Tours, France During the Middle Ages

In the 6th century Gregory of Tours, author of the Ten Books of History, made his mark on the town by restoring the cathedral destroyed by a fire in 561. Saint Martin’s monastery benefited from its inception, at the very start of the 6th century from patronage and support from the Frankish king, Clovis, which increased considerably the influence of the saint, the abbey and the city in Gaul. In the 9th century, Tours was at the heart of the Carolingian Rebirth, in particular because of Alcuin abbot of Marmoutier.

In 732 AD, Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi and a large army of Muslim horsemen from Al-Andalus advanced 500 kilometres (311 miles) deep into France, and were stopped at Tours by Charles Martel and his infantry igniting the Battle of Tours. The outcome was defeat for the Muslims, preventing France from Islamic conquest. In 845, Tours repulsed the first attack of the Viking chief Hasting (Haesten). In 850, the Vikings settled at the mouths of the Seine and the Loire. Still led by Hasting, they went up the Loire again in 852 and sacked Angers, Tours and the abbey of Marmoutier.

During the Middle Ages, Tours consisted of two juxtaposed and competing centres. The “City” in the east, successor of the late Roman ‘castrum’, was composed of the archiepiscopal establishment (the cathedral and palace of the archbishops) and of the castle of Tours, seat of the authority of the Counts of Tours (later Counts of Anjou) and of the King of France. In the west, the “new city” structured around the Abbey of Saint Martin was freed from the control of the City during the 10th century (an enclosure was built towards 918) and became “Châteauneuf”. This space, organized between Saint Martin and the Loire, became the economic centre of Tours. Between these two centres remained Varennes, vineyards and fields, little occupied except for the Abbaye Saint-Julien established on the banks of the Loire. The two centres were linked during the 14th century. Tours is a good example of a medieval double city.

Tours became the capital of the county of Tours or Touraine, territory bitterly disputed between the counts of Blois and Anjou – the latter were victorious in the 9th century. It was the capital of France at the time of Louis XI, who had settled in the castle of Montils (today the castle of Plessis in La Riche, western suburbs of Tours), Tours and Touraine remained until the 16th century a permanent residence of the kings and court. The rebirth gave Tours and Touraine many private mansions and castles, joined together to some extent under the generic name of the Chateaux of the Loire. It is also at the time of Louis XI that the silk industry was introduced – despite difficulties, the industry still survives to this day.

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