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History of the Loire Valley

History of the Loire Valley

Steeped in history with roots dating to the era of Julius Caesar, the riches of the Loire Valley have been the subject of much conflict for millennia. Early dominion of the Gauls was seceded to the Romans in 52BC, whose grip on the area – and much of modern-day France – would hold for centuries, and which would advance the development of the region at an extraordinary pace.

Settlement and growth

Emperor Augustus

Sustained expansion of the Loire Valley under the rule of the Romans was particularly notable during the reign of Emperor Augustus, with the formation enduring settlements such as Angers, Bourges, Chartres, and Tours. It was also the influence of the Romans that saw the plantation of vines in the Loire Valley – a move that signified the first steps towards today’s thriving wine industry.

Such was the appeal of the region, however, even this period saw its share of turbulence, with Roman armies repelling the invading troops of Attila the Hun in 451. Half a century later, Roman rule was finally usurped by the Frankish King Clovis, and the dawn of a new age in the Loire Valley, and indeed France, began. The advent of Christendom led to the growth of the Loire Valley as one of the nation’s foremost centres of religious and political activity; the Hundred Years’ War and the liberation of Orléans by the devoted Catholic, Joan of Arc, being particularly pertinent events in its history.

From Renaissance to Revolution

Château du Clos Lucé

As the French aristocracy continued to enjoy the splendour of the region, the rise of the Renaissance masters from nearby Italy led to a wealth of artistic endeavours here. Indeed, Leonardo da Vinci himself would eventually come to inhabit a property in the Loire Valley – Clos de Luce – which continues to attract thousands of fascinated tourists hoping to gain a glimpse of the genius’ life. Other exponents of fine art and architecture would leave their mark on the Loire Valley in the shape of majestic châteaux that recall a bygone era of opulence and lavish living.

No sooner had the Renaissance flourished, however, than the time came for change; the French kings relocated to Paris and only the re-establishment of Catholicism would herald a return to fortune for the Loire Valley. A growth in the number of religious sites in the area, plus the development of the textile industry, triggered a return to the former glories of the past, a return that would only be halted in its tracks by the French Revolution.

Journey to the present

Much of what occurred during the Revolution – the split loyalties, the neglected ruins – remain prevalent to this day, yet without many of these events, the Loire Valley we find today simply would not be. The onset of war with the Prussians, the area’s role as a base for the French government during the First World War, and the difficulties of Nazi occupation during the Second, represent what it means for a region to have lived two lives: one of grandeur and refinement, another of hardship and suffering. One without the other would leave the Loire Valley’s beauty somewhat hollow; it is beautiful precisely because of its inextricability from the troubles of human civilisation.