Auxerre’s history in brief
Auxerre in History
Auxerre owes much of its existence to a crossroads of land and river routes. The Yonne river, a blessing for men and trade, was, in the 1st century A.D., crossed by the Agrippa way linking the Mediterranean basin to the North Sea.
On the eve of the 3rd century, regular incursions by the Germanic civilisations from Gaul prompted most of the Northern cities to erect walls around them. In Auxerre, it was decided to fall back on a mount near the original site and to fortify it. The birth of the Gallo-Roman castrum and its construction on a high site, laid down the town's morphology for good.
The christianisation of Gaul materialised in Auxerre with the construction of a cathedral in the 5th century. The most illustrious bishop from Auxerre was undoubtedly Saint-Germain (418-448). A man of faith, political and clever, he introduced the monastery construction movement to Auxerre, buildings which soon surrounded the town forming a "saintly wall".
The Middle Ages saw villages emerging around these religious communities, and as they expanded, the counts of Auxerre funded the construction of a new enclosure (late 11th century and 12th century) which integrated them inside protective ramparts.
Suburbs and castrum formed an urban area. Wine and land cultivation, timber floating to Paris and trade were the town's main economic activities at the time. The need to transport these goods via water routes gave rise to a major mariner community.
The Auxerre bourgeoisie made their official entrance in the town between the 12th and 15th centuries. The count granted them the right to place their Clock on one of the doorways of the old castrum, and to build a communal house (where the Town Hall is).
The Hundred Years' War and Wars of Religion brought destitution and desolation here just as it did elsewhere. The Huguenots took Auxerre in 1567 and caused much of the damage to buildings related to the Catholic faith (sculpture on the cathedral doorways for example).
During the 18th century, the mediaeval ramparts were knocked down; the moat filled in and walkways laid down. In Revolution times, Auxerre lost its title as a cathedral town and in 1804 became prefecture of the Yonne département.
The 19th century was marked by the construction of heavy infrastructures (station, prison, psychiatric hospital, courts) and development of the right bank. The turn of the 20th century saw the emergence of banks, the covered market (today destroyed: it stood on place des Cordeliers) and art deco architecture, examples of which are profuse in the town centre. Auxerre also emerged relatively unscathed from World War II.
Since 1976, Auxerre has a protected 67 ha zone (the 2nd largest in Burgundy after Dijon); and obtained the label " Town of Art and History " in 1995.