Tours (Pop: 100,000) is rather an industrial city, and you will undoubtedly notice the new apartment buildings on the outskirts of the city.
However, it is also a great agricultural center, and the wine-marketing place of this famous wine-growing area.
Surrounded by the chateaux of the Loire, and being about the only place with a number of hotels, it is the center from which most tourists will explore the chateaux country.
Tours is the town of Saint Martin. He was originally a soldier in the Roman army that occupied Gaul, but he was famous for his great generosity.
One day, after a charitable act in which he had cut his coat in two with his sword, and given one part to a freezing beggar, he had a dream in which he was called to become converted to Christianity and was baptized. He also felt called to become a preacher of the Christian faith for the Gauls who, in the 4th century, were generally still pagans. He was so ardent in his new belief, that the people of Tour asked him to become their Bishop. He was very zealous and founded many abbeys and churches.
When he died in 398 AD, there was a dispute as to where he should be buried, but the people of Tours carried away his body from Candes where he had died and rowed it furiously to Tours.
Wherever they passed, all plants burst into green or flowers, and the birds began to sing. This became known as St. Martin, which became a famous place of pilgrimage attracting devout people from far and near.
The old Basilica of St. Martin was first destroyed by the Normans (Vikings) in the 11th century; they also destroyed all the abbeys and the 28 churches of Tours. Later on, the Huguenots ravaged Tours (in the 16th century). The Basilica was not rebuilt since then, and is now to be seen in a completely ruined state. However, a new Basilica of St. Martin was built where the Saint is now buried, but this new basilica cannot claim to be artistically worth a visit.
Another Bishop, Gregory of Tours, was in the 6th century, asked by the people to come to their city. He brought, not only his religious beliefs with him, but also his knowledge of the world, and it was he who first decided to attract to Tours more and more pilgrims, to visit the grave of St. Martin; creating at Tours a medieval Lourdes. Immense riches were collected for the sake of St. Martin.
During the time of Charlemagne, Tours became also a well-known cultural and artistic center, when he sent an Anglo-Saxon monk here and it has remained a seat of learning ever since, now boasting a flourishing university.
The Cathedral of St. Gatian (this is the one you must visit) was built in the Gothic style from the 13th to the 16th century, and shows therefore the complete range of the different stages of this style. Generally, in all churches, the nave and transepts are for obvious reasons, of he oldest period, while the facade is always the last part to be completed.
The stained glass windows are always specially notable in Gothic buildings, and are the pride of St. Gatian Cathedral, dating back from the 13th century to the 15th century. Remember that the Gothic period was the last, and also the finest period using stained glass windows. All subsequent styles turned to clear windows, the decoration rather being in the ceilings and wall paintings.
Saumur (This town is situated between Tours and Angiers.) Part of Saumur sits on an island, while the center, and the castle, is on the mainland. It's a pleasant town to visit for a coffee break, but there's no point in going up to the castle, which is not outstanding inside.
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