The Village of Saint Emilion

How is one not mesmerized by the beauty of this village in all of its medieval splendor? Saint-Emilion is full of steep, winding streets and shaded squares, full of invitations to wander and discover. This village is rich with spectacular and varied religious buildings, opulent manors and a legacy of military architecture, all vestiges of the village’s spiritual, commercial and agricultural history. The ocher limestone and red tile roofs give the city a delicious harmony, even more sublime at sunset.

The village

The site owes its selection as a cultural landscape first and foremost to the limestone. In addition to its importance in the quality of the wine, the rock was used to construct city buildings, and those of the entire Jurisdiction over the centuries: houses, walls, churches, monasteries and estates. The exploitation and trade of this mineral rock ran for ten centuries, from the 10th to the 19th century. The architect Victor Louis even used it to build the famous Grand Théâtre in Bordeaux. But more surprisingly, the quarry itself is located in the bowels of the rocky promontory on which the city is built. Two hundred kilometers of underground tunnels (sometimes several levels) snake under your feet. These underground tunnels served as a means of circulation in the Middle Ages, and especially during the Hundred Years’ War. The nobles of the city are buried there. And it is also here that the largest monolithic church in Europe city was excavated.

People of note from the area
The Gaudet family, an old, prominent family from Saint Emilion, included Elie Gaudet, who was a member of the "Gironde" party (see "Bordeaux - Port of the Moon") and Joseph Gaudet, who was a historian.

A tasty tradition that continues …
Macarons! This delicious specialty was transmitted from generation to generation. Its recipe dates back to 1620 when the Ursuline Sisters established their convent in Saint-Emilion.

Sightseeing on foot

Stroll through the city and behold the monuments at your own pace: cloisters, a collegiate church, small and large wash houses ... Visitors can walk along the typical cobbled streets, steep, climbing alleyways and will enjoy the panoramic view from the Place du Clocher. Sightseeing map available at the Tourist Office.

City Gates
The inside of the wall was accessed by six gates with operating drawbridges. Only the Porte Brunet remains today.

The Porte Brunet: East of the city, the Porte Brunet is the best preserved. It is the most picturesque entry point in Saint Emilion. A few steps from the gate stands the "Tour du Guetteur".
The Tour du Guetteur: This lookout tower, from which an armed man once watched over the gate, was part of the Porte Brunet fortifications.
The Porte Bouqueyre and its Overhang: The gate was destroyed in 1750 under orders from Intendent Tourny, but today visitors can still see the overhang, an observation post which once included an armed man.
The Porte Sainte Marie : Only a few traces remain of this gate.
The Porte Saint-Martin : A few traces still show the location of the gate, which was destroyed in the 19th century.
The Porte des Chanoine (also called the Porte du Chapitre) : This door is named for its location near the Collegiate Church where the canons lived. Some parts of the gate’s Roman architecture are still visible.

The Walls

There isn’t much left of the walls built under the English rule in the 14th century. However, some remains are still visible. The old moats were transformed into gardens. The walk along the ramparts is best appreciated at sunset when the light on the stones glows yellow-orange.

La Grande Muraille
The Great Wall is all that remains of the former Dominican convent that dates back to the 13th century, which consisted of a church, its bell tower and a cloister destroyed during the Hundred Years’ War. Visitors can still imagine, however, the elegance that this impressive monastery reflected.

The Collegiate Church 

Place Pierre Meyrat, 33330 Saint Emilion
Open daily: 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Free admission.

Construction of this church began in the 12th century, and would continue until the 15th century, a history which is revealed in its mixture of Romanesque (nave and porch) and Gothic architectural styles. The college hosted the canons until the Revolution, and remains one of the largest churches in Gironde.

