Tours - Place Plumerau

Tours – a Divided City

Tours was very early on a fortified city with a flourishing Christian community on the outskirts. The two parts of the modern city still seem to reflect this ancient history

Tours – located between the rivers of Loire and Cher was in antiquity called Caesarodonum. This was the chief town of the Turones, and the capital of Lugdunensis Tertia. At that time the town covered an area of app. 10 ha, which more or less corresponds to the area, which was walled in in the later Middle Ages. At that time the burials were located to the east and south of the city, which was dominated by the amphitheatre to the east. This is still discernible in the layout of the city.

Already in the third century there was a diocese. The first bishop was St. Gatianus ca. 249 – 301. However the real fame stems from St. Martin, who was bishop from 372 – 97. Around that time a wall was erected, circling a small part part of the old city around the amphitheatre. Inside this reduced city was the ancient Cathedral located, supplemented by a Christian cemetery out west. It was here St. Martin was buried and it was here a series of oratories, chapels and later churches were built in order to accommodate the growing numbers of pilgrims, who visited the site after AD c. 600.

A Thriving Commercial Centre

As was common in the early Middle Ages markets grew up around this pilgrimage and Tours in the High Middle Ages became a divided city with a College of Canons around St. Martin in the Western part of the city and with the Cathedral in the East in the old city.

This division continued until a wall enclosed the whole city around AD 1400. Between the 10th and the 15th century the two parts of the city were in a constant competition with each others garnering influence and income.

Tours around AD 800 - © LAT
Tours around AD 800 – ©LAT

After 1400 it is claimed by historians that this state of affairs changed completely. However, perusing the official website or visiting the city today, you still get this feeling that there are two distinct districts – the secular and artistic district in the east in charge of the “official” city; and the old district around the basilica of St. Martin, where shops and restaurants crowd the streets and small squares.

Interestingly enough, the secular part is cut through by a Rue Emile Zola, while the “new city” (that is the city around the St. Martin to the West) is cut through with Rue des Halles, Rue du Commerce and Rue da la Monnaie. The place to imbibe your pastis is of course just around the corner at the Place Plumerau, where the market stalls of the hatters used to be found. There is no doubt: the eastern end of Tours is boring and empty of people in spite of the Cathedral and the Museums. The other end – where the market used to be – is charming, full of life and fun people.

Rue Emilie Zola

That a street in the eastern part of the city is called Rue Emile Zola is very appropriate.

tours Ad 950 ©LAT
Tours AD 950 after the district of St. Martin had been walled ©LAT

Tours played a significant role during the Franco-Prussian war in 1870, when the government relocated there from Paris. At the same time the cult of St. Martin was resurrected and redefined as “the honourable soldier” and a masculine model of principled and righteous war. (The story of how he laid down his weapons as a Roman soldier was conveniently forgotten.) As such he was promoted as the patron saint of the clerical right bent on rescuing a nation, they believed had been led astray by secularism and anti-clericalism during and after the revolution in 1789. As part of this rehabilitation, the site of the ancient church, which had been demolished during the revolution, was reacquired. The tomb of St. Martin was rediscovered and excavated and a neo-gothic church with Romanesque and Byzantine overtones was built on site.

The popular devotion to St. Martin was also reflected in the revival of old traditions like the traditional processions as well as the reinvention of the “sacred flag”. Originally the alleged half-cape of St. Martin had been carried into battle by Medieval French kings since time immemorial. However, this ancient relic kept at St. Denis had disappeared during the revolution. In 1870 while preparing to meet the Germans at the battle of Patay, a new flag called the Sacre-Coeur was embroidered by the Carmelite nuns in Tours. The night before the battle this flag was placed on the tomb of St. Martin in order to be carried up front the next day. Afterwards the Ultramontane Catholics claimed the success of the battle was due to the efficacies of St. Martin. A part of this success-story was also the widespread publication of the Catholic newspaper, La Croix, which was so very active in the appalling Dreyfus-affair (1894 – 1906), which famously resulted in the vehement publication by Emile Zola, J’accuse. Hence a street is called Rue de Emilie Zola in the eastern – secular – part of Tours, while the old names of the commercial district have been kept alive around the Basilica de St. Martin!


Since 1968 French archaeologists have spent more than 25000 days in the trenches excavating 70 sites and more than 2000 graves. Apart from publishing 120 reports they have also prepared a state of the art digital website, which tells the story of the City of Tours at Loire.


40 ans d’archaéologis urbaine à Tours
Visite de la ville avec Henri Galinié, directeur de recherche honoraire du CNRS, et Anne-Marie Jouquant, archéologue responsable d’opération, Inrap.
Vimeo – © Inrap / Vic Prod, octobre 2009


MartinTours by simone martiniSaint Martin of Tours – Man of All Times

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