12 must-see monuments

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  • The Monolithic Church and its bell tower

    The Monolithic Church and its bell tower

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    THE MONOLITHIC CHURCH   > The Health Pass is required to visit this monument from 14 August 2021 for adults over 18 years old. Thank you for your understanding.   The monolithic church is an underground church dugged in the early 12th century of gigantic proportions (38 metres long and 12 metres high). At the heart of the city, the monolithic church reminds the religious activity of the city in the Middle Ages and intrigues by its unusual design. If it shows itself in the eyes of the visitor by the position of a 68-meter-high bell tower, then it hides itself behind the elegance of three openings on the front and a Gothic portal often closed. Is that the church is as well surprising as fragile!  From the ancient Greek « mono » meant « single » and « lithos », « stone », its name refers to a building dug into the limestone plateau and whose current structure still forms a single block. The goal of its realization is probably the development of the city around a pilgrim activity on the tomb of the patron saint St. Emilion. In memory of the Breton hermit who had settled in a nearby cave during the 8th century, and in order to edify the faithful, the ambition to achieve a sufficiently large reliquary church to host hundreds of pilgrims, was born.   Carved in the 12th century, painted in the 14th, devastated in the 16th, battered in the 18th during the Revolution and restored in the 20th ! Today, it is still consecrated and hosts regular religious ceremonies, sometimes concerts, but also induction ceremonies of the Brotherhood of wines of Saint-Emilion - The Jurade. Mainly it is an unavoidable place to visit for an unforgettable, daily guided tour.   > The only way to discover the church, is to follow a guided tour offered by the Tourist Office. Information and tickets here.  > Photographing is not allowed when visiting the underground monuments. Thank you for your understanding.       THE BELL TOWER OF THE MONOLITHIC CHURCH   > The Health Pass is required to visit this monument from 14 August 2021 for adults over 18 years old. Thank you for your understanding.   The bell tower of the monolithic church, built between the 12th and the 15th century and reinforced at its base a century later, is the peak of Saint-Emilion. His appearance, both solid and slender, reflects the different construction periods where we might pass from Romanesque to Gothic, from a simple bell to a symbol of religious power !   Climb its 196 steps is certainly a challenge, but especially the chance to admire an amazing view of the city and its Jurisdiction! It is open daily throughout the year. (Except special event, information at the Tourist Office).   > The access to the bell tower varies depending on the opening of the Tourist Office (information at the Tourist Office).  
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  • The King's Keep

    The King's Keep

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    SAINT-EMILION FROM ABOVE   > The Health Pass is required to visit this monument from 14 August 2021 for adults over 18 years old. Thank you for your understanding.   The "castel daou rey" meaning the King’s Keep, is the only romanesque keep still intact in Gironde. Located inside the walls of the city, the building rests on a rocky massif isolated from all sides and dug in natural caves and quarries exploited since the Middle Ages. From the floor of the lowest terrace to the top, we notice a height of 32m.   This quadrangular tower, 14,50 meters high, and 9,50 meters square is divided into three levels. The exterior walls and the corner of the building are covered with flat buttresses that reinforce the building.   Historians diverges on the date of construction… In 1224, King of France, Louis VIII, said the Lion, conquered a part of Aquitaine including the Bordelais. His troops occupied Saint-Émilion and he would have confirmed its intention to build a intramural fortification. However some texts indicate that it is Henri III Plantagenêt, king of England and Duke of Aquitaine, who in 1237, ordered its construction, when Saint-Emilion came under English control again.   Is a king at its origin? The mystery remains. There would be a third hypothesis who would be possible: the term " King " indicates a royal construction or a royal possession at any given time. As the period of construction of the Tower was troubled by the Hundred Years' War, we can imagine that either a French or an English flag was hoisted at the top.   Finally, some experts say that it is not thanks to the king of France, nor by the king of England that this tower was realized but thanks to the Jurade. Indeed, the tower is designed to symbolize the new power of the town by borrowing the stately architecture the most characteristic edifice: the quadrangular keep with buttresses.   Moreover, no building named "town hall" is known in Saint-Emilion which, in the 13th century, was the second largest city in Bordeaux. It is therefore highly probable that this tower had this function.   Anyway, Jurade still uses this tower today. Although the Jurade was dissolved during the French Revolution, it was recreated as a wine-marking brotherhood in 1948. Its goal ? It is to assure the wine’s promotion of Saint-Emilion in the world. The jurats meet at the top of the tower to proclaim the New Wine Judgment in June and the Grape Harvest in September.   You can climb the 118 steps of the tower to access the panorama roof that offers impregnable view of the city.     > Access from February to December - detailed schedule by the Tourist Office   > Rates: €2 per person - Free for children under 6 years. 
  • The Collegiate church and its cloister

