Arch of Germanicus in SaintesOriginally, in Roman times, Saintes was the capital of the old province of Saintonges and a major administrative and cultural centre. There are still impressive remains from this period in Saintes as well as to beautiful Romanesque pilgrim churches and a very attractive centre with many medieval houses.

Sightseeing in Saintes

The Arch of Germanicus (see picture right) on the riverbank was originally built in 19 A.D. dedicated to emperor Tiberius, his son Drusus and his nephew Germanicus. Originally the Arch stood on a stone bridge in the town only being moved to its present Riverside location in 1843 when the bridge was demolished to make way for a new one. Next door to the Arch is a stone building which is the archaeological museum containing more Roman artefacts as well as numerous reconstructed walls and pillars.

Les Arenes SaintesAnother popular Roman tourist attraction in Saintes is Les Arènas (left) that’s found little out of the town centre. Here you will find the remains of an amphitheatre, dug into the end of the valley around 40 A.D making it one of the oldest surviving examples in France. Incredibly, this huge arena would once have held 15,000 spectators. Today the seats are a little overgrown but you can still clearly see the shape and form of the amphitheatre and get a sense of what it must have been like thousands of years ago.

Romanesque Architecture

The Cathédral of St-Pierre, SaintesThe Cathédral of St-Pierre (right) began originally as a Romanesque church but was unfortunately heavily altered following damage which was inflicted upon it during the Wars of Religion when Saintes was a Huguenot stronghold. It’s heavily buttressed tower and dome make it a major landmark in the town.

Also worthy of a visit is the 12th century Abbaye aux Dames church, once part of a monastic collective for women founded 100 years or so earlier. The Abbey stands back from the street on rue St-Pallais in a sandy courtyard behind the slightly smaller Romanesque church of St-Pallais. The most remarkable features of the church are the facade and the belltower. The facade has an elaborately carved doorway displaying angels adoring the Hand of God, the suffering of the martyrs, old men wearing crowns playing music as they face each other and other scenes. On the right arcade the coving displays the Last Supper.

Le Haras National de Saintes

This is one of the 23 national horse studs of France and a must for any horse lovers. Originally created to provide King Louis XIV with horses, today this establishment is responsible for protecting local breeds (including the Poitou donkey) and generally maintaining the standards of breeding in the area. A guided tour is available where you can see the horses in their elegant stables situated in landscaped gardens. Telephone and email contact details are here.

Charente River

Saintes affords many different ways to explore the Charente river, either in a traditional flat bottomed boat which might once have been used to transport cognac or a much larger cruising boat. Details can be found at the Saintes tourist information office.

Famous People From Saintes

Saintes also has the dubious distinction of being the birthplace of Dr Guillotin whose name was unfortunately associated with the notorious instrument of execution which came into prominence during the French Revolution. In fact Joseph-Ignace Guillotin was a philanthropist who believed that all men should be equal in death and that what he deemed to be a more humane method of dispatch i.e. beheading should not only be reserved only for those of noble birth. He proposed to the National Assembly in 1789 that they develop a rapid action beheading machine and even though the actual inventor of the prototype was Antoine Louis, Guillotin’s involvement in this project lead to it being named after him even though in fact he opposed the death penalty!