Discover historical Burgundy

The Romans

The famous Battle of Alesia, where Cesar and his Roman army finally overthrew the Gauls, took place in 52 BC on the hill above the small town of Alesia, about 1 hour from Dijon.  This was considered by many, including Cesar himself, as being his greatest victory ever…the roman army was outnumbered by the Gauls 4 to 1!!!

Vercingetorix was the leader of the Gaul army, and his defeat lead to the end of the gallic wars and the start of almost four centuries of roman rule in France and in particular in Burgundy.


The Burgondes

The word Burgundy derives from Burgondes, a Scandinavian race of Barbarians who descended from a Scandinavian Island through Germany and ended up invading our region at the end of the 5th century.

These tall muscular white-haired barbarians, who used to spread rancid butter in their hair, only survived for a century until the Burgundy chief Gondebaud was betrayed by his brother and Clovis (first French monarch) with the help of the clergy, took back the region.

Monastic Dominance 9th to 13th centuries

This particular period  saw the spreading of Christianity. Charles 1st « Charlemagne » was 1st Holy Roman Emperor.

The Benedictine order was founded by Saint Benedict of Nursia, Italy, in 529 AD. The first monastery in Burgundy was Cluny and was built by the benedictine monks in 940 AD.

Cathedral in city of Autun
Cathedral in city of Autun

But to some, the Benedictine order was not rigourous enough and showed too much opulence. St Bernard left Cluny in 1112, joined Robert de Molesme, who had built the first Cistercian monastery in « Citeaux 1098 » and helped set up other Abbeys, notably Pontigny & Fontenay. The Cistercian monks believed in living a very strict life of Work & Prayer. They were also known as the « white monks » or « Bernadine monks ».

500 cistercian abbeys flourished during the life of Saint Bernard.

The Chapel at Fontenay Abbey

Cistercian architecture one of the most appreciated & copied.

Cistercian monks excelled at agriculture (vines), metallurgy & hydraulic engineering.

Cistercian orders spread to UK, Europe & Eastern Europe

Wine legacy

Wine growing in the region dates to the roman times 1st and 2nd centuries

In 867 Charles the Bald gave the chablis vines to the Monks of Pontigny who started growing wine in Chablis, picking out plots which produce Grand Cru wine today.

In the 9th century, Emperor Charlemagne gave his name to a slope in Corton.

During the 11th century Cluny monks introduced Pinot Noir and Chardonnay Grape varieties and formalize vineyard workings.

There was a lot of abandoned land between Dijon & Beaune that was not suitable for normal agriculture and which the monks used to start growing vines.

Being clever they realized that wine from certain parts of the vineyard was better than others.

So they divided land into parcels according to aspect, soil, orientation etc. This became the concept of TERROIR today.

Philippe the Bold in 1395 bannished the Gamay grape.

15th century – Burgundy’s dukes extend Burgundy wine’s influence in France and Europe.

18th century – French revolution lead to the redistribution of the Church and aristocracy’s goods.

20th century 1936 AOC registered

But the most famous/prolific periods in Dijon’s history is probably the reign of the Duchy of Burgundy from 1032 to 1477.

The Valois – Dukes of Burgundy

However the most glorious period came under the reign of 4 successive Dukes :

Philippe the Bold 1364 – 1404

John the Fearless 1404 – 1419

Philippe the Good 1419 – 1467

Charles the Bold 1467 – 1477

The Duchy covered almost all of the East of France into Switzerland and to the Mediterraneum and also the lowlands: Belgium Holland, Luxembourg.

The "Place" is semi-circular in shape and was built in 1685. With the Palais des Etats (or the Dukes Palace) it's probably one of the most beautiful royal squares in France
The “Place” is semi-circular in shape and was built in 1685. With the Palais des Etats (or the Dukes Palace) it’s probably one of the most beautiful royal squares in France

Fires in Dijon: 1419 & 1424 destroyed wooden buildings. Dijon was then built of local stone.

Burgundy Today

1 of 22 regions in France.

4 counties: Côte d’Or, Nievre, Saone et Loire, Yonne

Region covers nearly 20,000 kms or 12000 miles

Larger than Belgium.

Only 1.6 million inhabitants.

Always been a meeting place…European crossraods.

Motorways, river, canal, railway line:

Burgundy Canal :

Started 1765, finished 1832. The canal is nearly 250 kilometres long with 195 locks. After over 100 years of political and economical fighting, the Burgundy canal was finally built to serve as a water trade route linking Paris to Dijon and hooking up with the other waterways that lead to the Med:

Links Yonne to Saone – The Seine river can now be linked to the Rhone river.


PLM Railway line :

Finished 1843. Links Paris Dijon Lyon & Marseille. The kiss of death for the Burgundy canal, as this trade route was a lot faster than by water.

Famous names:

Natural Scientist Buffon, Military Architect Vauban, Encyclopaedist Larousse, Engineer Gustav Eiffel, photographer Niepce

One response to “Discover historical Burgundy”

  1. Stephan,
    Cynthia and I recently enjoyed your tour of Bourgogne and we wanted to thank you so much for your attention and professionalism. We learned a lot and look forward to another tour someday, hopefully prior to your departure for England. Meanwhile we will enjoy your blog. Thanks again, Mark & Cynthia

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