Frameworks don’t collapse
Medieval half-timbered houses in Place Plumereau in the old town of the city of Tours, Loire Valley, France
Some background information:
Tours is a city in the west of France. It is the administrative centre of the department of Indre-et-Loire and the largest city in the Centre-Val de Loire region (although it is not its capital, which is Orléans, the region's second-largest city. The city of Tours has about 135,000 inhabitants, while the population of the metropolitan area is about 500,000.
Tours stands on the lower reaches of the Loire river, between Orléans and the Atlantic coast. The surrounding district, the traditional province of Touraine, is known for its great wines, for the alleged perfection of its local spoken French, and for the Battle of Tours. The historical center of Tours (also called "Le vieux Tours") belongs to the UNESCO World Heritage Site "The Loire Valley between Sully-sur-Loire and Chalonnes". The city is also the end-point of the annual Paris–Tours cycle race.
In Gallic times the city was important as a crossing point of the Loire. After having become part of the Roman Empire during the 1st century, the city was named "Caesarodunum" (in English: "hill of Caesar"). The name evolved in the 4th century when the original Gallic name, Turones, became first "Civitas Turonum" and then "Tours". It was at this time that the amphitheatre of Tours was built, one of the five largest amphitheatres of the Empire. Tours became the metropolis of the Roman province of Lugdunum towards 380 to 388, dominating the Loire Valley, Maine and Brittany.
One of the outstanding figures of the history of the city was Saint Martin, second bishop of Tours, who shared his coat with a naked beggar in Amiens. This incident and the importance of Martin in the medieval Christian West made Tours, and its position on the route of pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, a major centre during the Middle Ages.
In 732, Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi and a large army of Muslim horsemen from Al-Andalus advanced 500 kilometres (311 miles) deep into France. They were stopped at Tours by Charles Martel and his infantry igniting the Battle of Tours. The outcome was a severe defeat for the Muslims, preventing France from Islamic conquest. In 845, Tours repulsed the first attack of the Viking chief Hasting. But in 850, the Vikings, still led by Hasting, settled at the mouths of the Seine and the Loire. In 852, they went up the Loire again and sacked the cities of Angers and Tours as well as the abbey of Marmoutier.
During the Middle Ages, Tours consisted of two juxtaposed and competing centres. The "city" in the east, successor of the late Roman 'castrum', was composed of the archiepiscopal establishment (the cathedral and palace of the archbishops) and of the castle of Tours. The "new city" in the west structured around the Abbey of Saint Martin was freed from the control of the City during the 10th century (an enclosure was built towards 918) and became "Châteauneuf". This space, organized between Saint Martin and the Loire, became the economic centre of Tours. Between these two centres remained Varennes, an area of vineyards and fields, little occupied except for the Abbaye Saint-Julien established on the banks of the Loire. Both centres weren’t linked until the 14th century.
After Tours had become the capital of the county of Touraine, the territory was bitterly disputed between the counts of Blois and Anjou. In the 11th century, the latter were victorious. In the 15th century, at the time of King Louis XI, the city became the capital of France and remained the permanent residence of the kings and the court until the 16th century. This era gave the region many private mansions and castles, joined together to some extent under the generic name of the Châteaux of the Loire. The reason was that many French noblemen wanted to live in the close proximity of the king to be noticed and win the king’s favour.
At that time Tours already had about 75,000 residents, a flourishing silk industry, many splendid town houses and an impressive gothic cathedral that testified to the city’s importance. But after Henry IV had become the new King of France, he switched both parliament and audit office back to Paris in 1594. This step and also the later construction of Versailles marked the beginning of Tour’s slow but permanent decline.
However, it was the arrival of the railway in the 19th century which saved the city by making it an important nodal point. At that time, Tours was expanding towards the south. The importance of the city as a centre of communications contributed to its revival and, as the 20th century progressed, Tours became a dynamic conurbation, economically oriented towards the service sector.
During World War I, the city was greatly affected by the American participation in the war. A force of 25,000 American soldiers arrived in 1917, setting up textile factories for the manufacture of uniforms, repair shops for military equipment, munitions dumps, an army post office and an American military hospital at Augustins. Thus Tours became a garrison town with a resident general staff. The American presence is remembered today by the Woodrow Wilson bridge over the Loire, which was officially opened in July 1918 and bears the name of the man who was President of the USA from 1913 to 1921.
But Tours was also marked by World War II. In June 1940, German incendiary bombs caused a huge fire which blazed out of control and destroyed part of the city centre. Some architectural masterpieces of the 16th and 17th centuries were lost, as was the monumental entry to the city. Because the Wilson Bridge which carried a water main, had been dynamited to slow the progress of the German advance, many inhabitants had no option but to flee to safety. More heavy air raids by Allied forces devastated the area around the railway station in 1944, causing several hundred deaths.
Today, Tours is a lovely city with many sights and a beautiful original medieval district. It is also called "The Garden of France" because of its many parks and the fertile surrounding region. Furthermore, the city is home to the François Rabelais University of Tours with its more than 30,000 students, making it a very vibrant university town.