Administrative centre of Aisnedépartement in the Picardy region of northern France; 125 km/78 mi northeast of Paris; population (2005 est) 26,500. It was the capital of France and a royal residence until the 10th century. Laon is a market centre, and has food-processing and metallurgical industries. Its cathedral, and the former abbey church of St-Martin, both date from the 12th century.
History Laon's latin name, Lugdunum, refers to the town's site on an isolated hill rising 99 m/325 ft above the plain. The hill had been consecrated to the god of light by the Celts. Laon became a bishopric in 515. It was the capital of the western Franks, and was a strategically important town in the Middle Ages. In 1814 the Prussian general Blücher defeated Napoleon here. It was a major fortress in World War I and was occupied by the Germans from August 1914 to October 1918; it formed the southern pivot of the Hindenburg Line.
Features Laon's cathedral of Notre Dame was destroyed by fire in 1150, and replaced with one of the first buildings to be built in the Gothic style. Its vaulted roof rises 40 m/131 ft above the transept. It suffered much damage in the German bombing of the area in 1944. The town hosts a medieval festival each May. Laon has also expanded at the foot of the hill, and the two parts of the town are connected (since 1989) by the POMA, the first automatic metropolitan cable-car service in France.