1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Bourges

BOURGES, a city of central France, chief town of the department of Cher, 144 m. S. of Paris on the Orléans railway between Vierzon and Nevers. Pop. (1906) town, 34,581; commune, 44,133. Bourges is built amidst flat and marshy country on an eminence limited on three sides by the waters of the Canal Of Berry, the Yèvre, the Auron, and other smaller streams with which they unite at this point. The older part of the town with its narrow streets and old houses forms a centre, to the south and east of which lie important engineering suburbs. Flourishing nurseries and market-gardens are situated in the marshy ground to the north and north-east. Bourges preserves portions of the Roman ramparts of the 4th century, which are for the most part built into the houses of the old quarter. They measure considerably less in circumference than the fortifications of the 13th century, remains of which in the shape of ruined walls and towers are still to be seen. The summit of the rise on which the city is built is crowned by the cathedral of St Étienne, one of the most important in France. Begun at the end of the 12th century, it was not completed till the 16th century, to which period belong the northernmost of the two unfinished towers flanking the façade and two of its five elaborately sculptured portals. The interior, which has double aisles, the inner aisles of remarkable height, and no transepts, contains, among many other works of art, magnificent stained glass of the 13th century. Beneath the choir there is a crypt of Romanesque construction, where traces of the Roman fosses are to be found; the two lateral portals are also survivals of a Romanesque church. The Jardin de l’Archevêché, a pleasant terrace-garden, adjoins the choir of the cathedral. Bourges has many fine old houses. The hôtel Lallemant and the hôtel Cujas (now occupied by the museum) are of the Renaissance period. The hôtel de Jacques Cœur, named after the treasurer of Charles VII. and now used as the law-court, is of still greater interest, though it has been doubted whether Jacques Cœur himself inhabited it. The mansion is in the Renaissance style, but two towers of the Roman fortifications were utilized in the construction of the south-western façade (see House, Plate II. figs. 7 and 8). Its wings surround a courtyard into which three staircase turrets project; one of these leads to a chapel, the ceiling of which is decorated by fine frescoes.

Bourges is the seat of an archbishopric, a court of appeal, a court of assizes and a prefect; and is the headquarters of the VIII. army corps. It has tribunals of first instance and of commerce, a board of trade-arbitrators, and a chamber of commerce, and a branch of the Bank of France. Its educational institutions include an ecclesiastical seminary, a lycée for boys, and a college for girls, training colleges, and a school of industrial art. The industrial activity of Bourges depends primarily on its gunpowder and ammunition factories, its cannon-foundry and gun-carriage works. These all belong to the government, and, together with huge magazines, a school of pyrotechnics, and an artillery school, lie in the east of the town. The suburb of Mazières has large iron and engineering works, and there are manufactories of anvils, edge-tools, biscuits, woollen goods, oil-cloth, boots and shoes, fertilizers, brick and tile works, breweries, distilleries, tanneries, saw-mills and dye-works. The town has a port on the canal of Berry, and does a considerable trade in grain, wine, vegetables, hemp and fruit.

Bourges occupies the site of the Gallic town of Avaricum, capital of the Bituriges, mentioned by Caesar as one of the most important of all Gaul. In 52 B.C., during the war with Vercingetorix, it was completely destroyed by the Roman conqueror, but under Augustus it rose again into importance, and was made the capital of Aquitania Prima. About A.D. 250 it became the seat of a bishop, the first occupant of the see being Ursinus. Captured by the Visigoths about 475, it continued in their possession till about 507. In the middle ages it was the capital of Berry. During the English occupation of France in the 15th century it became the residence of Charles VII., who thus acquired the popular title of “king of Bourges.” In 1463 a university was founded in the city by Louis XI., which continued for centuries to be one of the most famous in France, especially in the department of jurisprudence. On many occasions Bourges was the seat of ecclesiastical councils—the most important being the council of 1438, in which the Pragmatic Sanction of the Gallican church was established, and that of 1528, in which the Lutheran doctrines were condemned.