It must be stated, however, that the first castle recorded to have existed at Rouen, was built by Rollo, shortly after he had made himself master of Neustria. Its very name is now lost; and all we know concerning it is, that it stood near the quay, at the northern extremity of the town, in the situation subsequently occupied by the Church of St. Pierre du Chatel, and the adjoining monastery of the Cordeliers.
After a lapse of less than fifty years, Rouen saw rising within her walls a second castle, the work of Duke Richard Ist, and long the residence of the Norman sovereigns. This, from a tower of great strength which formed a part of it, and which was not demolished till the year 1204, acquired the appellation of la Vieille Tour; and the name remains to this day, though the building has disappeared.
The space formerly occupied by the scite of it is now covered by the halles, considered the finest in France. The historians of Rouen, in the usual strain of hyperbole, hint that their halles are even the finest in the world, though they are very inferior to their prototypes at Bruges and Ypres. The hall, or exchange, allotted to the mercers, is two hundred and seventy-two feet in length, by fifty feet wide: those for the drapers and for wool are, each of them, two hundred feet long; and all these are surpassed in size by the corn-hall, whose length extends to three hundred feet. They are built round a large square, the centre of which is occupied by numberless dealers in pottery, old clothes, &c.; and, as the day on which we chanced to visit them was a Friday, when alone they are opened for public business, we found a most lively, curious, and interesting scene.
It was on the top of a stone staircase, the present entry to the halles, that the annual ceremony of delivering and pardoning a criminal for the sake of St. Romain, the tutelary protector of Rouen, was performed on Ascension-day, according to a privilege exercised, from time immemorial, by the Chapter of the Cathedral.
The legend is romantic; and it acquires a species of historical importance, as it became the foundation of a right, asserted even in our own days. My account of it is taken from Dom Pommeraye’s History of the Life of the Prelate.—He has been relating many miracles performed by him, and, among others, that of causing the Seine, at the time of a great inundation, to retire to its channel by his command, agreeably to the following beautiful stanza of Santeuil:—
“Tangit exundans aqua civitatem;
Voce Romanus jubet efficaci;
Audiunt fluctus, docilisque cedit