Saumur is a small city in the Maine-et-Loire département of France on the Loire River, with an approximate population of 30,000 (in 2001). Saumur is home to the Cadre Noir, the École nationale d'equitation (National equestrian school), known for its annual horse shows. The region is noted for its beautiful centuries-old homes and churches, fine wines, and mushroom caves. At the Musée du Champignon visitors can find out how mushrooms are grown underground. The city is also famous for its factory where carnival masks are made. The Musée du Masque has waxwork figures wearing carnival masks with intricate and colorful costumes.
Beginning in the 12th century, French peasants dug villages into the soft limestone (tuffeau) hillsides along the Loire River, between Saumur and Montsoreau. Known as troglodytes, they built homes into the face of the cliffs and created hundreds of kilometers of underground passageways.
The University of Saumur became the University of French Protestantism before the revocation of the Edict of Nantes. During the French Wars of Religion, Huguenots used the troglodyte caves to hide. In recent years many of the troglodyte houses have been rebuilt and are open to visitors while others have been restored and occupied.
Saumur has ancient ties to the military, going back to the 18th century when the cavalry school was founded here; this is now the school of armored cavalry (tanks). The Musée des Blindés is dedicated to the history of tank warfare, and the Musée de la Cavalerie recounts the history of cavalry, with depictions of battle scenes and old uniforms.
Saumur is the birthplace of internationally renowned fashion designer Coco Chanel (1883-1971), and despite being a small city it is also the birthplace of several notables from the French film industry, including:
See also: Tuffeau, from Earth to Light a web site describing the Val de Loire's geology, it's history of quarrying limestone for building construction, and the stone's role in present-day restoration work. Official site of the city of Saumur. Saumur Tourism Office. Interactive, detailed street map of Saumur (Flash movie file).
Edited by Ian C. Mills.
Le Château de Saumur
Sitting high on a cliff, gazing down at the confluence of the Thouet River with the Loire, Château Saumur was originally constructed as a fortified stronghold. After its destruction in 1067, the Château was rebuilt by a member of the powerful Plantagenet family.
King Philippe II made Saumur part of his royal domain during the early 13th century, but it was his son King Louis IX (Saint Louis) who was responsible for the Château's rebirth. The property changed hands several times until 1589, when the Protestant King Henri IV (of France and Navarre) gifted the Château to Duplessis-Mornay.
In 1621 the Château was converted into an army barracks, then into a state prison under Napoleon Bonaparte. The castle features a dungeon and watchtower, and houses the Musée de la Figurine-Jouet a collection of very old toys and figurines of soldiers, kings of France, and clowns.
In the first part of the 20th century, the city of Saumur acquired the Château and began a restoration program to house a museum of decorative arts. In keeping with the Saumur area's equestrian tradition and its famous Cadre Noir, the Château also serves as a Horse Museum.
One of the nobles to own the Château de Saumur for a time in the early 15th century was Jean, duc de Berry, a brother of King Charles V. Berry was a patron of the arts, and commissioned the three Limbourg brothers (Paul, Hermann and Jean) to create a series of monthly calendar panels, known as Les Très Riches Heures, which were painted sometime between 1412 and 1416. September's panel is probably the most famous of these: it depicts the grapes being harvested by peasants and carried into the beautifully detailed Château de Saumur. (click on image to see full panel)
Address: Le Château de Saumur, 49400 Saumur.
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