This bustling town of some 40,000 people sits at the northern limit of the Forêt de Compiègne (Compiègne Forest). The former royal hunting lodge here enjoyed its heyday in the mid-19th century under upstart emperor Napoléon III. But the town's history stretches further back—to Joan of Arc, who was captured in battle and held prisoner here, and to its 15th-century Hôtel de Ville (Town Hall), with its jubilant Flamboyant Gothic facade; and further forward—to the World War I armistice, signed in Compiègne Forest on November 11, 1918.

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