Medieval Saumur

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Saumur city hall

Saumur developed at the foot of the majestic Chateau de Saumur, the castle of the Dukes of Anjou.

The picturesque city boasts a wealth of medieval half-timbered houses and elegant French Renaissance buildings.

The Place Saint-Pierre is framed with beautiful half-timbered houses that frame the 12th century Eglise St-Pierre.

The facade, though, was rebuilt in the lavish Jesuit or Counter-Reformation style in the 17th century, after being struck by lightning.

The church is known for its Angevin or Plantagenêt-Gothic style vaulted nave.

It also contains superb 15th century sculpted stalls and 16th century tapestries depicting the legend of St. Florent and the life of St. Pierre.

The nearby Maison des Compagnons (apprentice craftsmen) served as a setting for Balzac‘s novel Eugénie Grandet.

The popular novel considered as a realistic testimony of social life during the 19th century.

Hôtel de Ville de Saumur

The City Hall is one of the landmarks of the city.

Centuries ago, it used to be the ramparts’ bridgehead when the river flowed at the foot of the building.

The severe military style facade on the river side contrasts with the facade overlooking the backyard.

The latter is indeed a successful mix of Flamboyant Gothic and Renaissance architectures and boasts an amazing stone lacework.

Notre-Dame-des-Ardilliers Church

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Notre-Dame des Ardilliers

The Eglise Notre-Dame-des-Ardilliers became a centre of pilgrimage at the beginning of the 17th century, when a farmer discovered a Pietà in a field nearby.

The huge church was built in 1614 in lavish Counter-Reformation style.

It became Royal Chapel and House of the Oratory, the official seat of the Catholic Theological College.

The church is located in the Quartier Fenet.

The district used to specialize in the manufacture of rosaries and religious medals.

This cottage industry disappeared in the first part of the 20th century.

Notre-Dame-de-Nantilly  Church

The oldest church of Saumur is Notre-Dame-de-Nantilly.

It indeed dates from the 12th century and is renowned for its vast Romanesque vaulted nave.

King Louis XI commissioned the right wing.

One of the pillars is engraved with an epitaph of King René dedicated to his nurse Tiphaine.

The church was fully restored in 1850.

Notre-Dame de Nantilly was dedicated to the Virgin Mary after the discovery of a 12th century statue.

The church boasts a unique collection of tapestries and furniture dating from the 16th and 17th centuries.

Saumur, a major Protestant stronghold

The city became an important Protestant stronghold during the 16th century

This was when the star-shaped ramparts of the Chateau de Saumur (1590).

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Chateau of Saumur overlooking the river Loire

The governor of the city and adviser to Henri IV, Philippe Duplessis-Mornay (known as the Pope of the Protestants) founded a Protestant Academy in Saumur in 1599.

The purpose of the school was to educate students destined to become priests.

The highly popular school not only attracted French students, but also candidates from all over Europe.

This notoriety triggered the development of the city.

New districts were therefore developed beyond the city limits and new avenues lined with luxurious mansions.

In 1611, Duplessis called a general meeting in order to assess the situation after the assassination of King Henri IV (1610).

But the days of the new Faith were counted.

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Protestant Temple

However, Louis XIII – the son of Henri IV and the Catholic Marie de Medici – became hugely concerned by the rapid spread of the Protestant faith.

He therefore ordered for the city walls to be pulled down in 1623.

He also encouraged the foundation of 7 Roman Catholic communities in Saumur.

Louis XIV ordered the closure of the Protestant Academy in 1685 and the temple.

He then revoked the Edict of Nantes, which initially gave Protestants the freedom of worship.

As a result, many French Huguenots emigrated to England, Swiss or Germany.

The Academy building was converted into a prison in 1804, then a garrison and finally in an ammunition depot.

The Chateau de Saumur became the official residence of Governors of Saumur.

Saumur, a prestigious military town

Saumur became famous when the Régiment Royal de Carabiniers moved to Saumur in 1763.

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19th century architecture

The buildings of the garrison were built three years later.

Today they accommodate the Ecole d’Application de l’Armée Blindée et de Cavalerie (Armoured Vehicles and Cavalry).

The Musée des Blindés (Tank Museum) exhibits equipment from twelve different countries.

It was extended in the former premises of the tobacco company Seita.

The Cadre Noir school trains the best horsemen in the country.

It was founded in 1770 by the Comte de Choiseul and was named after the black uniforms worn by the instructors.

In 1940, the 1200 Cadets du Régiment de Cavalerie de Saumur became war heroes.

They indeed sacrificed their lives in order to keep the advancing German troops between Gennes and Montsoreau.

The old Pont Napoleon was therefore renamed Pont des Cadets in their honour.

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Notre-Dame de Nantilly and Pont des Cadets

Today the Cadre Noir is under the supervision of the Ecole Nationale d’Equitation (National Riding School).

It has been based in St-Hilaire-St-Florent on the outskirts of Saumur since 1970.

The Musée de l’Ecole de Cavalerie (Museum of the Horse-Riding Academy) was founded in 1936.

It relates the history of the school and French cavalry since 1870.

The Carroussel is the Cadre Noir’s annual show that takes place the last weekend of July.

It is organized by the Ministry of Youth and Sports and aims at the promotion and quality of French equestrian sports.

The arena can accommodate 1200 sitting spectators.

Western outskirts of Saumur

St-Hilaire-St-Florent is a very active district of Saumur.

You’ll find (most) Saumur wine cellars as well as the Musée du Champignon.

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Saumur and Loire 19th century

The Mushroom Museum was founded in an old limestone quarry.

The low level of humidity and constant temperatures (11°C to 14°C) of the underground galleries create ideal conditions for growing mushrooms.

The local industry was developed in the early 19th century and thrived ever since.

There are over 1000km of underground galleries.

The 200 000 tonnes of Champignons de Paris or Psalliota Hortensis produced in the Saumur region represent 65% of the national production.

The visit of the city Saumur should take a couple of hours, but you have obviously to allow much more for the castle and various museums.

Coordinates and map for Saumur: Lat 47.260135 – Long -0.080893

Photo via Wikimedia Commons:  City hall by abxbay is in Public DomainNotre-Dame-des-Ardilliers pieta by Regard-et-regain  is in Public Domain19th century drawing  permisson PD-GallicaScan is in Public DomainProtestant Temple by David Berardan is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0