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Tours History, France

In Pre-Roman Gaul, the site of the city that is now Tours, France was important because of the fact that many travelers crossed the River Loire at that point.  It may be for this reason that the town, originally named Turones, was founded on that site.  During the 1st century A.D., the area became part of the Roman Empire and the town was named Caesarodunum, which means “hill of Caesar.”  

By the end of the 4th century A.D., the town had been built by the Romans into a busy metropolis.  One of the five largest amphitheaters in the Roman Empire had been built there.  During this same century, the Romans also changed the name of the town to Tours, based on its original Gallic name. 

During the Middle Ages, Tours became an important destination for Christian pilgrims.  This was because of the second bishop of Tours, St. Martin.  He shared his coat with a needy and naked beggar and because of this experience he became an important figure in the Christian church at that time.  The Frankish king, Clovis I, even contributed to the Abbey of St. Martin in Tours.  The support of the king gave the city more influence.

Under the rule of two Frankish kings, Charlemagne and Louis the Pious, the area underwent a cultural rebirth in the 700’s and 800’s A.D.  This rebirth was known as the Carolingian Rebirth and it rivaled the Italian Renaissance of a later century.  During this time, art, writing, literature, architecture, and scriptural scholarship all became more prevalent.  Tours was a very important city to this renaissance era due to the fact that King Charlemagne himself invited Alcuin, an important scholar and poet, to reside at the Abbey of St. Martin.

During this time-period there were many castles and mansions built in Tours.  King Louis XI even made the city the capital of France and resided in what is today called the Castle of Plessis.  French royalty resided in Tours and the county of Touraine until the 1500’s. 

Despite the rebirth, there were still some dangers in France at the time.  In 732 A.D., an army of Muslim soldiers on horseback arrived in the country from Europe seeking conquest.  They managed to advance quite a ways into France before they were hindered by French infantry, led by Charles Martel, at Tours.  This stopped Muslim invasion of the area for a time, but during the following century France became the target of the Danes.  In 850 A.D., Tours was sacked by the army of Hasting, a Viking chief.  

After the Royal Court left Tours for Paris, Tours slowly began to decline and has not regained the glory it held during the Middle Ages.  The railway was extended to Tours in the 1800’s, though, and helped the city to regain some of its importance; as did the introduction of the city as a communications center in the 1900’s.  

During World War I, Tours was the home of tens of thousands of United States soldiers who resided in the town.  They set up their garrisons and many other military properties in the city.  They mingled with the citizens of Tours and some of the soldiers even fell in love with certain young women and married them.  The U.S. forces had a lot of influence on the town and there are still some monuments to this influence, such as the Woodrow Wilson Bridge

World War II also had a great influence, but unfortunately the influence on the city was not as friendly.  The city looked and acted like a fort for four years and in 1940 and 1944 the city also suffered much damage caused by intensive bombings.  Many treasures from prior centuries were lost at this time.  Plans for reconstruction were already drawn up before the war ended, however, and these plans were made to ensure that the city maintained at least some of its historic beauty.

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