    The Collegiate church and its cloister

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    THE COLLEGIATE: A VERY OFFICIAL CHURCH     Arriving in Saint-Emilion, the most impressive church that stands out from the upper town is the Collegiate church. It’s not a fortunate coincidence. The religious community that lived in those walls between the 12th and the 18th century was a college of Canons following the rule of Saint Augustin and embodying the official religious institution. The etymology of the word canon helps us to understand their mission: it comes from the Ancient Greek “Kanôn” what means “the rule”. Bordeaux’s Archbishop Delegates, they were making sure of the good functioning of Saint-Emilion’s religious life. So the scale of this monument shows the importance of this community and its intention to mark his ascendancy.   The construction started in 1110 at the request of the Archbishop Arnaud Géraud de Cabanac. The transept and the core of the Collegiate church were transformed between the 13th and 15th centuries, letting the gothic style influencing the architecture of the church.   The Collegiate is not just a place of worship but also a real place of life for the community. In the garden of the cloister we can see all the faces of the monastery. From here, the Canons could go in all the other buildings of the convent. The three circular arches on the East wall are marking the former entrance of the Chapter room no longer existing nowadays. The current Tourist Office is located in the former refectory of the community.   Thus the cloister is geographic and spiritual hub for the monastery. It is a closed place for prayer, where the only real exit is the one towards the sky, the central garden being a symbol of the garden of Eden. Notice on South and East walls, the graves richly decorated dating 13th and 14th centuries.   Members of nobility and religious order were buried there. The Canons of Saint-Emilion, so powerful on the religious plan, also had a role to play on the political level. They taxed the population and offered to the local elite a grave of choice, in the heart of their monastery.   As classic as the monastery looks from the outside, it housed a very particular religious community, until the French revolution. Today the Collegiate church is the parish church of the village.   > The rich heritage of Saint-Emilion is told, in English, during the guided tour "Saint-Emilion, Unesco City Tour". More information and ticketing here.     THE APOCALYPSE: WORK OF ART   The Apocalypse, installed in the cloister of the Collegiate Church of Saint-Emilion, is a work of art created by the painter François Peltier, commissioned by the Parish of Saint-Emilion, the Friends of the Collegiate Church and the vicar, Father Rozières.     This work of art is 38.5 metres long and 5 metres high. This set of paintings was conceived as a whole and not as a succession of paintings. The Apocalypse is painted on different woods according to reflective symbols. There are five different woods: lebanese cedar, oak, chestnut, lime and poplar. The technique used is glazed oil painting. "Apocalypse" comes from the Greek word "revelation", expressing a message of hope opposed to the common understanding of the word that often evokes the end of the world and cataclysms. The Book of Revelation is the last book of the Bible, its conclusion. It reveals the struggle of Good and Evil that ends with the triumph of Good, revealed by Saint John's visions. The work of art of the Apocalypse of Saint-Emilion according to Saint John is therefore an attempt to make understandable at the same time the painful harshness of the struggle between Good and Evil and the joyful light of the promise of God's victory.     > This work of art is freely accessible and will be on display in the cloister until July 31st of 2021. You can book a conference visit with the artist or a theatrical tour by clicking here (in french). > For more information and reservations, please contact the parish at visite@apocalypse-saint-emilion.com or +33 (0)5 57 24 70 81.
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  • The Cordeliers Cloister

