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History of Burgundy

Burgundian history is a rich tapestry of culture and heritage, woven with both conflict and prosperity. Set close to the heart of the nation, the region has played a vital role throughout the France’s history, with its significance stretching as far back as the Roman conquests of Gaul and beyond. As such, to discover Burgundy is to witness history come alive, with connections to the past visible at every turn.

Early settlers

The earliest settlers to call the Burgundy region home are thought to be of Scandinavian origin, travelling from the southern shores of the Baltic Sea and establishing settlements that would reach down into the lower valley of the Vistula River. Roman influence was quick to follow, prompting the kingdom to expand at a rapid rate and reach from the banks of the River Rhine to Lake Geneva. As the dominance of the Roman Empire began to wane during the fifth century, however, it would be left to the Christian king Gundobad to oversee continued growth, an expansion that would lead to Burgundy’s eventual overthrow by the Franks in 534.

Rise of the dynasties

Frankish reign would be but a mere glimmer in the history of Burgundy, with the partitioning of the kingdom among the Merovingian dynasty accelerated on the death of Frankish king, Clotar I. The French and German Carolingians, meanwhile, would lay claim to the region, whose many disparate areas were ultimately united by Conrad II under the Holy Roman Empire in the 11th century.

Middle Ages

As the growth of Christianity flourished throughout Burgundy in the Middle Ages, the towns and cities of the region would themselves grow in significance. The monasteries at Cluny and Citeaux were heralded as being among the most spiritual in Europe, with the inevitable political influence and economic development ensuring that Burgundy took on ever greater prominence in Europe.

Around this period, the duchy of Burgundy saw its borders stretch from Switzerland to the North Sea, with the Capetian dukes establishing the cities of Beaune and Dijon as its capitals. The death of Charles the Bold during the Burgundian Wars of 1477 would sound the death knell for the duchy, however, with the annexation of the kingdom to France, the devastation during the Wars of Religion and the onset of the French Revolution ensuring that there was no let up in Burgundy’s eventful existence.

Historic legacy

Of course, with a past featuring some of the most important members of royalty and renowned dynasties, the legacy of the nobility can be seen in the architecture of the land. With glorious châteaux dotting the area, elaborate town houses packing the cities, and abbeys and churches evoking a time of religious domination, the ties to its fascinating past are clear in modern-day Burgundy. 

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