The Champagne region holds particular significance for French history. It was originally part of the Roman province of Gallia Belgica, which in the 5th Century became the seat of the Merovingian dynasty that ousted the Romans. At its head was the Frankish King Clovis, whose baptism in Rheims established the precedent for royal anointing in Rheims cathedral that ended with the last King of France, Charles X. In medieval times, Champagne was the venue of great annual trading fairs. In World War I it was the bloody battlefield of the Western Front, later coming to symbolise the reconciliation between France and Germany.
For 300 years the Champagne Houses have been adding to this exceptional heritage through the commissioning of architectural masterpieces that sing the praises of the King of Wines.
Tales of Jean de La Fontaine (1621-1695)
No city I to Rheims would e’er prefer:
Of France the pride and honour I aver;
The Holy Ampoule and delicious wine,
Which everyone regards as most divine,
We’ll set apart and other objects take:
The beauties round a Paradise might make.
Rheims, city of royal anointing, capital of Champagne and martyr city of World War I, boasts a history that reaches back across the millennia. Durocortorum Remorum (now Rheims) was the capital of the Roman province of Gallia Belgica. Clovis, the Frankish king who saw off the Romans, was anointed in Rheims cathedral, as was every French king from the 10th Century onwards. Today, Rheims boasts an embarrassment of riches, from Gallo-Roman ruins to Art Deco facades, not to mention those historic places now listed as Unesco World Heritage sites. This is a city that holds special significance for French history, famed for its gastronomy and, of course, its peerless wine.
As the home of the most famous wine in the world, Rheims features on the labels of Grande Marque Champagne wines — wines that owe their glittering reputation to the talent and expertise of their creators. Today, these Champagne Houses invite you to discover the cellars where their precious bubbly is born: caverns hewn out of chalk where Champagne wines are laid down for many years, before they eventually emerge to celebrate occasions great and small.
Rheims, with its busy student life, its cultural events and its art de vivre, is a city blessed with countless attractions.
Without Rheims Cathedral, Champagne would not have the image that it enjoys today.
The Cathedral of Notre Dame of Rheims is among the World Heritage sites listed by UNESCO.
The Clicquot-Ponsardin Hôtel Particulier (private mansion) is situated in the heart of Reims, just two steps from the Place Royale. Built c.1780 by Jean-Nicolas-Philippe Ponsardin, textile industrialist and 18th Century French Baron, it is today the headquarters of the Rheims and Epernay Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
These huge tableaux are sculpted directly in the soft chalk of the deepest crayères, up to 15m in length and 6m in height. They illustrate various bacchanalian scenes: "Silenus" and his Mad Maenads court in 1884; the "Festivals of Bacchus", an allegory of the five senses in 1883.
In 1898, the House of Mumm built cellars and offices close by the town hall, with two aims in mind: art and function. The building was the brainchild of architect Ernest Kalas and artist Auguste Guilbert-Martin and served as the headquarters of the Union des Maisons de Champagne from 1907 to 1914.
At the close of the 19th Century, Madame Roederer, widow of Eugène Roederer and a great patron of religious works, built an old people’s hospice in the Rue de Courlancy. The hospice was opened on 19 October 1899 by the archbishop and other notable figures (among them Charles Heidsieck).
Drawings, inscriptions, graffiti … the chalk walls of the Champagne cellars are inscribed with simple messages that represent an important historical record. A priceless treasure at the heart of UNESCO World Heritage.
After joining the "Allies" in 1917, the United States eventually committed their forces to bring freedom to Europe in the two World Wars. Then from 1947 to 1951, they financed the "Marshall Plan" in aid of those countries that had been devastated by war.
In 1919, with Rheims in ruins after the ravages of the First World War, Joseph Krug proposed the idea for The Chemin-Vert Garden City. Construction was placed in the hands of the Foyer Rémois agency that was set up in 1912 by the industrialist Georges Charbonneaux.
After the First World War, Mrs Edith Bangs, president of the American Memorial Hospital Foundation, canvassed the support of the great families on the American East Coast to fund a one hundred bed hospital in Rheims.
In April 1919, an American doctor named Marie-Louise Lefort arrived in Rheims with a large team to treat the victims of gas warfare.
Rheims Tennis Club was established by its first president, Count Maxence de Polignac, cousin of Melchior, Marquis of Polignac and director of the House of Pommery. The club was officially constituted on 11 June 1920 and took four years to build. Much is owed to the generous support of Mrs A M Dike and Mrs Anne Morgan of the Comité Américain pour les Régions Dévastées (CARD), and to the benevolence of its members and founding committee. The competition-standard open-air swimming pool was added the following summer. Count Maxence remained president of the club until 1933.
Generous American benefactor Andrew Carnegie gives Rheims an Art Deco library.
The library was built in the period 1921-1927, under the direction of Rheims architect Max Sainsaulieu (1870-1953), and formally opened on 10 June 1928 in the presence of French president Gaston Doumergue and US ambassador Myron T Herrick.
The Champagne stained-glass window that graces the south transept of Rheims Notre Dame Cathedral was generously sponsored by the Winegrowers and Houses of Champagne.
The Rheims Cathedral clock and carillon form an inseparable part of the liturgical life overseen by the cathedral chapter. Today they ring out once more thanks to the patronage of Winegrowers and Champagne Houses, whose support was rewarded on 5 December 1988 with those long awaited first chimes.
Restoration of the central portal vaulting.
First dug in the 3rd Century and worked until the time of the Revolution, these chalk pits (carrières) offer ideal conditions for the aging of Champagne: constant temperature, a complete absence of vibrations and a perfect level of humidity.
The residence of the Counts of Champagne is a Taittinger property located in the heart of Rheims between the town hall and the cathedral. Built in the 13th Century, it served as the residence of Thibaud IV (1201–1253) and the Counts of Champagne in general when they came to Rheims for the anointing of the kings of France.
The origins of the Hotel le Vergeur date back to the 13th Century and a time when markets were held in the Forum (on the vestiges of a Gallo-Roman forum that remain visible to this day). The Rue du Marc quarter was peopled by the gentry and bourgeoisie, close to the home of the Counts of Champagne (belonging to Taittinger). The Hotel Le Vergeur’s two levels of vaulted cellars suggest that the property originally traded in still Champagne wines.