    The Cordeliers Cloister

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    FROM THE CLOISTER... TO THE BUBBLES     The Franciscan order was founded on the initiative of St. Francis of Assisi in the 13th century. It is an order focused on praying, preaching and begging. The Franciscans are better known in medieval France under the name "Cordeliers" because of the rope they used as a belt.   The arrival of the Cordeliers in Saint-Emilion goes back to the same time as that of the Dominicans (more information here) in the early 13th century, marking the emergence of the mendicant orders in the region.  Their first convent, established outside the walls of the city, suffered during the 100 Years War oppposing the Kings of France to those of England, also known as Dukes of Aquitaine. It was not until the late 14th century that the Cordeliers finally received permission to build their new convent inside the city walls. The set consisted of a church, a cloister, a garden, a winery, a cellar, a courtyard and a main building.   The last present religious were expelled during the French Revolution and the convent was sold as national property in 1791. At that time, it was indicated as being in poor condition. In 2005, he was listed as a historic monument.   The entrance of this former convent, leads to the cloister which imposing ruins are remarkable: columns, capitals, bases and pedestals are monoliths. At the back, imagine the convent garden with vegetables and herbs replaced today by inviting chairs and tables to enjoy a sparkling cup accompanied by macaroons.   The single-nave church, gives access to the cellars dugged in the limestone rock at 17 meters depth. Tours of these quarries are proposed to discover the development of the famous "Crémant de Bordeaux". The tradition was perpetuated since the late 19th century when Mr. Meynot, hit by the poor sales of his wines, had the idea of transforming the wine of Saint-Emilion into champagne and went to study the process of making sparkling wine in the Champagne Area.   Today heaven of peace and relaxation, a historical guided tour of the site and cellars is offered. The estate also has a restaurant with a wine bar, offering wines from the glass or bottle, along with savory treats or sweets. Picnic food baskets and cold drinks are also available for sale.     > Free access to the cloister garden and church. Annual closure from November to March. > Access to the basement only with tours from April to late October. > Information and tickets here.  
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  • Brunet Gate and the remparts

    Brunet Gate and the remparts

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    THE RAMPARTS AND THE BRUNET GATE     Saint Emilion's ramparts were commissioned by England in the 12th century to protect prosperous Saint-Emilion's village. This fortification wall can also be considered as a ceremonial and prestigious wall whose primary purpose would have been to show the power of the village more than to protect it. Nevertheless, it was necessary to pay a tax to enter the intramural village, representing a new source of wealth.   The people began by digging themselves around the village deep ditches. With the extracted stones, they built an enclosure wall covering more than 18 hectares and running for about 1.5 km around the village. This wall was in all probability flanked by seven gates and small defensive towers, a guardrail connected these gates to each other.   We found: in the North, the Bourgeois gate in the East, the Brunet gate and the Renaud postern in the West, the gates of the Canons and of St Martin in the South, the Bouquère or Bocquère gate and the Sainte-Marie gate.   These other gates, expect the Brunet gate, thus a majority of the old fortifications were destroyed during the religion wars in the 16th and again in the 19th century with the drilling of the Guadet street and the desire to open the city to modern circulation.   The Brunet gate, takes its name of the Gascon " Branet " meaning moorland, heather, clearing. This door opened onto the countryside. With a length of 9.50m long and a width of 3.90m, one can still guess between its two arches a stunner by which the defendants threw stones and boiling water at the attackers. The sides were widened in the 17th century so that the carts could cross each other. The passage was closed with wooden doors on hinges that are still visible today. Excavations have uncovered the foundations of an entrance "châtelet" upstream of the gate, today represented by a circular paving on the ground on either side of the bridge entrance.
  • The wash houses

    The wash houses

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    THE WINE CITY ABOUNDS IN WATER       The erosion and the rivers shaped our countryside and the presence of this water inside a former forest, incited the first men to establish themselves here. In the 8th century, further to the installation of the hermit Emilion in one of these natural caves, a village was born and developed itself. The particular configuration of Saint-Emilion is due to the water which dugged the calcareous rock and gave this form of amphitheater to the city.   Numerous wells and fountains that feed high city and low city took their originir in these sources.    Two of these sources were transformed into washhouses in the 19th century and supply a crystal clear water in both washhouses of the city: the fountain of the King and the fountain of the Place.   From the Latin word "lavatorium", meaning "washing", the wash house is a public pond, powered with water diverted from a source, where the washerwomen washed the linen or rather rinsed it. Indeed, contrary to the wide-spread images, the women went to the wash house not to proceed to the wash, but rather for the rinsing which requires big quantities of clear water.   The wash of the linen offered an animation for all the village: the stone tilted at the edge of the wash house allowed the women to kneel down sometimes by using a triolo. Battledore and wheelbarrow were the essentials of the washerwomen.   Imagine a bygone time where the sound of the source, the noise of the battledore, the gossips of the women, the laughter and other songs mixed up. At this time washhouses were a place of meetings, exchanges and mutual aids.   The fountain of the King, the biggest of both wash houses, contains a front wall decorated with attractive sculptures. Covered, it was a place reserved for the washerwomen of the rich districts, assuring them thus a shelter in case of bad weather.   As for the fountain of the Place, the smallest of both washhouses without roof at its origins, it was reserved for the washerwomen of the popular districts. So, waters of linen of both districts did not mix. However, the water providing these washhouses came from the same source, source that Emilion spurt out - according to the legend - in its hermitage in the 8th century. A source to which we attribute miraculous virtues…   Today, these wash houses constitute a flowered and refreshing stop in the lower city.     > Free access.   > The big wash house is located Rue de la Grande Fontaine, at the foot of the King’s Keep. A few meters away, in a recess of the Rue de la Petite Fontaine, you’ll discover the second wash house.
  • The Ursuline's Convent

