of the Roman origins of Beaune, and the ancient ramparts which for centuries provided protection for the town's inhabitants, remain largely in tact. However, eclipsing the beauty and power of the cathedral, and pretty much every other edifice in this ancient wine town, is the collection of buildings in the centre of Beaune, known as the Hotel Dieu, or the Hospices de Beaune.
The Hospices de Beaune
The Hospices de Beaune is situated just off Place Carnot, an attractive square in the centre of the town, which is now host to restaurants, cafes, wine and cheese shops. In the early part of the 15c however, Beaune had been devastated by the 100 Years War and plague, and its the people were suffering greatly. The Hospices was built as a working hospital for the poor of the region, . The driving force of the project was a remarkable woman by the name of Guigone de Salins, supported in her designs by her husband, Nicolas Rolin, the immensely wealthy Chancellor to the Duke of Burgundy. Although Guigone was only 18 when they married, (and he 47), she had a strong personality, and encouraged her husband to use some of his wealth for this worthy cause. After the death of Nicolas in 1462, Guigone continued to manage the Hospices and she worked with the poor and the sick until her own death in 1470.
Endowments in Perpetuity
While the reputation and popularity of Beaune is due to more than its main tourist attraction, the presence of the Hospices is all pervading in the town. The buildings themselves remain in remarkably good condition, a 500 year testament to the design and building techniques. The feat of creating a self funding hospital for non fee paying patients , was achieved by endowing the Hospices with vineyards. Over the years, the grateful residents of Beaune added some of their own vines to the endowments of Rolin and Guigone, so that today the proceeds from the sale of wine from some 60 hectares of prime Burgundy vines, maintains the buildings, and helped fund a new hospital with modern facilities on the outskirts of the city. Bottles of wine bearing the Hospices label, can be seen in every wine shop and restaurant in Burgundy, and indeed the world over.
Following the transfer of the hospital services to the new site in the 1970's, the interiors of the original buildings were taken back in time to the medieval hospital and memorial to its founders which existed several hundred years ago. The museum is is one of the most popular tourist attractions in France. While much has been written about Nicolas Rolin, information about the life and contribution of Guigone to the Hospices is notably lacking. We have written a short work on her life.
In front of the Cathedral is the wine producer Joseph Drouhin, and their caves are some of the oldest in Beaune, even featuring a Roman wall. They offer an excellent visit followed by a tasting of their wines. Patriarch also occupy ancient cellars, as do both Bouchards – Aine, and Pere et Fils, and all are worth visiting time permitting.
The Musee des Beaux Arts
The Tourist Office can be found on the circular road around the town, in a building which also contains the Musee des Beaux Arts.