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Saint Emilion - History

Saint-Emilion was named for the Benedictine monk, Emilian who arrived in the 8th century to live a reclusive life as a hermit. After 17 years, he had become the leader of a group of other Benedictines who had also come to the area. He had such a strong impact on the town that it eventually took his name. The town of Saint-Emilion was a center of religious life in those days. The monks carved an entire church from a single huge piece of limestone over the course of 300 years beginning in the 9th century. It remains today as the greatest monolith church in Europe.

As time passed the town prospered and grew. To protect the residents and commerce, the town became fortified and surrounded with strong walls which are still there today. During the 12th century, the town became even more fortified with the addition of a moat, gates, the City Keep , the King's Tower and inner ramparts built to strengthen the fortifications.

From the 13th century to the 16th century, the region was marked by wars between the French and English. The region (and the town of Saint Emilion) changed ownership on several occasions. The town was looted more than once by each side. By the end of the 16th century, Saint Emilion was no longer the prosperous center that it had once been. Many of the buildings and monuments were damaged and the population was diminished.

Saint Emilion held on until the start of the French revolution in 1789. During the period of the revolution, nearly all the residents of the town moved out. That left the town as an easy target for rovolutionaries (and vandals) who further defaced and damaged the town. Saint Emilion remained almost completely unoccupied for the next 100 years.

In the mid 1800s, the growth of the wine trade and commerce related to it brought a new prosperity to the region. As the reputation for the wines of Saint Emilion grew, so did travel to the region by traders and tourists. The residents of the area started restoring the town to accomodate the wine trade and to take advantage of the traffic it created.

Today, the town of Saint Emilion is a "must see" for travellers to Bordeaux. It is a living history lesson and retains much of the atmosphere and charm of past centuries.