On the banks of the Charente as it meanders towards the Atlantic, the city of Saintes was once the Roman capital of Aquitaine. Ancient Mediolanum Santonum’s ruins, like the amphitheatre, arches, baths and countless fragments of sculpture and stonework, are all weathered but soul-stirring.
Move forward in time and Saintes held sway over the historic Saintogne province, and was furnished with the Romanesque Abbaye aux Dames and the pilgrimage Church of Saint-Eutrope. These monuments are made even more solemn and atmospheric by the strains of Medieval and Renaissance music at the Festival de Saintes every July. There’s also the easy pleasure of the Charente and its riverside parks, or the delectable taste of the Cognac distilled close by.
Lets explore the best things to do in Saintes:
1. Amphitheatre Gallo-Romain
The finest of what’s left of ancient Mediolanum Santonum, Saintes’ Roman amphitheatre dates to the Rule of Emperor Claudius in 40AD. In its time it could have seated up to 15,000 spectators, who would have crammed in to watch gladiator fights and battles with wild beasts.
The lowest tier of seating is still intact, as are some arches, and you can easily make out the fabric of the stone terraces and passages working their way up the hillsides around.
The arena floor is the best preserved part of the site, measuring 66.5 metres long by 39 metres wide and is still used in summer for concerts and festivals.