The town of Saintes is in the south-east of Charente-Maritime department of western France between Royan and Cognac. It has been a busy town since Roman times, and perhaps existed as a celtic town even before that.
The Roman period is well represented by monuments in Saintes, as are the medieval and later periods, and there is a great deal to enjoy when visiting this lively town. Because of its gallo-roman, medieval and classical heritage Saintes is officially listed as a ‘Ville d’Art et d’Histoire’. In the town centre you will see the large Arch of Germanicus (a Roman triumphal arch) on the banks of the river, the Arch of Germanicus is a triumphal arch that was was originally built at the entrance to a bridge crossing the Charente river. When the bridge was demolished the arch was moved to its current position.
In the area immediately around the Arch de Germanicus you can also see the Archaeological museum where you can learn more of the town’s Roman history. The most interesting part of the museum is the old abattoir that has been converted ino an exhibit hall that holds hundreds of ancient parts of statues, columns and other ancient decorative features.
While you are on the east of the river you can now visit the Abbaye aux Dames and the adjacent Church of Saint-Pallais. These are a few hundred metres to the east of the Arch along the Rue de l’Arc de Triomphe. The Church of Saint-Pallais dates from the 12th to 15th centuries. The Abbaye aux Dames dates from the 11th century and for many centuries until the French revolution it was a convent for women.
Cross the bridge in the centre of Saintes to explore the ‘old town’ centre which has an extensive pedestrian area with houses in the local white stone dating from the 17th to the 19th centuries. It is in this area of Saintes that you will find the most shops and restaurants, and the one half-timbered house that remains in the town (at Place du Synod).
The principal monument in this part of Saintes is the Cathedral of Saint-Pierre. This cathedral was originally built in the 12th century although most of what you see today dates from the 15th to 17th centuries. The highlight is the decorative stonework around the entrance and the oldest remaining part of the church is the 12th century cupola of the south transept (to the right as you walk through the cathedral).
Another highlight is the view across the cathedral and rooftops of Saintes from the viewpoint at the Logis du Gouvernor. In the Place des Récollets there are some remnants of the 3rd century ramparts and you will discover various other small highlights as you explore.
If you continue west from here you will discover what we consider to be the two most interesting monuments in the town: the amphitheatre and the Church of Saint Eutrope.
Built in the 1st century AD, the amphitheatre originally seated 15000 people and was used for gladiator fights and other ‘games’. Entrance fee 2 euros.
The Church of Saint-Eutrope in Saintes is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as one of the pilgrimage sites on the Route to Santiago de Compostela. The building dates from the 12th century, although the large steeple was added in the 15th century.
There is a great deal of beautifully carved stonework to see, with the crypt in particular being an exceptional site – almost an entire subterranean church with beatiful stone pillars and arches (the entrance to the crypt is separate to the entrance to the main church).