The city of Rouen may be famous for its Gothic churches and the hundreds of half-timbered houses, but these should not over-shadow other civil buildings such as the remarkable Parliament of Normandy.
The vast complex of the Palais de Justice is one of the rare civil constructions in Gothic style in the late Middle Ages in France.
The Gothic site once housed the seat of the Parliament of Normandy. The word “parliament” may be misleading as there were no MEPs debating there; instead it was the High Court of Normandy.
The building used to house the Exchequer of Normandy which became the Parliament of Normandy and the Burghers’ Assembly under King François I in the 16th century. The two jurisdictions represented the high judicial and the small court.
Only the west wing on the left of the facade is truly Gothic. This oldest part of the building, erected from 1499 is called New Market Hall (Palais du Neuf Marché). A closer look at the decoration will reveal Gothic features: crocheted pinnacles, gargoyles, four centred arches, statues and a Flamboyant balustrade with interlaced rosettes at the base of the roof.
The central part of the building, edified during the 16th century, is a mix of Gothic and Renaissance styles. The decorations are more refined than the west wing and the balustrade radically different.
The right wing is a neo-Gothic pastiche from the 19th century which replaced a Classical style facade. Again, the facade on the rue Jeanne d’Arc, although elegant, only dates back to the 19th century, as is the clock tower. This part was built in order to reflect the Gothic west wing visible from the courtyard on the street.
Inside, the staircase of the west wing which leads to the Public Prosecutors’ Chamber does not date back to the 15th or 16th centuries; it was added at the beginning of the 20th century and was built in a neo-Gothic Champenois style. It leads to the majestic Salle des Procureurs, or Public Prosecutors’ Chamber, where lawyers would gather. The splendid panelled ceiling or the chamber is 16.5 metres wide. Towards the end of the vast chamber stands the table at which Pierre Corneille argued his cases when he was a lawyer. The writer was born in Rouen and lived in the city at 4 Rue de la Pie for 56 years.
The whole building was seriously hit twice in 1944 by the Allied bombs and the roof and the pinnacles were destroyed. Only the walls made in stone were left standing. An extensive restoration of the whole building was successfully undertaken to return it to its former glory.