USC Study Abroad Program in France
About Saintes
last updated: 11/15/03 this is a site in progress. check back for revised content.

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Saintes Today

Historic Sites in Saintes

  • The Valley of the Arena
  • The Amphitheater
  • Sainte Eutrope
  • Abbaye aux Dames
  • this page under construction, more historic sites to be added
  • last update: 11/16/03
Saintes Today
The morphology of the city presents a stark contrast to the extremely dense historical node which extends a few tentacles on the right bank to the suburb of St. Vivien to the north and on the left bank, to St. Eutrope towards the west.
The modern extension of the city develops along new axes serving new districts whose density is relatively sparse.

Today habitations are either organized according to predetermined arrangements, producing large planned developments, equipped with all modern conveniences or they are laid out on individual lots, taking advantage of fallow agricultural land. Vast business parks are drawn closer by new vehicular axes of national or regional interest, thus extending the territory of the urban area even further. In this way vast interstitial zones are being created which are going to become available for construction in the new, revised plan for the layout of the city.

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The Valley of the Arena
Saintes, France, the capital of Saintonge, boasts a rich collection of stone monuments documenting many periods of civic prosperity during the ancient Roman, Romanesque, and high Gothic eras. Among these public monuments and their settings, the Vallon des Arenes (The Valley of the Arena) occupies an historical and cultural seam unique within the urban fabric. During the first century A.D., the Vallon was a maze of Roman construction activities. Now the soil of the nearly invisible Vallon covers the underground artifacts which would serve to document the city’s course of evolution. With the subsequent introduction of new uses, both circumstantial, such as agricultural plots and residential lots, and planned structures, such as the causeway to Bordeaux, this soil cover has built up alluvial layers so that evidence of the social and ceremonial roles once assigned to the Vallon have been completely lost.

The amphitheatre is today the most imposing vestige of the mediolanum era since nearly all the other public and private edifices, with the exception of the arch of germanicus, have little remaining intact. It is above all, the best conserved monument of this type within the ancient gaul region of Belgium and France excluding the mediterranean region (Rhone-alps, Provence, and Languedoc). The dedication dates the amphitheatre at 40 A.D., constructed under emperor Claudius.

The capacity of the amphitheatre is estimated at 12,000 to 18,000 people, close to the entire population of the city. Its essential characteristic is that of a solid structure. The seating is built into the sides of the valley using the earth for support as in the amphitheatres at Senlis, Lyon, Beziers. This is a method used mainly by the Greeks for their theatres. One descends the different levels by stairs parting directly from an exterior esplanade at the top level. The eastern portion was built as a hollow, vaulted structure from the valley floor making the amphitheatre a “mixed structure” as in the older amphitheatres of Frejus and Pompeii.

The Church of Saint Eutrope
The sanctuary dates back at least to the 6th century and is associated with the relics of the saint. The building was begun in 1081 by the monks of the order of cluny. The Romanesque church was of exceptional size and had a very large crypt over which the choir and ambulatory were built. The nave which has disappeared was situated to the front of the choir and crypt and was linked by staircases. The present Gothic spire which dominates the district was built in the 15th century thanks to King Louis XI. In spite of its reduction in size, the church with its sculptures and exceptional design is still one of the most important monuments of Romanesque art.



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