The Historic Center

Saint Pierre cathedral

Saint Pierre cathedral

Let your curiosity guide you as you stroll round the historic centre of Saintes. There is no risk in plunging into this closely-knit mainly pedestrian area. Until the 18th century Saintes was confined within the ancient ramparts (the eastern part was expanded towards the 11th and 12th centuries), but developed the art of growing without spreading too much. Everything began at the foot of the Saint-Pierre cathedral. Built on the site of a Christian building dating from the early Middle Ages, the cathedral was the first seat of the episcopate and has gone through many vicissitudes. Rebuilt in the 12th and 15th centuries, it was sacked by the Protestants in 1568, even before its completion, and then refurbished but retains the look and the vestiges of a magnificent church in the flamboyant Gothic style.

The Saint-Pierre market takes place around it, bustling and colourful, where local producers offer excellent products. From this central point, the visitor can stroll through the streets, alleys, passages, small shady squares reminiscent of towns in the south. He discovers elegant townhouses, richly carved gates, doors ajar revealing courtyards, lush gardens behind stone walls. The former 15th century convent of the Jacobins now houses a multimedia library. It has retained all its charm which is embodied in the delightful terraced gardens that it shares with the Interpretation centre for architecture and heritage. The building, whose contemporary facade is perfectly integrated, offers an exhibition on the urban history of Saintes.
Convent of Jacobins

Convent of Jacobins

Echevinage museum

Echevinage museum

A little farther on, the Échevinage museum of fine arts, the former town hall, sets an 18th century facade beside the 16th century belfry. A window opens onto the 19th century, between the neo-classical Law Courts and the Italian facade of the theatre. It contrasts with the modernity of the building, covered in audacious green copper cladding.
 A climb up to the Logis du Gouverneur, captain of the place at the beginning of the 17th century, and to the Belvedere on the cliff, offers a view overlooking the tightly-packed roofs and the surrounding meadows. The best way to come back down is the ruelle de l’Hospice, a pleasant little passageway that winds along the gardens basking in the sun.
The belvedere

The belvedere

Dupuy Mestreau museum

Dupuy Mestreau museum

The Charente awaits along the quai de Verdun, lined with beautiful 18th and 19th century townhouses including the Dupuy Mestreau Museum, the former prefecture of lower Charente. This private mansion and the collections of folk art it houses, including ceramics inspired by Bernard Palissy, form a huge cabinet of quaint curiosities.
Outside the historic walls of the city, in the centre of a park, the vast buildings of the National Stud, with their 19th century neo-classical architecture, are a reminder of the prestige of the institution and introduce the visitor to the world of horses.
The National Stud

The National Stud