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Europe

The European continent was named after beautiful Phoenician woman called Europa.

Europe

When Zeus have seen Agenor's daughter Europa gathering flowers he immediately fell in love with her.

Welcome to the coast of Gironde estuary of Charente-Maritime

The Gironde is a navigable estuary (falsely referred to as a river), in southwest France and is formed from the meeting of two rivers Dordogne and Garonne just downstream of the centre of Bordeaux. Covering around 635 km2 it is the largest estuary in Western Europe. The Gironde is approximately 65 km long and 3–11 km wide and the French department Gironde is named after it. The Gironde is subject to very strong tidal currents and great care is needed when navigating the estuary by any size or type of boat.

The estuary is situated on a limestone plateau deposited 140 to 150 million years ago. The uplift of the Alps and the Pyrenees 60 to 65 million years ago crushed limestone layers. Then there was an uprising which formed the cliffs and notched conches on the north bank of the estuary. The waters come up against this cliff and form the Gironde estuary. During this period, the sea invades the Aquitaine basin and it was not until the late Tertiary period as the waters receded.

During the Quaternary periods of extreme cold and extreme heat alternated. The waters of the sea withdrew during glacial causing a widening of the bed of the Gironde. Alluvial terraces were formed on the left bank. With the glacial melt, the sea rises and fills the Gironde bed with alluvial slopes. 2000 years ago the marshes were formed on both sides of the estuary and dunes and conches appear around the year 1000. Today, the marshes were drained and the estuary is still evolving. In 1999, the island of Croute disappeared under water and Bourg-sur-Gironde is now found in front of the Dordogne instead of the Gironde.

Gironde Estuary

The estuary is an important navigation route and freight with the passage of cargo ships, container ships, fishing boats and passenger boats. The transport of the fuselage of the A380 Airbus from Saint-Nazaire in Pauillac uses Gironde as a route. It is then transferred onto a barge Airbus. Throughout the estuary and the Garonne, there are pilot services for vessels provided by the drivers of the Gironde. Drivers provide support for ships on the estuary between offshore ports and river ports up to the high sea.

Fishing in the estuary of the Gironde is mostly an activity centered on migratory fish like shad, thin, eel, lamprey and small white shrimp. Fishing for glass and eel is a great tradition in the estuary and it is also the most lucrative. Eels in the estuary are caught by trawlers carrying large side nets, the "pibalours." These boats are also called "dragon boats". Since the 1980s, the baby eel is sold in Asian markets and enjoys a high added value. But the resource is exhausted and fewer eels ascend the Gironde estuary.

Lamprey and shad are caught in the spring. Lamprey is cooked in Bordeaux in his blood and wine. Fishing net is widespread along the estuary. There are many huts on stilts along the shoreline down to trickle square water. The term also applies to dip the fishing hut.

Sea transport on Gironde Ferry from Royan on Gironde
Fishing on Gironde European Sturgeon

The sturgeon fishing is totally prohibited since 1982. From the 1920s, the European sturgeon - known locally as Créac (see the last drawing) - was fished to recover the precious caviar. But because of the destruction of spawning and overfishing, the species is endangered. Since the 1980s an effort to save the species was introduced in the estuary, but without much success. Sturgeon farms are present in Charente-Maritime and Gironde but these species has nothing to do with the European sturgeon. Indeed, there is a freshwater fish, smaller, which belongs to the species Siberian sturgeon while the native species, is a migratory fish who lives in the sea and spawn in freshwater. Currently, the estuary of the Gironde is the only place in the world that sees the European sturgeon to reproduce in Dordogne or Garonne. The Gironde estuary is a vital nursery area for its juveniles.

On the left shore of the Gironde there is French department of Médoc and on the right shore is department of Gironde and the shore from the city of Talmont-sur-Gironde up to the sea is a part of the department Charente Maritime. The cities of Charente Maritime that are situated on the right shore of Gironde are popular tourist’s attractions and they are described below.

