The phoenix of France. This could define the largest city of Normandy, Le Havre. He has risen from his ashes at least twice. The first after the most tragic of the events he has lived: the Allied bombings of 1944 that swept through its port – an economic and strategic enclave – and, incidentally, with its historic center, claiming the lives of 3,000 civilians and leaving Another 80,000 homeless. The second after a much happier event: the declaration as a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, in 2005, of the city rebuilt after the bombings.
It was then that the architectural work of the main person in charge of that reconstruction, Auguste Perret, and passing through the whole city, began to be seen with other eyes. Those gray functional concrete buildings built after the bombings and that bland port city were no longer such. Le Havre, a symbol of the reconstruction of Europe, became a tourist destination. We admit that the Norman city and the architecture of Perret – who was Le Corbusier’s master, by the way – are not crushing. But they are of slow and deep conquest. That’s why we include it among our essentials to see in Normandy and we assure you that the 8 places to see in Le Havre The ones we talk about in this article are worth it.
WHY LE HAVRE IS A WORLD HERITAGE SITE
Before moving on to the places to see in Le Havre, you have to talk a little about the success of Perret’s architecture. Why has Le Havre been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO unlike other European cities also rebuilt after the bombings of World War II?
One of the reasons is its homogeneity: the unity of the entire reconstruction project. And that reconstruction of Auguste Perret after the war was very fast. Only from 1945 to 1947, according to our guide, more than 350 apartments were built, relocating the inhabitants of Le Havre who, until then, had had to stay in military barracks. Then, civil and religious public buildings arrived.
How did he get it? Thanks to the fact that Perret used modular spaces, with elements produced in series and prefabricated, and versatile building material: concrete. He did not even paint it: pigments could be added to its composition, it could be smoothed, washed, etc. According to Perret, concrete was prettier than stone. No doubt he managed to give nobility to this material so discredited!
THE CHURCH OF SAINT-JOSEPH: THE FIRST THING YOU HAVE TO SEE IN LE HAVRE
We begin the visit to the works of Auguste Perret in Le Havre for the last one: the masterpiece that the architect could not see finished. And, without a doubt, the most striking of all. After all, a 107-meter tower in a city that is not exactly New York does not go unnoticed … At that point comes the bell tower of the church of Saint-Joseph. A peculiar “lighthouse” that can be seen from land and sea and welcomes sailors, tourists, and devotees to Le Havre. One number: 50,000. They are the tons of concrete used in the construction of the church. Auguste Perret’s favorite material remained the king of his work until the end.