    The Ursuline's Convent

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    NUNS AND MACAROONS!     Since its origins, the city of Saint-Emilion has experienced significant religious presence, by welcoming Benedictines, Augustins, Franciscans and finally Dominicans. The sisters of the order of Saint-Ursule settle down in Saint-Emilion on June 1st, 1620.   Founded by Mrs. Lacroix, the convent and its 18 nuns had for main purpose to provide free education to girls from poor classes of the city and its Jurisdiction. The sisters managed to welcome up to 80 registered schoolgirls, figure which went down to 8 after the great epidemic of plague which, occurred 3 years after installation.   When the Revolution broke out, the church property were nationalized and an inventory of the place is done: a church, two sacristies, a main building where the cloister is supported, several other buildings and the residential compound of apartments, chai wood and straw, as well as pig sheds, a well, a garden and a courtyard. A few years later, in 1792, the order is forbidden and the goods are sold to be used for other purposes: revolutionary prison, gendarmerie and finally vineyard. This wine benefits from the pen of the former convent but the buildings, themselves, are gradually falling into ruin.   However today, the memory of these nuns is still present in the village, through the foundations of this former convent, but also by the scent of the almond sometimes floating in the streets of the village... In fact, legend says that one of the sisters, Miss Boutin, living in poverty since the Revolution has proposed to unveil the secret recipe in exchange for shelter and food ... recipe which became quickly the specialty of the village of Saint-Emilion, a delicious soft round cake known as macaroon! Early on, macaroons of Miss Boutin acquired a reputation that went beyond the city walls. They are served to accompany the tasting of the best vintages in the 1867 Universal Exhibition. The two specialties of the city obtained great fame in parallel. Therefore, the shops are multiplying in the city streets ...   
  • Gate and House de la Cadène

    Gate and House de la Cadène

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    THE LAST TIMBER-FRAMED HOUSE IN THE VILLAGE     This pretty building is the only timber-framed house in the village and has a facade dating from the very beginning of the 16th century, with foundations dating from much earlier than this period.    There are mullioned windows on the building facing it, and on its south façade (below), the presence of a turret and a small double window. All this shows the architectural evolution of this residential complex up to the 16th century. It can be argued that this house represented an urban ensemble with the "Maison de la Commanderie" on the other side of Rue Guadet. The house still has a remarkable polygonal tower containing a beautiful spiral staircase from the 16th century. It is probably between this tower and the Commanderie that the junction building was located. Did a first enclosure inside the city exist before the one we know today? Many questions remain unanswered... The hilly geography of the territory on which the medieval town was founded defined the social separation of the population between "upper and lower town" or more clearly "religious part at the top and secular part at the bottom", depending on the period. The name "Cadène" perhaps comes from the Gascon word "catena" meaning "chain", and could refer to the presence of a chain that materially separated the city into two parts. Today, there is no visible trace of separation on the building, except for this arch overlooking the street, which would delimit a supposed doorway. From a historical point of view, the name "Cadène" would most probably come from one of the owners of this house in the 13th century: Guillaume Renaud de la Cadène. Sculptures decorating the lower wooden parts of the house also leave room for several interpretations: characters, animals, plants, fruits... Bunches of grapes for some, ears of corn for others... a composition of Renaissance and Italian influences and probably a reference to the importation of products from the New World, freshly discovered at the time of the latest artistic developments in this house!       > The rich heritage of Saint-Emilion is easily told during the visit "Saint-Emilion, UNESCO City Tour". Information and tickets here.
  • Steep streets or Tertres