 

Saint-Georges-de-Didonne, Meschers-sur-Gironde, Site Gallo-Romain de Barzan and Talmont-sur-Gironde

Saint-Georges-de-Didonne

Saint-Georges-de-Didonne is a small town located about 4 km south from Royan. It is important holiday resort at the coast of Beauty, on the right shore of the mouth of the Gironde estuary and very close to Atlantic Ocean. Saint-Georges-de-Didonne is one of the major economic centers of Greater Royan, tourist town that is now becoming a residential suburb. Its population was 5055 inhabitants in 2009 and during the summer season it is growing to over 50,000 people. The city has its highest booming in nineteenth century, thanks to the fashion for sea bathing imported from England. From small harbor of pilot-boatmen, Saint-Georges-de-Didonne becomes a vacation spot with stays of writers, Jules Michelet, artists Odilon Redon, Fernand Pinal and Léonce Chabry as well as politicians, Herriot and even crowned heads the King Alfonso XIII of Spain. The city wasn’t damaged during WW II unlike its famous neighbor Royan, destroyed by Allied bombing. Therefore, it retains its old center, semi-pedestrian today, and some historical monuments.

Road along the Conche de Saint George Suzac forest
Center of Saint-George-de-Didonne Port of Saint-George-de-Didonne

Playing voluntarily tourism map "family" Family Plus, Saint-Georges-de-Didonne highlights its conch sandy beach more intramural Charente-Maritime2, its tourist infrastructure and entertainment, festival of Humor and salt water, food and music festival in the world. The town also highlights its natural heritage, benefiting from the presence on its territory of a vast pine forest, forest Suzac - one of the green lungs of the city with royannaise Coubre forest - a natural site protected by the Conservatoire du Littoral.

Ligthouse of Saint-George-de-Didonne Conche de Saint-George - plage
Plage de Suzac Plage de Suzac 2

The first traces of human occupation date back to the Neolithic as evidenced by the site Peu-Richardien de Boube. Then tha place was occupied during the Gallo-Roman period, as is attested by the remains of a fort built at that time on the tip of Suzac. During the Middle Ages, the territory of the current commune consisted of two main areas: one the village of Saint-Georges, living mainly from fishing and agriculture, limited to a few houses gathered around the parish church, and second the village of Didonne, seat of the manor, built at the foot of the castle. It is mentioned in a charter in 1040, but in the fourteenth century it was burned and sacked, during the Hundred Years War.

Plage de Suzac 3 Plage de Suzac 4
Plage des Vergnes Plage des Vergnes 2 with Grazyna

A few centuries later, the wars of religion brought with them lots of violence and the church was partially destroyed. At the end of the seventeenth century, the village, taking advantage of its location at the mouth of the Gironde, became an important pilot station until 1921. Its natural harbor served as a refuge for docking pilots serving as guides for the crossing the estuary. Under the First Empire fortifications ere built on the cliff Suzac, but not sufficient to contain the British attacks. In 1812, the first dam was built to improve access to the port. The golden age of the town began in the nineteenth century, with the popularity of sea bathing: thus began the great wave of urbanization and modernization of infrastructure that transformed the city into a veritable town. Many people seeking "a certain authenticity" went to Saint-Georges, away from the splendor of worldly life which characterized the city of Royan at this time.

Plage des Vergnes Plage des Vergnes 4
Plage des Vergnes Plage des Vergnes 6
Plage des Vergnes 5 with Maciek Plage des Vergnes 7

The village still appears to be isolated and access to Royan is a path "almost impassable" in extensive dune area. The early twentieth century saw the opening of new pathways towards the great conch beach and to neighboring park. It modernizes the port, and at the same time the lighthouse Vallières. New subdivisions were created, and the first luxury hotels were built, such as the Oceanic Hotel, frequented by high society until it was closed shortly before the Second World War. Since then, the city of Saint-Georges-de-Didonne is a seaside resort, integrating step by step with the city of Royan. Saint-Georges-de-Didonne has three beaches of the conche type:

  • Conche plage the Saint George
  • Plage the Suzac
  • Plage des Vergnes

Meschers-sur-Gironde

Meschers-sur-Gironde is an old small town that belongs to the urban community of Royan, which in 2006 counted 72,136 inhabitants. This small town has about 3000 own citizens but during the summer holiday period can grow to more than 20 000. The town is situated on the côte de Beauté, neighboring from the south Saint-Georges-de-Didonne and being situated about 10 km south from Royan.

