Medieval Saumur

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

Saumur city hall
Saumur city hall

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

Beautiful half-timbered houses frame the 12th century Eglise St-Pierre and its square.

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

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 as the river then flowed at the foot of the building.

The river side austere military style facade contrasts with the rear facade.

This facade is indeed a successful blend of Flamboyant Gothic and Renaissance architecture and boasts an exceptional stone lacework.

Notre-Dame-des-Ardilliers Church

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

Chateau de Saumur and Loire
Aerial view

The gignatic church, built in 1614, is another illustration of Counter-Reformation style.

It was made 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 12th century Notre-Dame-de-Nantilly, the oldest church in Saumur, is renowned for its vast Romanesque vaulted nave.

It also boasts a unique collection of 16th and 17th centuries tapestries and furniture.

King Louis XI commissioned the construction of the right wing.

King René engraved one of the pillars with an epitaph to his nurse Tiphaine who was buried there.

The church, dedicated to the Virgin Mary, was fully restored in 1850.

Saumur, a major Protestant stronghold

The city became a major Protestant stronghold during the 16th century.

Protestant Temple of Saumur
Protestant Temple of Saumur

The star-shaped ramparts of the Chateau de Saumur were erected at that time.

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 1599.

The purpose of the school was to form future priests.

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

It also contributed largely to the development of the city.

New districts crisscrossed with new streets indeed appeared beyond the city limits.

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

However, the days of the new Faith were counted!

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

Notre-Dames-des-Ardilliers in Saumur

He therefore ordered the destruction of the city walls in 1623.

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

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

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 Protestant Academy became a prison in 1804, then a garrison and finally an ammunition depot.

Finally, the Governors of Saumur took residence in the Chateau de Saumur.

Saumur, a renowned military town

The Régiment Royal de Carabiniers moved to Saumur in 1763.

The garrison buildings were built three years later.

Aerial view of Saumur
Aerial view of Saumur

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

A second museum, the Musée des Blindés (Tank Museum) exhibits equipment from twelve different countries.

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

Saumur is also associated with the Cadre Noir, a school the Comte de Choiseul founded in 1770.

It trains the best horsemen in the country and  takes its name after the instructors’ black uniforms.

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

They indeed sacrificed their lives in order to restrain the German troops from progressing from Gennes and Montsoreau.

An existing bridge, the Pont Napoleon, was therefore renamed Pont des Cadets in their honour.

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

Saumur and Loire 19th century
Saumur and Loire 19th century

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  Cadre Noir horsemen exhibit their skills during the Carroussel, an annual show that takes place the last weekend of July.

Organized by the Ministry of Youth and Sports, it aims at promoting 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.

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 has 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.

Department of Maine-et-Loire
Coordinates: 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

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Pays de la Loire – Latest content