USC Study Abroad Program in France
Saintes History: Urban Development
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The First Century

The Principal Roman road connecting Lyon and Bordeaux crosses the Charente at Mediolanum Santonum, as desired by Agrippa and Augustus in the years 40-37 BC. The site of the ancient city extends over numerous hectares, upon which time has left traces of the different periods of development of the Roman town. Under the reign of Augustus, Agrippa the urban planner had opened an important route from Lyon (capitol of Gaul) which led from the Saintes bridge to the east, crossed over the Charente, and marked the major axis of the city the “decumanus maximus”. The road partly encircled the amphitheatre and most likely created the city’s exit continuing the agrippine way toward Bordeaux

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The expansion of the city between the years 50 BC and ca. 250 AD is attested by archaeological excavations. The amphitheater, the arch at the entrance of the bridge, the baths as well as the aquaduct demonstrate the importance of the city, its power and its commercial activity. From the reign of Augustus, the ancient city of Mediolanum Saintonium played a primordial role, as capitol of the Aquitaine province. It was in any case the capitol of “santons” country; a Gallic people submitted and assimilated by the Romans whence derives the name Saintonge. It is from the beginning of our era that the city covered itself with grand monuments of which today only remain the lapidary collections at the Museum of Archeology, the Arch of Germanicus, the vestiges of the thermal baths at Saint-Saloine, and the amphitheatre.

The Twelfth Century

The medieval town more or less corresponds to the city of the Late Empire. Its fortification wall, built above the ancient ramparts, will retain the city inside throughout the Middle Ages. The only extension is the fill, along the Charente, of a zone of some two hectares of marsh land, enclosing the city up to the river and linking the high wall to the reconstructed bridge. Houses and churches are packed into eighteen and a half hectares of land with occasional gardens offering the possibility of fresh food.

Outside the walls, the village of St. Vivien is built upon an ancient sanctuary. To the south, the village of St. Eutrope, on its hill, forms a zone full of life, whose inhabitants probably profit from being exempt from all customary military service. To the west we find St. Macou and its small village, dating to the year 1000. On the other river bank, after the bridge, a community is organized along the Roman road, around the monastery of St. Pallais.


The Seventeenth Century

he town has remained within its fortification walls since the beginning of the Middle Ages. The Religious Wars have impoverished it and the
destruction has been considerable. With all the troubles over, there is a striking lack of dynamism. The citadel had hardly been enlarged when it was dismantled twenty years later. It was decided to reconstruct the cathedral but the vision was too grandiose and so the plans were redrawn more modestly and deadlines were extended on demand. The suburbs repopulate themselves with the arrival of new religious orders; the Abbay aux Dames is also reconstructed.








The Nineteenth Century

The 1860’s mark the development of a new mode of transport: the railroad. Until then the Charente was the principal axis for exchange and the gabarres were used for the transport of merchandise. Just at the moment when the railway becomes the major means of transportation, the city is finally equipped with a suspension bridge, in this way extending the Cours National by the avenue Gambetta. The completion of this new axis, requested by the intendant Reverseaux under Louis XVI, continues throughout the entire first half of the following century and brings to Saintes new possibilities for its future. The old districts, linked by a partially completed bridge, have a hard time preventing the urban evolution, distinguished by the construction of wharfs, the destruction of the Roman bridge and the transfer of the Arch of Germanicus to the right bank. Saintes maintains its importance as a port and also supplies new building sites with stone and wood.

The Twentieth Century

By World War I the city had become a center of railway development, thus very clearly modifying the morphology of the right bank as well as the equilibrium of the people on the two sides of the river. The working-class and industrial worlds are represented by the railroads and this is manifested in the landscape by an extensive and dense occupation of the land. The city is also now split on the two sides of the Charente.

Post-World War Two

At the very end of World War II the city still retained its character of an active but somewhat aloof sub-prefecture. A very compact historical center was extended by individual houses, located along the axes of departmental routes with a marked development around the railway lines. Workshops for the repair of train cars as well as residences for the workers absorb the land. The prevalence of the right bank is at its peak. Commercial activity stretches from the Charente to the train station along the nineteenth-century axis which functions smoothly, in line with its original ambitions.




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