It is accessed through a magnificent doorway from the 14th century. The interior is very bright. The choir of the church dates back to the 15th century, and the organ to the 19th century. Visitors can see remnants of murals depicting the Virgin and the Martyrdom of Saint Catherine (12th century). Also of note : the 16th century wooden polychrome statue of Saint Valery, patron saint of the winegrowers of Saint Emilion, and the tympanum of the north doorway (14th century) depicting the Last Judgement.

The Cloister of the Collegiate Church

Its Romanesque architecture is preserved on the east and south walls. The rest of the additions over the centuries are in a Gothic style. It is 30 meters long on each side. Visitors can gain access to the cloister via the inside of the church, or a porch next to the Tourist Office.

Logis de Malet de Roquefort
Place Pierre Meyrat, 33330 Saint Emilion

This beautiful building is located opposite the entrance to the church, and owes its name to the Malet de Roquefort family who lived there in the 18th century, though its construction dates back to the 15th century. It served as a seigniorial mansion.

The result of the different architectural influences that predominated the development of the city over the centuries, the House of Malet offers a journey through time: the house is based on the ramparts of the 12th century, the central part of the house is from the 15th century, the crenels are from the 16th century and the beautiful stone facade from the 18th century!

The cloître des Cordeliers
Rue de la Porte Brunet, 33330 Saint Emilion
Website - tel : 05 57 24 42 13.

This magnificent Romanesque monastery is particularly well preserved, and full of history. Built from the 14th century by Franciscan monks (the Cordeliers), the ensemble consisted of a chapel, a cloister, a garden, a cellar, a wine cellar and a corps de logis (main block of the building).

The chapel and cloister, both open to visitors, represent some of the most beautiful artistic heritage of the medieval city. Covered with vegetation, the site is very romantic. The site was occupied by the Franciscans until the French Revolution, and it was from the late 19th century onward that underground galleries (totaling 3 kilometers) were built in the basement of the cloister, 20 meters below the surface. These underground galleries were composed of cellars and caves that allowed for the development of a sparkling wine: Crémant de Bordeaux. Today, visitors can participate in tastings. The outdoor garden, green and shady, invites visitors to pause and to savor.

The Palais Cardinal (12th century)

It was without a doubt the home of Gaillard de Lamothe, the first Dean of the Collegiate Church of Saint-Emilion. What is left of the palace can be seen integrated in the fortified wall.

The Gate and the House of Cadène

This gate owes its name to the chain separating the lower part (poor and secular) and upper part (religious) of the city. The beautiful House of Cadène, a half-timbered structure from the 16th century, is the only remaining habitat of the medieval city.

The Ursuline Convent (1630)

There is little that remains of the convent. The order of the Ursulines aimed to educate young girls from poor classes. This order was also the origin of an ancient recipe that became a local specialty : macarons.

The Market Hall and the Former Hôtel de Ville

Located in the extension of the old market that stood before the monolithic church, this beautiful hall, covered with large arches and gothic decorations, was designed for the selling and stocking of grain. Upstairs, the building housed the City Hall during the 19th century. Today this floor is occupied by an artisanal workshop that is open to visitors.

The Bouquey House and the Grotte des Girondins (17th century)

Home of the Gaudet family, it hosted the last Girondin party leaders in 1793 after they fled the Revolution. In the courtyard, the "Girondin well" provides access to an underground cave, the Grotte des Girondins, where they hid in emergencies. (See "Bordeaux – Port of the Moon").

The Wash Houses

Constructed in the 19th century, these public places were used for doing laundry, but were in fact much more than that. Both wash houses in the city were places of exchange. One was reserved for the washerwomen from rich neighborhoods: the Fontaine du Roi (at the foot of the Tour du Roy, on the Rue de la grande fontaine). The other, smaller one, was intended for working class neighborhoods: the Fontaine de la Place (on the Rue de la petite fontaine).

Guided Tours

The monolithic church, the catacombs, the Grotte de l’Ermitage and the Chapelle de la Trinité can only be visited through the Tourist Office’s guided tours (see "Tourist Office”).

