Saumur

The historic town is located between the Loire and Thouet rivers

It is surrounded by the vineyards of Saumur itself, Chinon, Bourgueil and Coteaux du Layon, which produce some of France’s finest wines.

History

Early settlement of the region goes back many thousands of years. The Dolmen de Bagneux on the south of the town, is 23 meters long and is built from 15 large slabs of the local stone, weighing over 500 tons. It is the largest in France.

The Château de Saumur was constructed in the 10th century to protect the Loire river crossing from Norman attacks after the settlement of Saumur was sacked in 845. The castle, destroyed in 1067 and inherited by the House of Plantagenet, was rebuilt by Henry II of England in the later 12th century. It changed hands several times between Anjou and France until 1589.

Houses in Saumur are constructed almost exclusively of the Tuffeau stone. The caves dug to excavate the stone have become tunnels and have been used by the local vineyards as locations to store their wines.[2]

Amyraldism, or the School of Saumur, is the name used to denote a distinctive form of Reformed theology taught by Moses Amyraut at the University of Saumur in the 17th century. Saumur is also the scene for Balzac’s novel Eugénie Grandet, written by the French author in 1833.

Prior to the French Revolution Saumur was the capital of the Sénéchaussée de Saumur, a bailiwick, which existed until 1793. Saumur was then the location of the Battle of Saumur during the Revolt in the Vendée, becoming a state prison under Napoleon Bonaparte. The town was an equestrian centre with both the military cavalry school from 1783 and later the Cadre Noir based there.

World War II

During the Battle of France, in World War II, Saumur was the site of the Battle of Saumur (1940) where the town and south bank of the Loire was defended by the teenage cadets of the cavalry school, to their great credit and for the Honour of France.

In 1944 it was the target of Tallboy and Azon bombing raids by Allied planes. The first raid, on 8/9 June 1944, was against a railway tunnel near Saumur, seeing the first use of the 5,400 kg Tallboy “earthquake” bombs. The hastily organized night raid was to stop a planned German Panzer Division, travelling to engage the newly landed allied forces in Normandy.

The panzers were expected to use the railway to cross the Loire. No. 83 Squadron RAF illuminated the area with flares from four Avro Lancasters and marked the target at low level by three de Havilland Mosquitos. 25 Lancasters of No. 617 Squadron RAF, the “Dambusters” then dropped their Tallboys from 5,500 meters with great accuracy. They hit the approaches to the bridge, blocked the railway cutting and one pierced the roof of the tunnel, bringing down a huge quantity of rock and soil which blocked the tunnel, badly delaying the German reinforcements moving towards Normandy, especially 2nd SS Panzer Division Das Reich. The damaged tunnel was quickly dug out to make a deeper cutting, resulting in the need for a second attack.

On 22 June, nine Consolidated B-24 Liberators of the United States Army Air Forces used the new Azon 450 kg glide bombs against the Saumur rail bridge; escorted by 43 North American P-51 Mustangs. They failed to destroy the bridge. During the morning of 24 June, 38 American Boeing B-17 Flying Fortresses with conventional bombs attacked the bridge; escort was provided by 121 of 135 P-51s. The bridge was damaged.

The town of Saumur was awarded the Croix de Guerre with palm for its resistance and display of French patriotism during the war.