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.

Château d’Amboise and Environs

Amboise is a commune in the Indre-et-Loire department in central France. It lies on the banks of the Loire River, 17 miles east of Tours. Today a small market town, it was once home of the French royal court. The town of Amboise is also only about 11 miles away from the historic Château de Chenonceau, situated on the Cher River near the small village of Chenonceaux. Its former name was Ambacia, from the old name of the river and marsh Amasse.

The city is famous for the Clos Lucé manor house where Leonardo da Vinci lived (and ultimately died) at the invitation of King Francis I of France, whose Château d’Amboise, which dominates the town, is located just 1,640 feet away. The narrow streets contain some good examples of timbered housing.

Just outside of the city is the Pagode de Chanteloup, a 144.4 feet tall Chinese Pagoda built in 1775 by the Duke of Choiseul. The Pagoda is seven levels high, with each level slightly smaller than the last one. An interior staircase to reach all levels is open to the public. The Musée de la Poste (in the Hôtel Joyeuse) is a museum tracing the history of the postal delivery service. A 19th-century fountain by John Oswald of a turtle topped by a teddy bear figure, standing in front of the spot where the markets are held.

Clovis I (c. 466–511) and the Visigoths signed a peace treaty of alliance here with the Arvernians in 503, which assisted him in his defeat of the Visigothic kingdom in the Battle of Vouillé in 507. Joan of Arc passed through in 1429 on her way to Orleans to the Battle of Patay.

The Château at Amboise was home to Mary Stewart, Queen of Scots, for much of her early life, being raised there at the French court of Henry II. She arrived in France from Scotland in 1548, aged six, via the French king’s favourite palace at Saint Germain en Laye near Paris, and remained in France until 1561, when she returned to her homeland – sailing up the Firth of Forth to Edinburgh on 15 August that year.

Leonardo da Vinci spent the last years of his life in Amboise. Some of his inventions are still there and have not been removed. The house has lost some of its original parts, but it still stands today and has a beautiful overlook of the Loire River.