History, Information and Sights of Limoges,
the Porcelain Capital of France
The city of Limoges is located about 250 miles southwest of Paris, in the Limousin region of central France. Since medieval times, Limoges has been famous for its enamel. In the 18th century Limoges became known for its porcelain when deposits of kaolin were discovered in the vicinity. Limoges tableware, decorative pieces and especially, Limoges boxes, have been world-famous and much sought after ever since.
The city’s history goes back to the year 1 BC, when Limoges was first founded on the right bank of the river Vienne. Augustoritum was the first name given to Limoges (meaning “Augustus’ pathway). The city soon became significant, as it was located on a pilgrimage route and was at the crossroads of Roman trade routes. At the time, the city had imposing thermal baths, an amphitheatre, and a vast network of aqueducts. The patrician home mosaics, painted decors, furniture and lavishness all tribute to the city’s past opulence. Limoges, the region’s capital, boasts a vast array of historical attractions.
Welcoming visitors to the city is the imposing and visually striking "Hôtel de Ville" or "La Mairie" (Town Hall) with its tiered hand-painted porcelain fountains. Built in 1883, the Town Hall houses administrative offices, exhibition and meeting rooms. The building has impressive architecture throughout, magnificent ceilings and hallways with statues and hand-painted frescos.
A wall painting of Lady Limoges, a matron of Limoges, in the main staircase of the Limoges Town Hall.
A prominent landmark of Limoges is its granite cathedral, Saint Etienne de Limoges, known as one of the most beautiful Gothic cathedrals in the south of France. The impressive cathedral was first built in this location in the 3rd century by Saint Martial. Later the building went through some transformations and became a basilica dedicated to Saint Etienne in the 5th century. In the 11th century, Richard the Lionheart was invested as Duke of Aquitane in the Limoges Romanseque cathedral. The main part of the bell tower and the church are 13th century with a 19th century junction between the two.
Behind the cathedral is the Bishop's Palace which includes the Municipal Museum and a botanical garden. Displayed are are Limoges enamels from the Middle Ages and various works of art, including ones by Pierre August Renoir who was a native of Limoges (more information about Renoir below). Also displayed are archeological and lapidary objects.
Excavation of Roman ruins next door to the Bishop's Palace in Limoges
Another significant architectural landmarks of Limoges is its impressive art deco train station, Gare de Limoges-Benedictins. Located near the city center, the station welcomes travelers from Paris and other environs. Built in 1850, the Limoges Benedictins Station is like no other. It's striking exterior is paralleled by an equally impressive interior hall, neoclassical sculptures and Art Deco stained glass windows. The Benedictins station is considered one of the most beautiful in Europe.
Today's Limoges is a diverse city of both the old and the new. The city's central old town is steeped in history with many historical buildings and homes with varying architectural styles of Medieval, Renaissance, Art Nouveau, contemporary and industrial. Many of the workshops and small porcelain factories which have put Limoges on the map, are intermixed inside and outside the city.
Elaborate architectural details adorn this private historic home in the heart of Limoges.
Over the ornately hand-carved doors are the busts of the master and mistress of the house welcoming visitors.
The first kaolin seam in France was discovered in 1768 near the town of St. Yrieix, within a short distance from Limoges. Thanks to this essential component for manufacturing porcelain, the china industry rapidly expanded in Limoges, the town acquiring an international reputation for excellence. At the height of its expansion in the early 20th century, the industry employed more than 10,000 workers in more than a hundred kilns.
Small factories and workshops continue the tradition of porcelain craftsmanship in the same methods of old. All porcelain pieces, including tableware, decorative pieces as well as Limoges boxes are made to order in small batches by Limoges artisans. Each piece of porcelain is individually created from start to finish by pouring the kaolin mixture into molds, firing, glazing and hand-painting. Limoges boxes have an additional step - they are hinged by hand by metalwork artists.
Limoges has a rich historic and artistic past. One of the most famous French painters of all time, Pierre-August Renoir was a native of Limoges.
