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Ronchamp chapel visitor guide

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Visit Ronchamp chapel, France

Ronchamp Chapel - full name Chapel Notre-Dame-du-Haut - is a famous modernist chapel designed by the architect Le Corbusier and situated to the north-west of Belfort, in the north-east of the Franche-Comté region. A shrine for enthusiasts of Le Corbusier, the Chapel Notre-Dame-du-Haut is found high on a hill above the town of Ronchamp and is among his most famous and recognised buildings.

A roman temple stood here 200 years ago, and in the middle ages there was a small chapel in the same place. This church was rebuilt and expanded in 1850 but burned down in 1913. The church was again rebuilt but was then destroyed during the Second World War. The Chapel Notre-Dame-du-Haut continues the religious status of this site.

Design of Ronchamp Chapel

Completed in 1955 the chapel is one of the leading examples of 20th century church architecture, and one of the few that would generally considered to be a success.

The first thing you notice when you visit the chapel is how well it suits the surrounding landscape - it occupies a magnificent hillside location with far-reaching views all around, yet perfectly suits the location without over dominating it. The chapel itself is simple in design, yet revolutionary and certainly unlike any other chapel you have seen. It is built largely in whitewashed concrete and covered in lime render, except the roof which remains grey.

The curves of the Ronchamp Chapel soften the appearance of what could easily have become another 'concrete box' (and are untypical of le Corbusier whose buildings are better known for their straight lines and functionality rather than their aesthetic beauty).

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The roof of the chapel is designed such that the rain tumbles off onto specially placed abstract shapes, creating a pleasant effect - so you can visit even if it is raining.

Inside, the Ronchamp chapel seems much smaller than you might expect from the outside (due to the thickness of the walls). You will be struck by the way that light penetrates the walls and lights the white surfaces inside the chapel, helped by the use of large openings in the walls behind the small external openings.

Close to the chapel various other structures can be seen, including a pyramis to peace constructed out of the stone from the original church, and a campanile designed by Jean Prouvé. In recent years a gatehouse and convent buildings designed by Enzo Piano, another famous modern architect, has been added to the chapel.

Other religious buildings by Le Corbusier

After Ronchamp, Le Corbusier designed two other religious buildings in France, quite different in design to the Chapel Notre-Dame-du-Haut. We haven't visited these yet but see photos at Saint Mary Convent of La Tourette (1956 - 1960) and the Church of Saint-Pierre of Firminy (1973). It is relevant to note that Le Corbusier declared himself to be an atheist.

If you are interested in buildings where 'art meets architecture' see also the Matisse chapel at Vence on the French Riviera.

You can find more travel ideas in the Franche-Comte guide.

See also: 

Map of Ronchamp chapel and places nearby

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