Thursday, September 23, 2010

France - Aquitaine - 33 Gironde - Jurisdiction of Saint-Emilion

Monolithic Church of Saint-Emilion.

Sent by Patricia, a postcrosser from France.

The Jurisdiction of Saint-Emilion is an outstanding example of a historic vineyard landscape that has survived intact and in activity to the present day.

The first traces of human settlement in the Saint-Emilion region date back at least to the Upper Palaeolithic (35,000-10,000 BC). The Pierrefitte menhir confirms human presence in the 5th-4th millennia BC. The region was heavily populated during the Celtic-Gaulish period, as testified by an oppidum (defended hill fort) on the plateau overlooking modern Saint-Emilion. The Roman occupation began when Augustus created the province of Aquitania in 27 BC with the first vineyards by grafting new varieties of grape on the Vitis biturica that grew naturally in the region.
The first Christian monasteries appear at the beginning of the 7th century. As the region was on the Pilgrimage Route to Santiago de Compostela, from the 11th century onwards it experienced great prosperity and many monasteries, churches and other religious buildings were founded.
When Eleanor of Aquitaine married Henry Plantagenet (later Henry II of England), the town of Saint-Emilion, by then fortified, became part of the English Kingdom, along with all Guyenne. The town was to change hands repeatedly in the course of the Hundred Years' War; in 1453 it became French permanently. It was to suffer again during the Wars of Religion in the later 16th century; as a result the town retained its medieval appearance until the 18th century, when its fortifications were dismantled.
This had an adverse effect on the vineyards, and it was not until 1853 that Saint-Emilion started to recover, thanks to its vineyards. In the 18th century the quality of the wines from the region was recognized as exceptional. During the Second Empire production of red wines in the region became generalized, replacing the white wines that had been most common in the medieval period. Their distribution was greatly facilitated by the opening in 1853 of the railway line between Paris and Bordeaux. By comparison with other vineyard regions of the Bordelais, Saint-Emilion has been noteworthy for its innovations, such as the establishment of the first wine syndicate in 1884 and the first cooperative cellars in the Gironde in 1932.
The property covers 7,846 ha; the relief characterized by a stratum of limestone defined by shelves that criss-cross the landscape. This disappears to the north and is replaced by a heterogeneous mixture of clayey sands and gravels, dipping towards the south. Two slopes are clearly distinguishable: the northern one is gentle and cut by valleys, the southern steeply plunging into the Dordogne valley and forming concave valleys (combes ), in one of which the town of Saint-Emilion is situated. The landscape presents a monoculture, that of vineyards exclusively, and occupying more than 67.5% of the total area. Apart from the human settlements, the only other traces of exploitation are the abandoned underground quarries, which supplied limestone for the religious and public buildings of Bordeaux and its hinterland until the 18th century.
Before viticulture predominated, medieval and Renaissance castles were built on dominant sites as seigniorial residences. Examples are the 13th-century Château Laroque (Saint-Christophe-des-Bardes), the 14th-century Château de Preyssac (Saint-Étienne-de-Lisse), and the 16th-century Château Ferrand (Saint-Hippolyte). By contrast, the 'vineyard' castles are located at the centre of their respective domains. They range in date from the mid-18th century (Château Ausone, Château Canon) through the early 19th century (Château Cheval-Blanc, Château Mondot) to the late 19th and early 20th centuries (Château Laroze, Château La Gaffalière).
Settlements are characterized by modest stone houses, most dating from the first half of the 19th century. They never have more than two storeys, and are found in small groups, for the use of vineyard workers. The chais (wine storehouses) are large functional rectangular structures built from stone or a mixture of brick and stone, with tiled double-pitched roofs. (Source)

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