Meschers sue Gironde Hotel de ville, Meschers

In the very past that were the Ligurians that came as the first to the Arvert peninsula about 1800 BC creating a Meschers working bronze. The Celtic people, Santons, takes possession of this area later, probably around 800 BC, developing the production of sea salt in salt marshes. A tomb from this period was discovered in the town in the nineteenth century, containing a skeleton of 1.80 meters. After the Roman conquest, several areas are established: one finds traces at a place called "La Mothe", the "Workshop" and Suzac. The fall of Rome was the beginning of political instability, marked by the arrival of the Visigoths in 418 and than Franks in 507. The region followed the destiny of Aquitaine, and was integrated into two kingdoms Merovingian and a powerful Duchy and a Carolingian kingdom of Aquitaine made​in favor of the son of Charlemagne, Louis the Pious.

Meschers  l'église Saint-Saturnin Meschers  l'église Saint-Saturnin 2
Le temple protestant from 1842 Remains after the 19th century kaviar production in Meschers

Since 1154, Saintonge, Guienne, Angoumois and Poitou formed a large part of Aquitaine that was under the English influence. The small port of Meschers, placed since the eleventh century under the control of the Lords of Didonne, took advantage of this situation to sell salt, wine, cereals to the British Isles. The situation remains unclear for several years, but in 1224, King Louis VIII of France, taking advantage of the minority of King Henri III Duke, invaded the region and gave it to his son Alphonse de Poitiers. A testamentary disposition stated however, that in case of death without heir of the latter, the Haute Saintonge would fold back into the Anglo-Aquitaine. This was precisely what has happened. The village of Meschers, influenced by Anglo-Aquitaine, is at this time a small parish living from natural resources like salt, fishing and agriculture. Several windmills were built on the ridges, particularly exposed to westerly winds. A new church of Saint Saturnin was built in 1232, as was also the case in many neighboring parishes.

Yacht haven in Meschers Fishing post
Plage in Meschers High clifs with caves

In 1337 this small community was troubled again by the beginning of the Hundred Years War. More than real battles, the region was prone rampant banditry in these troubled times. Epidemics in addition made pain to small populations: great plague of 1348, terrible cholera epidemic in 1453. In 1486, the small lordship Meschers is given by the King to the Prince de Mortagne, son of seneschal of Guyenne Olivier de Coëtivy. In early sixteenth century, Meschers resumed its traditional economic activities: the salt trade was flourishing again, transiting production of Bordeaux and Libourne. The region had more than one exemption from the excise replaced by a tax equal to quarter-penny on sales. The attempt to impose the excise causes problems, culminating with the peasant rebellion in 1548. The Constable Anne de Montmorency was sent to punish the rebels, and he leads a fierce repression. Symbolically, the four church bells, which were used to ring the revolt came down and stored in the castle of Royan.

The years 1530-1540 were also marked on the spiritual plane. Due to propagation of ideas of the Reformation Meschers became a village predominantly Calvinist. The Wars of Religion were felt, but were limited to occasional problems between fractions. Peace returned with the promulgation of the Edict of Nantes in 1598.

Clifs with caves in Messchers Cave Matates view from the level of the village.
Entrance to the caves Matata Entering cafe of Matata caves

The small port of Meschers became gradually a haven enjoyed by pirates who attack ships entering the estuary of the Gironde, a true "gateway" to rich port of Bordeaux. The damage was such that the vice-admiral of Guienne was forced to lead a vigorous action that lead to the arrest and execution of several of them in 1617. The problems did not stop, however, and in 1620, the Spanish pirates bombarded the town, causing serious damage to the church and several houses. In 1620 religious tensions, rises a notch. Big part of the province rises and the situation is such that King Louis XIII goes to punish the rebels. In 1622, the royal army attacked the fortress of Royan. The surrounding villages were not spared and the fights were carried also in Meschers during which the church lost its spire and the temple was burned.

When peace returned, the people get back to the village economy: fishing, farming, but also piracy, occasionally. In 1679, Meschers obtains the right to hold a weekly market and annual fairs in September. A few years later, a portion of the population was the victim of the Edict of Fontainebleau: Protestants, designated as followers of the "so-called Reformed Religion" were forced to convert, if necessary "helped" by the Dragons King, or go into exile, what many did indeed. It was not until 1775 that a new temple was built, terminating the period known as "Church of the Desert".