    Steep streets or Tertres

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    FROM FRANCE TO ENGLAND, THERE IS ONLY ONE STONE …   A “tertre” is defined as being a hillock of earth, a mound. It takes all his sense in Saint-Emilion where the village naturally provides slopes. The village has indeed successfully adapted itself by shaping its landscape with “tertres” designating these narrow streets of the city, steep and with uneven paving.   Four "tertre" allow to connect the high city to the low city: from small pebbles of the Tertre of Cadène to stones of the Tertre of the Tente and the Tertre of the Saint-Martin door the most audacious will borrow the Tertre of the Valiant!  As for the origin of the cobblestones, you have to go across the Channel to find out. Further to the marriage of Alienor of Aquitaine and the future king of England, Henry II Plantagenet in 1152, the Guyenne - ancient name of Aquitaine - became English and stayed english until the end of the Hundred Years' War in 1453. Three centuries of domination, during which Kings of England are also dukes of Aquitaine and exercise their power over the region.   So these cobblestones originates from England. Indeed, on each of their boat trips, english people used little cobblestones to ballast their boats. Once they arrived in Aquitaine, the stones where removed, left there and replaced by wine barrels. The stones left on the shoreline of the Dordogne made the happiness of labourers.     > Discover the rich heritage of Saint-Emilion during the visit of the city: "Saint-Emilion City Tour". Information and ticketing here.
  • The Market Hall

    The Market Hall

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    ONE PLACE, SO MANY STORIES...     At the corner of the monolithic church’s picturesque square, the Market Hall houses today visitors from rain or sun, but hides a much older history.    Its semicircular and Gothic arcades prolonged, during the Middle Ages, the market stood on the current square of the monolithic church, since they housed the grain trade. To protect the goods against harmful and weather, wooden pallets were fit into the holes still visible in large openings. It also contained bushels, crain measures carved in stone, including a copy still kept in the Trinity chapel* or in the cloister of the Collegiate Church.   In 1199, John Lackland, then King of England and Duke of Aquitaine, signed the charter Cliff, offering independence and privileges to that territory. The Jurisdiction of Saint-Emilion was well defined and managed by a municipal council: the Jurade. It sat for several centuries in the King’s Keep, but in the 18th, it was decided to invest the hall. Holding public meetings in the heart of the city, councilors enjoyed a perfect view of the marketplace, and potential criminals. It is also said that the very old small wooden door at the foot of the stairs, served as a dungeon ...     * Available during the tour "Underground Saint-Emilion". Information and ticket-office here. 
  • The Cardinal Palace

    The Cardinal Palace

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    A PALACE ... FOR A POPE!      The Cardinal to who the monument is referring to is Gaillard de la Mothe, nephew of the Archbishop of Bordeaux, Bertrand de Goth who became the famous Pope Clement V at the beginning of the 14th century. This one grant his nephew the title of “Cardinal of Sainte Luce”, the first dean of the chapter of Augustinian canons (more info here) and a luxurious and comfortable home today known as  "Palais Cardinal".    The ruins of the facade that are still remaining today reminds us that this imposing town house, exaggeratedly called a palace, was built from the 12h century on. Indeed, roman artistic elements are present: arch for openings with arches show geometric and floral decorations; the twin bays and neat decorations similar to other monuments of the medieval city from the early 12th century. The presence of pipes to the latrines certify some comfort in this edifice. The facade of the "Cardinal Palace", which is still visible today, is, like many medieval houses, part of the city wall built at the same time (more information here). These details make us say that the primary purpose of this building was not so much to defend the town as to display a certain wealth of the town to the merchants and pilgrims in transit through Saint-Emilion.   You can admire the ruins of the Cardinal Palace in free access from outside of the city, do not hesitate to descend into the moat to see more closely the outputs of latrines ...!
  • The Great Wall

    The Great Wall

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    THE GREAT WALL STILL HOLDS TO THE VAGARIES OF HISTORY.     It is the modest remnant of a huge Dominican convent of the 13th century. By tradition, the Dominicans are part of the family of mendicant monks alongside the Franciscans. Their rule is based on the notion of individual poverty. For the architecture of the convent match this ideal, certain rules had to be applied. The convent buildings and the church should not exceed a certain height. This section of wall suggests that Saint-Emilion mendicant monks should not be as poor as their order demanded.   Political and military issues overcame this religious monument. The Duchess Eleanor of Aquitaine, in the 12th century, taken for future second husband Henry II Plantagenet King of England. It thus gave him the title of Duke of Aquitaine, but he had the attitude and authority of a King on the region. It was the beginning of three hundred years of Anglo-Gascon alliance, which however maintained tensions between France and England. The last hundred years are known as the Hundred Years War (1337-1453).   At the beginning of the Hundred Years War, the French troops fighting to reassert the power of their king, took refuge in the convent of the Dominicans. The building was situated not far from the walled enclosure. It became a refuge, an observation point and a good line edge position. The Dominicans who didn’t feel safer, left their large convent and settled intramural. The convent, meanwhile, was deliberately destroyed, leaving up this stylish piece of wall.   This majestic ruin is known as the "Great Wall" since the 19th century at least, and the vines in her feet are those of the Château "Les Grandes Murailles".