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Limoges History, France

Little is known about the ancient history of Limoges; however, the remains of ancient villages have been found in the area.  They are thought to belong to the Lemovices, a Gaulish tribe who settled in the area sometime between 700 and 400 B.C.  The name Limoges comes from the name of the tribe and it could have been their capitol settlement.

Around 10 B.C. the area came under the occupation of the Romans.  At this time, the name of the city was changed temporarily to Augustoritum after the emperor Augustus.  The Romans had a forum, an amphitheater, a theater, and several baths and sanctuaries built in their new city.  It is also possible that a temple devoted to Diana, Minerva, Venus, and Jupiter was also built near the site where the Cathedral of Saint-Étienne now lies.  The city was very important to the Romans and this is shown by the fact that it had its own Senate and currency. 

A major shift was made on the city in the late 200’s A.D. due to continuous German invasions.  At this point, the city was moved to the modern-day site of Limoges which was more easily fortified.

Shortly before this shift, Pope Fabian sent Saint Martial, the first bishop of Limoges, to the city around 250 A.D.  The city began to be populated around his abbey and tomb in the 800’s A.D. and then near the home of the viscount in the 900’s A.D.  The Abbey of St. Martial had a large library and because of this Limoges grew into an artistic center around 1000 A.D.  This led to the opening of a medieval musical composition school at the abbey.  Construction of the Cathedral of Saint-Étienne began in 1273.

By the end of the 1200’s, Limoges was made up of two different settlements.  The first was called “the City” and sat on the banks of the Vienne River.  This part of the city was fortified, had a developed port, and was ruled by the bishops.  It is during this time that the bishops built the Saint-Étienne Bridge.  This half of the city was sacked during the Hundred Years War between France and England and never fully recovered. 

The other settlement, known as “the Chateau”, included the abbey.  It was controlled by the abbot and later by the viscount.  During these last years, the two settlements did not always get along.  The remains of the second settlement’s 12-meter-high walls can still be seen near the center of the city.  It took almost 600 years for the two settlements to be combined into one city but this was accomplished in 1792. 

At the time of the French Revolution, the Abbey of St. Martial, along with several other religious buildings, was destroyed by citizens of France.  The city became a successful component of the porcelain industry after 1768 and this caused a population growth.  Many people were needed to work in the factories and in the lumber mills that produced fuel for the firing of the porcelain.  Limoges porcelain is still sought after today.  During the 1800’s the city center was demolished and rebuilt due to the unhealthy conditions brought about by chicken-eating contests and prostitution dens. 

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