CHARTRES, a city of north-western France, capital of the department of Eure-et-Loir, 55 m. S.W. of Paris on the railway to Le Mans. Pop. (1906) 19,433. Chartres is built on the left bank of the Eure, on a hill crowned by its famous cathedral, the spires of which are a landmark in the surrounding country. To the south-east stretches the fruitful plain of Beauce, "the granary of France," of which the town is the commercial centre. The Eure, which at this point divides into three branches, is crossed by several bridges, some of them ancient, and is fringed in places by remains of the old fortifications, of which the Porte Guillaume (14th century), a gateway flanked by towers, is the most complete specimen. The steep, narrow streets of the old town contrast with the wide, shady boulevards which encircle it and divide it from the suburbs. The Clos St Jean, a pleasant park, lies to the north-west, and squares and open spaces are numerous. The cathedral of Notre-Dame (see Architecture: Romanesque and Gothic Architecture in France; and Cathedral), one of the finest Gothic churches in France, was founded in the 11th century by Bishop Fulbert on the site of an earlier church destroyed by fire. In 1194 another conflagration laid waste the new building then hardly completed; but clergy and people set zealously to work, and the main part of the present structure was finished by 1240. Though there have been numerous minor additions and alterations since that time, the general character of the cathedral is unimpaired. The upper woodwork was consumed by fire in 1836, but the rest of the building was saved. The statuary of the lateral portals, the stained glass of the 13th century, and the choir-screen of the Renaissance are all unique from the artistic standpoint. The cathedral is also renowned for the beauty and perfect proportions of its western towers. That to the south, the Clocher Vieux (351 ft. high), dates from the 13th century; its upper portion is lower and less rich in design than that of the Clocher Neuf (377 ft.), which was not completed till the 16th century. In length the cathedral measures 440 ft., its choir measures 150 ft. across, and the height of the vaulting is 121 ft. The abbey church of St Pierre, dating chiefly from the 13th century, contains, besides some fine stained glass, twelve representations of the apostles in enamel, executed about 1547 by Léonard Limosin. Of the other churches of Chartres the chief are St Aignan (13th, 16th and 17th centuries) and St Martin-au-Val (12th century). The hôtel de ville, a building of the 17th century, containing a museum and library, an older hôtel de ville of the 13th century, and several medieval and Renaissance houses, are of interest. There is a statue of General F.S. Marceau-Desgraviers (b. 1769), a native of the town.
The town is the seat of a bishop, a prefecture, a court of assizes, and has tribunals of first instance and of commerce, a chamber of commerce, training colleges, a lycée for boys, a communal college for girls, and a branch of the Bank of France. Its trade is carried on chiefly on market-days, when the peasants of the Beauce bring their crops and live-stock to be sold and make their purchases. The game-pies and other delicacies of Chartres are well known, and the industries also include flour-milling, brewing, distilling, iron-founding, leather manufacture, dyeing, and the manufacture of stained glass, billiard requisites, hosiery, etc.
Chartres was one of the principal towns of the Carnutes, and by the Romans was called Autricum, from the river Autura (Eure), and afterwards civitas Carnutum. It was burnt by the Normans in 858, and unsuccessfully besieged by them in 911. In 1417 it fell into the hands of the English, from whom it was recovered in 1432. It was attacked unsuccessfully by the Protestants in 1568, and was taken in 1591 by Henry IV., who was crowned there three years afterwards. In the Franco-German War it was seized by the Germans on the 21st of October 1870, and continued during the rest of the campaign an important centre of operations. During the middle ages it was the chief town of the district of Beauce, and gave its name to a countship which was held by the counts of Blois and Champagne and afterwards by the house of Châtillon, a member of which in 1286 sold it to the crown. It was raised to the rank of a duchy in 1528 by Francis I. After the time of Louis XIV. the title of duke of Chartres was hereditary in the family of Orleans.
See M.T. Bulteau, Monographie de la cathédrale de Chartres (1887); A. Pierval, Chartres, sa cathédrale, ses monuments (1896); H.J.L.J. Massé, Chartres: its Cathedral and Churches (1900).
Note - this article incorporates content from Encyclopaedia Britannica, Eleventh Edition, (1910-1911)