The town of Saint-Emilion is rich in historical architectural heritage and varied wine-growing landscapes. Saint-Emilion has the privilege and honor of being listed as World Heritage of Humanity by UNESCO, including the town and wine-growing landscapes.
Vineyards make up more than 67% of the land area of the commune. Within the region there is a mix of medieval Romanesque religious architecture and vineyard "chateaux", built in 18th and 19th centuries. In the village, however, most of the buildings are modest, one-story stone houses dating from the 19th century.
Saint-Émilion is located 35 km (22 mi) east of Bordeaux, between Libourne and Castillon-la-Bataille. Saint-Émilion station has rail connections to Bordeaux, Bergerac and Sarlat-la-Canéda.
Saint-Émilion is one of the principal red wine areas of Bordeaux along with the Médoc, Graves and Pomerol. The region is much smaller than the Médoc and adjoins Pomerol. As in Pomerol and the other appellations on the right bank of the Gironde, the wines of Saint-Émilion are typically blended from different grape varieties, the three main ones being Merlot (60% of the blend), Cabernet Franc (nearly 30%) and Cabernet Sauvignon (around 10%).
Wine in Saint-Emilion is not new! It was the Romans who, as early as the 2nd century, took over the local terroir and planted the first vines. There is no doubt that wine already occupied an important place in Gallo-Roman times, although the Jurisdiction of Saint-Emilion did not speak of monoculture until the 19th century.
The exceptional side of the Saint-Emilion vineyard is explained by its "terroir". Behind this word, it is the subtle alliance between 4 magical "ingredients" that appears:
This fragile alliance is transmitted from generation to generation within the families of passionate people who are committed to maintain these family traditions. This is why, for the past few years, Saint-Emilion winegrowers - in collaboration with the Saint-Emilion Wine Council or the other Wine Trade Unions - have been taking strong action to preserve their natural environment!
The monolithic church is an underground church dugged in the early 12th century of gigantic proportions (38 metres long and 12 metres high). At the heart of the city, the monolithic church reminds the religious activity of the city in the Middle Ages and intrigues by its unusual design. If it shows itself in the eyes of the visitor by the position of a 68-meter-high bell tower, then it hides itself behind the elegance of three openings on the front and a Gothic portal often closed. Is that the church is as well surprising as fragile!
The "castel daou rey" meaning the King’s Keep, is the only romanesque keep still intact in Gironde. Located inside the walls of the city, the building rests on a rocky massif isolated from all sides and dug in natural caves and quarries exploited since the Middle Ages. From the floor of the lowest terrace to the top, we notice a height of 32m. This quadrangular tower, 14,50 meters high, and 9,50 meters square is divided into three levels. The exterior walls and the corner of the building are covered with flat buttresses that reinforce the building.
Historians diverges on the date of construction… In 1224, King of France, Louis VIII, said the Lion, conquered a part of Aquitaine including the Bordelais. His troops occupied Saint-Émilion and he would have confirmed its intention to build a intramural fortification. However some texts indicate that it is Henri III Plantagenêt, king of England and Duke of Aquitaine, who in 1237, ordered its construction, when Saint-Emilion came under English control again. This square keep housed the Town Hall until 1608. It is from the top of this tower that the Jurade of Saint-Emilion proclaims the judgment of the new wine on the third Sunday of June and on the third Sunday of September the harvest ban.
A “tertre” is defined as being a hillock of earth, a mound. It takes all his sense in Saint-Emilion where the village naturally provides slopes. The village has indeed successfully adapted itself by shaping its landscape with “tertres” designating these narrow streets of the city, steep and with uneven paving.
Four "tertre" allow to connect the high city to the low city: from small pebbles of the Tertre of Cadène; to stones of the Tertre of the Tente and the Tertre of the Saint-Martin door; the most audacious will borrow the Tertre of the Valiant!
