UNESCO Heritage List
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Saint Emilion and its jurisdiction - located in the department of Gironde - was added in 1999 to the UNESCO's World Heritage List.
While the region has been inhabited since the Neolithic era - more then 10,000 years ago - the name Saint Emillion comes from a Breton hermit named Emilian who settled here in the 8th century. Not many things are known about Emilian. We know only that he lived the cross-shaped cave - cave that can still be visited - until his death in 767 AD.
Being situated in the Aquitaine region Saint Emillion came under English rule after the marriage of Eleonor of Aquitaine to king Henry Plantagenet of England on the 18th of May 1152. In 1199 King John Lackland - their son and heir - granted the town a "de facto" autonomy under the leadership of its town council - known as "Jurade" (The "Jurade" still exists and is in charge with the enforcement of the Saint Emilion AOC wines quality standards).
The King's Castle whose only remaining part is the 34 meters high lookout named King's Tower was built according to historians during this period of English occupation.
During the Hundred Years' War (from 1337 to 1453) between the Plantagenet and the Valois the town changed hands many times. In 1453 the town became French for good but the French King Charles VII maintained the privileges accorded to the "Jurade".
Peace was however short-lived and Saint Emilion found itself in the middle of the Religious War and in 1580 suffered extensive damages inflicted by the Huguenot army. The town suffered also a major destruction during French Revolution times when many old buildings were destroyed.
The history of Saint Emilion is also the history of its vineyards. The vine growing began during the roman occupation more then 2000 years ago. During the 12th and 13th century the wine produced there were known as "Royal Wines" because of their quality. The 18th century saw an increase of demand for the region wine by the Dutch ships’ crews, who were sailing to their overseas colonies, due to the fact the quality of the wine permitted it to be transported long distances without turning to vinegar. In 1889 the Saint Emilion wines were awarded the highest prize "The Grand Prix Collectif " at the Universal Exhibition. Nowadays the jurisdiction produces around 230,000 hectolitres of red - and only red! - wine annually.
Saint Emilion wines include two classifications (Appelations d’Origine Controle) Saint Emilion and Saint Emilion Grand Cru. These wines are produced in the towns and villages that starting with the middle ages formed the Saint-Emilion jurisdiction. The latter classification is divided in two further groups: "Grand Cru Classe" and "Premier Grand Cru Classe" .
The most famous vineyards are; Château Figeac, Château Canon, Château Ausone, Château La Gaffeliere, Château Ferrand, Saint-Etienne-deLisse and Pressac, Château Laroue and arguably the most famous of all Château Cheval Blanc - according to some historians the preferred wine of King Henri IV.*
Beside all these vineyards that can be visited, there are exceptional historic sites that are located in the village itself.
The most famous of all are the monolithic church and the hermitage of the Saint. The monolithic church - the largest of this kind in Europe: 38 in length and 20 meters in width - was dug most probably in the 12th century. The only part of the church above the ground is the Bell Tower a 53m structure that was build and enhanced during the 12th , 14th and 15th centuries. The hermitage where Saint Emilion lived is a cross-shaped cave "furnished" with cut in stone pieces.
The King’s Tower is what is left from the former King’s Castle. It is one of the few Romanesque – the forerunner of Gothic style - military buildings in Gironde. It is from the top of this tower that nowadays the Jurade proclaims in September the start of grape harvesting season.
The Pottery Museum: is a humongous underground museum that exhibits ceramics dating from as far as the Middle Ages.
The Collegiate Church - one of the most beautiful and largest churches in Gironde - was build and enhanced during two different periods of time - the 12th century and the 14th century - and as a result has is a mixture of the Romanesque and Gothic architectural styles. Its cloister dates from the 14th century.
The Cordeliers Cloister - a part of the former Franciscan Friary - was built in the 14th and 15th centuries in Romanesque style. Its galleries, 21.5 meter long, are each flanked by eight semi-circular arches.
*There is a famous French joke that goes: Question: What colour was the Henri IV’s white horse? Answer: Red! Since this was his favourite wine (Cheval Blanc means White Horse)!
Source: Visiting Saint-Emilion by Antoine Lebegue Unesco World Heritage
“Ban des Vendanges” in Saint Emilion
The Jurisdiction of Saint Emilion
Best time to visit it is the month of September after the \\\\\\\" vendanges\\\\\\\". The pottery museum relly impresive!