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The mystery of disappearing grandeur in Honfleur

Update – the truth!

In December 2017 we received a very interesting comment.  Just a few words with a name and short description … which we were able to verify in a newspaper article and a paper by the Honfleur historical society… we now know quite a bit more about the the mystery of disappearing grandeur in Honfleur. But first…

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8 April 2017

This postcard match of Honfleur is one first we ever did, from a bundle of carte postale bought in a Paris flea market.

We published it in our first (now defunct) blog ‘Honfleur then and Now’ and the mystery caused a bit of a furore. It has never been solved so we are re-posting the story today. Perhaps you can help?

A lot has changed in Honfleur, but one building on Boulevard Charles V, behind the blue shuttered house, looks just the same as our postcard.

Our original, desperate post

This was our trickiest postcard match to date and raises a question we have not been able to answer.. perhaps you can help?

Our beautiful vintage postcard of Honfleur shows a bust of Boudin, the celebrated artist.  In the distance La Côte de Grace and Mont Joli (more of a hill than a Mont) rise up behind the pretty town of Honfleur.

The buildings in the distance can still be found along Boulevard Charles V, on the way to Naturospace.  Naturospace is the perfect place for a rainy day, a patch of butterfly infested rainforest in the middle of Normandy! We cannot recommend it enough.  Even when the school children are visiting it is an oasis of calm and exotic beauty.

The mysterious domed building

Back to the view.  The postcard revealed Honfleur has changed a lot more than we realised.  Up on the hill is a structure of pillars with a domed roof.  What is it?  Where is it now?

What was this building? What happened to it? Can you help?

How could such a grand building placed dramatically above the town just disappear, never to be mentioned again?

We did find the bust of Boudin, moved to the park between Boulevard Charles V and the Seine.

Boudin sculpture in the garden of personalities, Honfleur

The domed building almost got us thrown out of the Boudin gallery.  Again.  They are a bit touchy about photographs at the Boudin.  On a previous visit one of us was overcome by a painting of such colour and intensity (by Raoul Dufy) they reached for a camera… only to be rugby tackled by a furious official who deleted the photos and said something quite nasty in French.

Even the Louvre allows photos but not the Boudin!

So it did exist

On our next visit we were more careful and managed this shaky photo of a painting, that seems to show a dome on the hill.  At this stage we just needed to reassure ourselves it had existed (and balance an old score with the Boudin official).

Mont Joli (painting found in the Boudin gallery, Honfleur…sssh!)

An old photochrom of Mont Joli found in the Library of Congress archive is one of the best Mont Joli images we have seen and shows the dome in the distance.

Very nice 1890’s photochrom of Honfleur. Oh look, there is a dome on top of Mont Joli!

Luckily the picture was very good quality so we could zoom in and see architectural details; an elegant colonnade encircling the building and formal gardens running all the way down the hill to Honfleur.  Stunning!

Close-up from the photochrom.

We still could not find any history about the domed building, that dominated the skyline above Honfleur over one hundred years ago. So we had a look on google earth.

Could this be the site of the mystery building? Google earth 2013

Does this google earth image reveal the site of lost grandeur?

What happened!!!??? We would love to know.

Then, having never noticed it before we bought that old postcard, we started seeing the domed building everywhere.

The Port. Guidebook of Honfleur by Etienne Deville, 1923


Look there it is! Taunting us between the chimneys in this photo accompanying an undated article by Georges Ruel.


And again! Isn’t that it up on Mont Jolie, in this 1916 sketch by Louis Moret


But a different building is on the same spot (tiny pointy building, at the top) in this 1865 picture by Jean-Louis Tirpenne

Mont Joli today

Nothing. No gardens, no dome.

View of Mont Joli behind le Vieux Basin


Confusion in Honfleur

When this post first came out we left some messages on Honfleur facebook pages and to our delight the mystery received a lot of interest, but also caused confusion.  The Honfleurais had no idea what the domed building was either.  Conversations went on for weeks until everyone became fed up and quite cross with anyone who mentioned domed buildings.

A big clue!

We had just about given up when some weeks later a local blogger, Azoline, got in touch.  Azoline told us the building was mentioned in the 1919  ‘Guide Bleu Normandie’.  A quote was enclosed:

” Au-delà du château de la côte de grâce on arrive au point de vue du Mont-Joli : vue sur Honfleur et l’estuaire de la Seine ; à droite hôtel du Mont-Joli. A gauche la villa Foucher-Lepelletier, précédée d’une grille que flanquent deux tourelles crénelées, néogothiques, est surmontée d’une rotonde blanche à dôme et campanile, qui signale au loin honfleur et la côte de grâce.”

To translate:

“Beyond the castle by the coast we arrive at the point of view of Mont-Joli: View of Honfleur and the estuary of the Seine right hotel Mont-Joli. Left the villa Lepelletier-Foucher, preceded by a grille flanked by two crenellated turrets, Gothic Revival, is surmounted by a white rotunda dome and campanile, which overlooks Honfleur and the Côte de Grâce.”

This led us to discover the owner of the house was probably a very rich Normandy industrialist Edmond Fouché-Lepelletier.  Edmond owned many chemical factories, some in Le Havre where he was born in 1809. What better place to keep an eye on them than away from their smoke across the estuary?

Very successful industrialist and probable dome lover, Edmond Fouché-Lepelletier.

December 2017 Update!!

M. L-F may have been the owner in 1919, but a comment from a well informed reader tells us the rotunda is much earlier.  As a newspaper report and a paper by the Honfleur historical society confirm:

“It was built in the 1840s by Alexander Jecker, an optician from Le Havre. It housed a seven-meter-long telescope with a 1 meter diameter lens. The building was destroyed after the Second World War.”

So we know quite a bit more about this grand building, but not everything…

The unsolved mystery

What happened to M. Jecker’s remarkable rotunda? Honfleur buildings have been fairly untouched by war.  One comment suggested it had all burned down. But is this true? Do you know? We would love to hear from you.

Perhaps one day we will uncover the complete mystery of disappearing grandeur, in Honfleur.

Look! At the bottom of this old travel poster – a domed building on top of Mont Joli!! Aaaaarg!


2 thoughts on “The mystery of disappearing grandeur in Honfleur

  1. je vous fait parvenir les elements qui vous manque sur l observatoir de honfleur qui appartenait a monsieur jecker qui etait opticien au havre et qui est a lorigine des longue vue et jumelles et autre d ou il c est installe sur le plateau de grace pour ces travaux qui consisté a la ligne dhorizon jai bien des documents mais je ne peut les joindre a mon commentaire salutation

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