As for the origin of the cobblestones, you have to go across the Channel to find out. Further to the marriage of Alienor of Aquitaine and the future king of England, Henry II Plantagenet in 1152, the Guyenne - ancient name of Aquitaine - became English and stayed english until the end of the Hundred Years' War in 1453. Three centuries of domination, during which Kings of England are also dukes of Aquitaine and exercise their power over the region.
So these cobblestones originates from England. Indeed, on each of their boat trips, english people used little cobblestones to ballast their boats. Once they arrived in Aquitaine, the stones where removed, left there and replaced by wine barrels. The stones left on the shoreline of the Dordogne made the happiness of labourers.
At the corner of the monolithic church’s picturesque square, the Saint-Emilion Market Hall houses today visitors from rain or sun, but hides a much older history. Its semicircular and Gothic arcades prolonged, during the Middle Ages, the market stood on the current square of the monolithic church, since they housed the grain trade. To protect the goods against harmful and weather, wooden pallets were fit into the holes still visible in large openings. It also contained bushels, crain measures carved in stone, including a copy still kept in the Trinity chapel* or in the cloister of the Collegiate Church.
In 1199, John Lackland, then King of England and Duke of Aquitaine, signed the charter Cliff, offering independence and privileges to that territory. The Jurisdiction of Saint-Emilion was well defined and managed by a municipal council: the Jurade. It sat for several centuries in the King’s Keep, but in the 18th, it was decided to invest the hall. Holding public meetings in the heart of the city, councilors enjoyed a perfect view of the marketplace, and potential criminals. It is also said that the very old small wooden door at the foot of the stairs, served as a dungeon.
As early as 1884, winegrowers got together to create the first winegrowers' union in France. The evolution of the wine world was then underway and a whole series of actions were to be undertaken over the following years, such as the birth of two Appellations d'Origine Contrôlée: Saint-Émilion and Saint-Émilion Grand Cru.
In 1955, a classification of the wines belonging to the AOC Saint-Émilion Grand Cru was instituted by the Saint-Émilion Wine Council. This is revised every 10 years and encourages winegrowers to move ever closer to excellence. Its main objective is to guarantee the origin, quality and authenticity of Saint-Emilion wines.
The latest classification drawn up by the INAO (Institut National de l'Origine et de la Qualité) and the Ministry of Agriculture has distinguished the following 3 levels of quality :
1er Grand Cru Classé A - with only 4 wine estates (Château Angélus - Château Ausone Château Cheval Blanc - Château Pavie)
1er Grand Cru Classé - 14 wine estates
Grand Cru Classé - 64 wine estates
Saint-Émilion's history goes back at least 35,000 years ago, to the Upper Paleolithic. An oppidum was built on the hill overlooking the present-day city in Gaulish times, before the regions was annexed by Augustus in 27 BC. The Romans planted vineyards in what was to become Saint-Émilion as early as the 2nd century. In the 4th century, the Latin poet Ausonius lauded the fruit of the bountiful vine.
Saint-Émilion, previously called Ascumbas, was renamed after the Breton monk Émilion (d.767), a travelling confessor, who settled in a hermitage carved into the rock there in the 8th century. The monks who followed him started up the commercial wine production in the area.
Because the region was located on the route of the Camino de Santiago, many monasteries and churches were built during the Middle Ages, and in 1199, while under Plantagenet rule, the town was granted full rights. During the 12th and 13th centuries, the wines produced in the area were well-renowned for their quality, although political instability during the European wars of religion negatively affected the vineyards.The region only began to recover in the late 19th century.
Very early on, monuments and sites were protected. Indeed, heritage awareness in the territory of Saint-Emilion began in the 19th century, with the classification of the Collegiate Church in 1840. Today, this town has 15 protected monuments among the most outstanding in the Aquitaine region and three classified sites (in 1935 and 1936).
The heritage policy continued in the 20th century with the establishment of town planning documents in the town but also throughout the territory of the Jurisdiction of Saint-Emilion, the Safeguarding and Enhancement Plan (PSMV) being the last set up.
Learn more at the official Tourist Information website.
And the city government website.