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In 950, from his fortified castle in Bourbon-l'Archambaut, Aymar, the first lord of Bourbon, began to patiently build his 'empire' or, more precisely, his Duchy. The Clunisian monks of Souvigny Abbey would contribute to this renown. From lords, his descendants would effectively become Dukes: in Souvigny first of all, then in Moulins where the Bourbonnais Duchy, before being annexed to the kingdom of France by Francis I, would reach the height of its glory under Anne of France. During the Franco-Italian wars, her brother brought Italian artists to France who would introduce the first Renaissance architectural and sculptural elements here. Around half a century later the Bourbons would come back with a vengeance… for two centuries. The town also became the 'central French post' during the War of 1870 when Paris was surrounded by the Germans and an occupied city close to the demarcation line in 1940.
Moulins has conserved many testimonies of its glory years: the famous triptych of the Madonna and Child by the Master of Moulins, the “Mal Coiffée”, ancient castle of the Dukes, the Italian Renaissance pavilion of Anne of France and its historic city centre with numerous old houses in polychrome brick bordering streams and suburbs while the Jacquemart clock tower chimes out a gentle pace of life for the town.
Other places of interest are the Illustration Centre and the Museum of the Visitation, which confirm this town's cultural artistic and historic vocation; afterwards visitors might go and buy some chocolates, the famous gold discs at the shop of the top chocolate maker Sérardy before stopping off for a drink at the 'Grand Café' where Gabrielle Chanel was given her nickname Coco when she sung there in front of the officers of the Villars district which is now the location of the National Theatre Costume Centre. Last but by no means least, the town's excellent guides offer guided tours of the historic quarter, the ‘Mariniers' district, the Jacquemart clock tower, and the Chapel of the Visitation.
Surrounding the town, the Bourbonnais countryside with its 'bocage' patchwork of fields conserves an antiquated charm that has become quite a rare treat today in France: countryside criss-crossed with hedgerows and gently rolling prairies, white water streams and little forests of oak trees which edge the town in a lovely lacing of green.