Born in Limoges, Renoir was a child of a working class family. As a boy, he began working in the porcelain factory where his drawing talents led him to being advanced to painting designs on fine china. As a young man, Renoir moved to Paris to study painting under prominent teachers. He joined the ranks of other French artists of his time such as Alfred Sisley and Claude Monet. After many years of exhibiting his paintings, his talents were recognized and he rose to fame.
Many of Renoir's famous works are represented in the miniature Limoges box masterpieces.
One of Limoges' great treasures is the Adrien Dubouché Museum, which is housed in an impressive building purpose-built in 1900. It was founded by Adrien Dubouché, a wealthy merchant and avid collector from Cognac, as a museum as well as an art school. The exterior of the building is adorned with magnificent ornamental architectural features over the facade. The interior is equally graced with exceptional architectural elements and hand-painted walls and ceilings. The museum’s bounty includes the largest collection of Limoges porcelain in the world and contains over 11,000 items of ceramic and glassware ranging from ancient Greek to modern manufacture.
A magnificent large hand-painted Limoges vase on display at the Museum Adrien Dubouche
In the Boucherie quarter in Limoges' old town, half timbered houses rub shoulders with antique shops, boutiques and fine restaurants. Narrow winding streets and small round-abouts are filled with shops and an array of patisseries, bakeries and restaurants with their delightful French outdoor seating.
In central part of Limoges, visitors can find fine china stores, jewelry made of Limoges porcelain and Limoges factory shops.
Venturing outside Limoges, one can find farms, fields, valleys and meadows in every direction. The vast agricultural area of the Limousin region produces not only wheat - for the fantastic and delicious French Baguette - but is also home to the famous Limousin cows, famed throughout Europe for their exceptional beef.
Sunflowers flourish in the warm summer days in the rich farmlands surrounding Limoges
There are numerous chateaux in the Limousin region within a close distance from Limoges. Many of these historic castles are situation on the Richard the Lionheart Route, where King Richard lived, traveled, fought and eventually died.
One outstanding castle in this region is the delightful fairytale Chateau de Jumilhac which is situated about 30 miles south of Limoges. This chateau was built in the 13th century with magical towers and terraced gardens. The especially noteworthy features of this historic castle is the extravaganza of towers and turrets, which has made Jumilhac famous for having the most romantic roofs in France. The castle exterior and interior are further enhanced by exceptional ironwork and lead glass creations.
The fairytale castle of Jumilhac with its magnificent multiple turrets
Another historic and visually striking castle near Limoges is Dournazac district's fortified Montbrun Castle. Situated 25 miles southwest of Limoges, is the 12th century castle with its surrounding moat, representative of military architecture. The castle's history is related to the Crusades and King Richard the Lionheart - King Richard is believed to have died at the castle. Destroyed during the French revolution, the Chateau was later restored in the 15th century. The chateau's outstanding features are its interior courtyard with a well, battlements, drawbridge and dungeons.
The fortified castle of Chateau Montbrun
Located about 90 miles south of Limoges is the dramatically tiered Cliffside village of Rocamadour. The picturesque village is nestled in the heart of the Auvergne region of France. One of the attractions of the village is its Chateau which appears to be perched precariously on the cliff top, yet here it has stood for over five hundred years. Today, as they have for centuries, shepherds tend their flocks in fields shadowed by the majestic promontory. And each September, following a tradition born in the middles ages, pilgrims still climb, on their knees, the four hundred sixteen steps of the cliff’s Great Staircase to worship at the Basilica of St. Sauveur.
The picturesque Cliffside village of Rocamadour
Hand-painted French Limoges boxes directly imported from Limoges, France by LimogesCollector.com are of the highest quality and craftsmanship. Each piece is truly a masterpiece and a treasure to own or to give the perfect gift. LimogesCollector.com is proud to offer over 2,100 various styles of Limoges boxes for every occasion, taste and budget. Our selection of French Limoges boxes continually grows and new styles are continually being added. Check our website often for new-arrivals and special offers to grow and enhance your Limoges collection.
All photographs were taken by Vida Cunningham and are protected under copyright laws.