In 1789, the Revolution is generally well received. The Empire is favored by the department of Lower Charente that provide 23 244 votes for and 25 against. This relative "enthusiasm" is quickly tempered by the Napoleonic wars, and increased conscription they require. In 1814, when the situation is critical of the Empire, the captain of Regulus, a ship of 74 guns survivor of the battle of the island of Aix, has burned the building of Meschers in order to avoid his fall to the enemy hands. The abdication of the Emperor stopped the march of the English soldiers a few kilometers from Meschers.

Caves Matata 1 Caves Matata - sleping room
Caves Matata - apartement Caves Matata - apartement 2
Caves Matata - Cafe bar Caves Matata - kitchen of old restaurant

The nineteenth century was marked by development of the city: reconstruction of the church in 1827, creation of public facilities like boys 'school in 1841, a new cemetery in 1848, girls' school in 1873 and installation of Telegraph in 1873. The great popularity of sea bathing in Meschers led to renaming the town in brochures to "Meschers-les-Bains", less crowded than Royan and family friendly. During WW II the Wehrmacht took possession of the principal cities of the department. The city was integrated into the German defense, structured around Royan, prohibiting access to the port of Bordeaux - and more specifically, its submarine base. In September 1944, the largest part of the department is released. The post-war years are to continue the development of the town. A bridge is proposed over the Gironde, between the towns of Meschers, and Arces Talais in Médoc. First, seriously considered in 1990, later in the 1990s the project was buried. The town of Meschers is now one of the main tourist attractions of the Royan area.

Caves Matata - fisherman room Caves Matata - passage
Caves Matata - Cafe for tourists Caves Matata - at the end of the visist it is nice to drink a cofie

Regulus and Matata caves are a set of cave dwellings arranged in natural cavities and inhabited over the centuries. They are today managed and operated by the municipality under the name of "Caves of Regulus and Fountains" and “Caves of Matata”. Cliffs where the caves are built resulted of a considerable rise in sea level, which occurred during the Cretaceous. The accumulation of deposits of plant and sea animal origin formed over the centuries, layers of sediment impressive height, which was submerged and emerged several times. The upper part of the cliffs is composed of strata dating from about 70 and 65 million years ago, that is to say the very end of the Cretaceous period.

Natural cavities, resulting from dissolution phenomena that are common in the limestone, were expanded over the centuries by man, and have been used for centuries as habitat or refuge. Prehistoric people lived there, and later very poor people, and at the time of the Wars of Religion, Protestants gathered there to celebrate their worship. The tradition has also a story of the pirates living in the caves.

Site Gallo-Romain de Barzan

The town of Barzan, Charente-Maritime, houses a Gallo-Roman archaeological site the subject of excavations since 1994. Aerial photographs and archaeological excavations have revealed the presence of a Gallo-Roman port city of great importance. The excavations revealed monumental Roman temple, thermal baths, forum, theater and many more to being still discovered. The site is situated between the towns of Barzan, Talmont-sur-Gironde and Arces-on-Gironde.

It seems almost certain that the Gallo-Roman city, which peaked in the second century, is the Novioregum indicated in the itinerary of Antonin. The city could also be the port Santones that was described by Ptolemy.

Le site Fa New excavations
Makiet of Novioregum Maket of Noviregum temple

The first inhabitants of this place were around 3500 years before BC. Around the seventh century BC, Saintonge was inhabited by the Gallic Santones. They did the Pons and later Saintes, their capital. These Celtic people moved to the site of the Fa and built a monumental sanctuary, which is located on a hill overlooking the estuary of the Gironde. They are the ones who founded the city, embryo of the Roman metropolis that developed in this place a few centuries later. Recent aerial surveys have also revealed traces of two other Celtic temples, located on the hill of La Garde.

Grazyna in museum Vesels for wine and olie
2000 years old mil Entrance to the mil

Excavations carried out from 1996 to 2002 has also uncover Gallic and Hispanic ceramics dating from the fifth century BC, which allows to consider the presence of a commercial port at this time. Similarly, Gaulish coins were discovered in 1997. The oldest were minted in the late second century BC.

The fact that the Saintonge is located on the road of the tin trade between the British Isles and the Mediterranean at that time, the essential raw material for manufacture of bronze, explains the relative prosperity of the city even before the establishment of the Roman rule.

