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The Palais des Ducs

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The focus of a visit to Dijon is inevitably the seat of its former rulers, the Palais des Ducs, which stands at the hub of the city. Facing the main courtyard is the relaxed place de la Libération, built by Jules Hardouin-Mansart, one of the architects of Versailles, towards the end of the seventeenth century. It’s now something of a suntrap on a good day, and the decision to close it to traffic has stimulated a boom in café trade. The fourteenth-century Tour de Bar dominates the courtyard in front of the east wing, and now houses the Musée des Beaux-Arts, while the loftier, fifteenth-century Tour Philippe-le-Bon can be visited only on guided tours. The vista from the top is particularly worthwhile for the views of the glazed Burgundian tiles of the Hôtel de Vogüé and the cathedral; on a clear day the Jura mountains loom on the horizon.
The Musée des Beaux-Arts has an interesting collection of works from the Middle Ages to the twentieth century; among the highlights are the Flemish paintings, particularly the Nativity by the so-called Master of Flémalle, a shadowy figure who ranks with van Eyck as one of the first artists to break from the chilly stranglehold of International Gothic, Burgundy’s homespun phase of Gothic art.

Visiting the museum also provides the opportunity to see the surviving portions of the original ducal palace, including the vast kitchen and the magnificent Salle des Gardes. Displayed here are the lavish, almost decadent, tombs of Philippe le Hardi and Jean sans Peur and his wife, Marguerite de Bavière, with their startling, painted effigies of the dead, surrounded by gold-plated angels.

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