The monolithic church 

Place de l’église monolithe, 33330 Saint Emilion

One of the wonders of the city. The church can only be visited through Tourist Office, which offers guided tours of the church and the Grotte de l’Ermite (Cave of the Hermit) (Tours: "Historic Saint-Emilion" or "Saint-Emilion Underground") .

Built next to the Hermitage d’Emilion between the 11th and 12th centuries, the monolithic church of Saint-Emilion is an exceptional monument. It is entirely carved out of limestone, a colossal project for the time period. Only the bell tower was built, becoming the highest point of the village. It is the largest monolithic church in Europe. The nave is 20 meters high, its two aisles supported by imposing pillars. The tympanum of the doorway is decorated with images of the Last Judgment and the Resurrection of the dead. Above the choir, the church features a beautiful bas-relief composed of an angel, a man fighting against a monster and in the center, the Grail. A well was drilled in the roof to allow the passage of cords from the bell tower, located just above on the Place des Créneaux.

The bell tower of the monolithic church
Place des Créneaux, 33330 Saint Emilion
Price: €2. Free for children under 6 years old.

The tower, in a Gothic architectural style, is composed of three floors built between the 12th and 16th centuries, and strengthened the 18th century. The tower rises to 133 meters above the Place du Marché. Once the 196 steps have been climbed, visitors can admire a magnificent panorama of the city and surrounding vineyards!

The Catacombs

The catacombs are located on the left side of the underground church. They served as a funeral chapel and cemetery. Up above, a hole can be distinguished in the dome, through which the bodies were lowered.

The grotte de l’ermitage
Place de l’église monolithe, 33330 Saint Emilion

The Hermitage Cave is located beneath the Chapelle de la Trinité. Dating from the 8th century, it was the retreat of the monk Emilion.

The Hermitage Cave is the oldest piece of evidence of settlement on the site. Part of a natural cavern, this vault-shaped cave was carved into the rock in the form of a cross. Visitors can still see places for the bed and seat of the saint, and at the back a statue of Emilion sits above the altar. The legend has it that the spring located on the site has miraculous powers. It feeds a public fountain located lower in the city.

The Chapelle de la Trinité

Place de l’église monolithe, 33330 Saint Emilion

Located above the underground church, the Trinity Chapel was built by Benedictine monks in honor of the patron saint of the city (Emilion).

This chapel is undoubtedly one of the finest examples of Romanesque and Gothic architecture of the 13th century in the region. Today, visitors can admire the apse and nave (rebuilt in the 15th century), which converge to the Mystic Lamb, as well as the Gothic wall paintings from the 15th century. Careful observation will allow visitors to identify the various building campaigns that were initiated over the centuries (the framework dates back to the 18th century).

The Tour du Roy (1237)
Price: €2. Free for children under 6 years old.
Open daily.

At 32 meters, the Romanesque Tour du Roy or Château du Roi (King’s Castle), was one of the defensive elements from the ancient fortress thought to have been built in the 13th century by King Henry III of England, Duke of Aquitaine. It served this purpose until the 16th century, during which it was converted into a town hall until 1720. It is the only Romanesque donjon (fortified tower) still visible in Gironde.

Today, it serves as the topmost place of celebration for the Jurade proclamation of the judgment of the new wine and the opening of the harvest season (See "The Jurade"). Features stunning views of the city.

Château Villemaurine
Lieu dit Villemaurine, 33330 Saint Emilion
Website - tel : 05 57 74 47 30.
Price: €12  / Children under 18 years old: €6. Free for children under 12 years old
Open daily: 9:30 a.m. to 1 p.m./ 2 p.m. to 7 p.m.

A short walk from the city center, the Château Villemaurine features a unique network of quarries. Exploring the underground quarries is done in the company of a guide and a lantern. Visitors will learn about winemaking and geology. Wine tasting available on site.

< Home Saint Emilion - Jurisdiction

News from Saint Emilion