Transparent drawing showing locations of street and other elements of Novioregum View on le site Fa
Maket of Roman Baths Element of the maket of Roman Bath
Roman Bath maket from other side Cour of the Roman Bath

The province of Santones was conquered by the Romans in 58 AD. This is the beginning of the golden age of its capital, Mediolanum Santonum (today Saintes), which became the first capital of the Roman province of Aquitaine. Novioregum city, was the second largest city of the Santonum and it seems to have been primarily a trading post, which is easily explained by its location, not far from the mouth of the Gironde. The first important buildings were probably built during the reign of the Flavian emperors, 69 to 96 AD. The city seems to have had its golden age to the second century AD, during the reign of the Antonines.

Original elements of Roman Bath after excavation and repeair Excavated walls of Novioregum buildings
Element of the heating system of Roman Baths Fundaments of Novioregum buildings

The city retains some importance until the third century before declining and being abandoned for reasons unknown to this day. There exist theory of a siltation of the port - undoubtedly economic powerhouse of the city - but no real evidence is established at the moment. This siltation phenomenon is common in the region, and caused in the seventeenth century the loss of another major port of the region called Brouage. In addition to this theory it is speculated that citizens of Novioregum moved to the nearby place suited for creating a port and this was the beginning of today’s city Talmont-sus-Gironde.

Talmont-sur-Gironde

The occupation of the site probably dates back to antiquity, the presence of a village more or less depending on the ancient Roman metropolis Novioregum. There is a hypothesis that after Novioregum was abandoned due to silting of its port it was Talmont that provide some access to Gironde. In 1876, a team led by local historian Eutropius Jouan identifies Gallo-Roman masonry in the village center. In fact, the evidence gathered so far suggests that it was after the abandonment of Novioregum that Talmont began to grow in importance. The remains of the ancient city nearby provided for a stone quarry for the embryo of the present village. This thesis is accredited by the discovery of three barrels of Roman columns in the Talmont church in 1888.

Talmont bay Talmont seen from the south
Talmont vestings Talmont bird view

The Talmont church of St Radegonde was built in 1094. The structure appears very Romanesque in character. The church was a resting place for the Pilgrimage of Saint James of Compostela, because the pilgrims crossed the Gironde just at this spot.

During the High Middle Ages, Talmont was a military post, and a lordship under the name Talamo. It was acquired in 1284 by Edward I of England, Duke of Aquitaine, which strengthens and creates a closed city that was later fortified as others cities throughout the southwest of France. From there, the grid plan of the city has been created, where the streets intersect at right angles to facilitate the defense and make it more difficult any intrusion of the enemy. Tradition says that he was inspired for this plan by the town of Winchelsea, a stronghold of East Sussex, England.

Talmont bay seen from the south Talmont chanel
Talmont vestings 1 Talmont vestings 2
Talmont vestings from the side of Gironde Talmont Church

Since that time, the city was also surrounded by ramparts, which is still possible to see some remains beyond the church. For example, a section of wall that is the vestige of a square tower called "White Tower". During the Hundred Years War, Talmont was strongly contested between French and English.

During the religion wars much of the region was reformed but citizens of Talmont remained mostly faithful to Catholicism. The city was captured by the armed Calvinists in spring 1563, but returns in the Catholic camp shortly after. The following year, Basque mercenaries plundered cities of Talmont and Cozes.

Talmont church 1 Talmont church 2
Talmont church 3 Talmont church 4
Talmont cementary Talmont cementary and Grazyna

However, failing to be taken by force, the city was finally taken by strategy. In 1574, while carnival was in full swing, the Huguenot soldiers in disguised manage to penetrate the fortress, opening the doors to their coreligionists. For two years, the city remained in the hands of the Protestant party, before the peace of Beaulieu move it again to the hands of Catholics.

At the end of the seventeenth century, the city belonged to the La Rochelle. It was an enclave within the electorate of Marennes. The outskirts of the city produced mainly wheat, wine and hay. The fortifications of the city were damaged during the successive conflicts and then repaired in 1706. A battery of six "horrible guns" was placed to protect the coast. However, due to the lack of resources, the works were not completed.

Street of Talmont 1 Street of Talmont 2
Street of Talmont 3 Street of Talmont and Maciek
Sunset at Talmont seefront Sunset at Talmont cementary and church

Today Talmont is a touristic village, sometimes considered as one of the capitals of the Alcea rosea, the flower present on every street of Talmont. The village is also famous thanks to its Romanesque church camped at the edge of the cliff and of being once an important step on the way to Saint-Jacques-de Compostela.