The normally tranquil city of Orleans is buzzing with festivities over the next two weeks to mark the 600th birthday of one of France's best cultural exports: Joan of Arc.
On Tuesday, the Loire River swarmed with wooden boats filled with locals dressed in medieval garb _ re-enacting Joan of Arc's legendary entry into the city in 1429.
It's an event that liberated Orleans from English invaders, and sealed her place in the history books. It has inspired over the centuries myriad novels, poems, rock songs, operas, plays _ and even a blockbuster feature film with Milla Jovovich.
"It's marvelous to see the children dressing up and learning about this great French heroine who's known all over the world," said Jacques Dubarre, dressed in a velvet mantel. "Of course we're also having fun."
In a testament to her international appeal, some 600 contemporary artists _ from as far as the U.S., Japan and Russia _ have made portraits of Joan of Arc through the ages that will be projected on the City Hall this Friday.
Later in the week, a medieval market will be the scene of period cuisine and music, while a sound and light show will be projected on the city's Gothic cathedral to celebrate her life.
Despite the enduring fame, it's been a rocky ride for the teenage legend.
At just 17, Joan led the French army to victory, only to be burned at the stake as a heretic two years later.
She was heralded as a political symbol of the French far left during World War II, only to be snatched up as the mascot of the far right thirty years later.
It seems like the only thing that anyone can agree on is that she is the ultimate French icon.
"The two most famous figures from France are Napoleon and Joan of Arc, no others quite come close," said Russian journalist Vladimir Dobrovolsky, one of the estimated 40,000 people who attended Tuesday.
But why does a woman whose achievements spanned a mere 2 years inspire so much fascination? Continued...