Reims – the foremost city of the Champagne-Ardenne region. The coronation city of the kings of France – from Louis VIII to Charles X, 25 kings were crowned in Reims. Of the large towns of France, the one that suffered the greatest amount of destruction in World War I – fully 80% of the historic city was destroyed in German bombings. Yet, that devastating blow defined a new Reims, as intense reconstruction transformed the city into a laboratory of French architecture and, ultimately, the Art Deco capital it is today.
During this period between the two ‘great’ wars, Art Deco followed on the heels of the heavily ornamental Art Nouveau style, replacing that enthusiastic decorative art period with more of a purist geometric style. No, folks, I am neither an art nor architecture historian, so I won’t attempt to define all of the characteristics Art Deco represents. A few elements, though, include semi-circular openings, elongated octagons – an abundance of angular, symmetrical geometric forms in window framing, roof lines, elegant facades and ironwork.
Reims delights us with several major buildings of the 1920’s, from the Carnegie library and Saint-Nicaise Church to Villa Douce – the hotel particulier that is now home to the President of the University of Reims and frequent site of musical concerts. This Villa, built in 1929 by André Douce, was manufactured from reinforced concrete and red brick and includes an immense and quite stunning staircase with steel hand railings.
Partially funded by Americans, the reconstruction of the entire city emphasized a geometric plan with broad boulevards that would accommodate the anticipated popularity of the automobile. Art Deco architecture spreads through the city showcasing stained-glass windows, exceptional wrought ironwork, canted angles, Ionic capitals and ceramics.
Beyond the Villa Douce, one of the most remarkable buildings is the Waïda bakery and tearoom adorned with bright mosaics, elegant burr wood paneling and inlaid pictures of meal times and dishes. Perhaps you might top off your afternoon with a glass of wine at the renowned Café du Palais, under the protection of a glass roof designed by Jacques Simon.
Now a mere 45 minutes from Paris by the TGV Est, art, history and champagne enthusiasts will enjoy all of Reims; and Art Deco aficionados will appreciate the architectural tour now offered by the Office of Tourism.
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