Just 60km north of Paris' Charles de Gaulle Airport, the prosperous 'imperial city' of Compiègne reached its glittering zenith under Emperor Napoléon III (r 1852–70), whose legacy is alive and well in his opulent palais (palace) and the adjacent gardens and forests. Both the 1918 armistice that ended WWI and the French surrender of 1940 were signed in a wooded area just outside town.

On 23 May 1430, Joan of Arc (Jeanne d'Arc) – honoured by two statues in the partly medieval city centre – was captured at Compiègne by the Burgundians, who later sold her to their English allies.