Chartres was in Gaul one of the principal towns of the Carnutes, a Celtic tribe. In the Gallo-Roman period, it was called Autricum, name derived from the river Autura (Eure), and afterwards civitas Carnutum, "city of the Carnutes", from which Chartres got its name. The city was burned by the Normans in 858, and unsuccessfully besieged by them in 911.
During the Middle Ages, it was the most important town of the Beauce. It gave its name to a county which was held by the counts of Blois, and the counts of Champagne, and afterwards by the House of Châtillon, a member of which sold it to the Crown in 1286.
In 1417, during the Hundred Years' War, Chartres fell into the hands of the English, from whom it was recovered in 1432.
In 1528, it was raised to the rank of a duchy by Francis I.
In 1568, during the Wars of Religion, Chartres was unsuccessfully besieged by the Huguenot leader, the Prince of Condé. It was finally taken by the royal troops of Henry IV on 19 April 1591. On Sunday, 27 February 1594, the cathedral of Chartres was the site of the coronation of Henry IV after he converted to the Catholic faith, the only king of France whose coronation ceremony was not performed in Reims.
In 1674, Louis XIV raised Chartres from a duchy to a duchy peerage in favor of his nephew, Duke Philippe II of Orléans. The title of Duke of Chartres was hereditary in the House of Orléans, and given to the eldest son of the Duke of Orléans.
In the 1870-1871 Franco-Prussian War, Chartres was seized by the Germans on 2 October 1870, and continued during the rest of the war to be an important centre of operations.
In World War II, the city suffered heavy damage by bombing and during the battle of Chartres in August 1944, but its cathedral was spared by an American Army officer who challenged the order to destroy it. On 16 August 1944, Colonel Welborn Barton Griffith, Jr. questioned the necessity of destroying the cathedral and volunteered to go behind enemy lines to find out whether the Germans were using it as an observation post. With his driver, Griffith proceeded to the cathedral and, after searching it all the way up its bell tower, confirmed to Headquarters that it was empty of Germans. The order to destroy the cathedral was withdrawn. Colonel Griffith was killed in action later on that day in the town of Lèves, 3.5 kilometres (2.2 miles) north of Chartres. For his heroic action both at Chartres and Lèves, Colonel Griffith received, posthumously, several decorations awarded by the President of the United States and the U.S. Military, and also from the French government
Following deep reconnaissance missions in the region by the 3rd Cavalry Group and units of the 1139 Engineer Combat Group, and after heavy fighting in and around the city, Chartres was liberated, on 18 August 1944, by the U.S. 5th Infantry and 7th Armored Divisions belonging to the XX Corps of the U.S. Third Army commanded by General George S. Patton.
Chartres is built on a hill on the left bank of the Eure River. Its renowned medieval cathedral is at the top of the hill, and its two spires are visible from miles away across the flat surrounding lands. To the southeast stretches the fertile plain of Beauce, the "granary of France", of which the town is the commercial centre.
Chartres is best known for its cathedral, the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Chartres, which is considered one of the finest and best preserved Gothic cathedrals in France and in Europe. Its historical and cultural importance has been recognized by its inclusion on the UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites.
It was built on the site of the former Chartres cathedral of Romanesque architecture, which was destroyed by fire in 1194 (that former cathedral had been built on the ruins of an ancient Celtic temple, later replaced by a Roman temple). Begun in 1205, the construction of Notre-Dame de Chartres was completed 66 years later.
The stained glass windows of the cathedral were financed by guilds of merchants and craftsmen, and by wealthy noblemen, whose names appear at the bottom.
It is not known how the famous and unique blue, bleu de Chartres, of the glass was created, and it has been impossible to replicate it. The French author Michel Pastoureau, says that it could also be called bleu de Saint-Denis.
The Église Saint-Pierre de Chartres, was the church of the Benedictine Abbaye Saint-Père-en-Vallée, founded in the 7th century by queen Balthild. At time of its construction, the abbey was outside the walls of the city. It contains fine stained glass and, formerly, twelve representations of the apostles in enamel, created about 1547 by Léonard Limosin, which now can be seen in the Fine arts museum.
Other noteworthy churches of Chartres are Saint-Aignan (13th, 16th and 17th centuries), and Saint-Martin-au-Val (12th century), inside the Saint-Brice hospital.
The Eure River, 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, was the most complete specimen, until destroyed by the retreating German army in the night of 15 to 16 August 1944. The steep, narrow streets of the old town contrast with the wide, shady boulevards which encircle it and separate it from the suburbs. The "parc André-Gagnon" or "Clos St. Jean", a pleasant park, lies to the north-west, and squares and open spaces are numerous.
Part of the Hôtel de Ville (City Hall) is a building of the 17th century called Hôtel de Montescot. The Maison Canoniale dating back to the 13th century, and several medieval and Renaissance houses, are of interest.
There is a statue of General Marceau (1769-1796), a native of Chartres and a general during the French Revolution.
La Maison Picassiette, a house decorated inside and out with mosaics of shards of broken china and pottery, is also worth a visit.
Chartres is one of the most important market towns in the region of Beauce (known as "the granary of France").
The game pies and other delicacies of Chartres are well known, and the industries also include flour-milling, brewing, distilling, iron-founding, leather manufacture, perfumes, dyeing, and the manufacture of electronic equipment, car accessories, stained glass, billiard requisites and hosiery.
Since 1976 fashion and perfumes company Puig has a production plant in this commune.
The Gare de Chartres railway station offers frequent services to Paris, and a few daily connections to Le Mans, Nogent-le-Rotrou and Courtalain. The A11 motorway connects Chartres with Paris and Le Mans.
Chartres is home to two semi-professional association football clubs; FC Chartres, who play in the French sixth division, and HB Chartres, who play in the seventh tier.
Chartres has a table tennis club which is playing in the Pro A (French First division) and in the European Champions League. The club won the ETTU Cup on the season 2010 – 2011 and it finished at the second position in the French First division.
Chartres has the second most important squash club in France.
There is also a handball club and it is playing in the French second division.
In November 2012, Chartres organized the European Short Course Swimming Championships.
The town is the seat of a diocese (bishopric), a prefecture, and a cour d'assises. It has a Tribunal de grande instance, a Tribunal d'instance, a Chamber of commerce and a branch of the Banque de France.
Public and religious schooling from kindergarten through high school and vocational schools is given in mixed (boys and girls) establishments. The two main high schools are the Lycée Jehan de Beauce and the Lycée Marceau, named after two important personages of the history of Chartres: Jehan de Beauce was a 16th-century architect who rebuilt the northern steeple of the cathedral after it had been destroyed by lightning in July 1506, and Marceau, a native of city, who was a general during the French Revolution of 1789.
Chartres has been a site of Catholic pilgrimages since the Middle Ages. The poet Charles Péguy (1873–1914) revived the pilgrimage route between Paris and Chartres before World War I. After the war, some students carried on the pilgrimage in his memory. Since 1982, the association Notre-Dame de Chrétienté, with offices in Versailles, organizes the annual 100 km (62 mi) pilgrimage on foot from Notre-Dame de Paris to Notre-Dame de Chartres. About 15,000 pilgrims, from France and countries outside France, participate every year.
Notable bishops of Chartres:
Chartres was the birthplace of: