Saint-Emilion – From the Chapter gate to the “Great Walls”

The present-day War Memorial square was laid out at the beginning of the 20th century on the former site of a part of the defence wall and the ditch.

Old drawings show the ruins of these fortifications, where the modest Chapter gate was located with a barbican before it, not unlike that of the Brunet gate, and connected to the outside by a bridge across the ditch.

In the background, the roofs of the Collegial Church are visible. The differences in their height correspond to the different phases of construction of the edifice, as well as the various campaigns of restoration over time. Even though the construction of this very large church was probable not finished by the beginning of the 13th century, the north-west corner of its façade was cut short so that it would not impinge on the straight line of the defensive wall, which was built shortly afterwards. What should have been a large gate tower never finished; its temporary roof that can be seen in old illustrations was modified at the end of the 19th century.

Towards the north, old photos show one of the Romanesque houses overlooking the ditch in better condition than it is today. In fact, the covering of its façade and its crenelated parapet walkway collapsed on 25th December 1949, leaving apparent ever since the denuded inside of the defence wall without its crown!

As for the enigmatic “Great Walls” that stand outside the ditch, there are quite simply the north wall of the church of the first Dominican monastery, which was still under construction, when the monks retreated to shelter behind the defence wall around 1340. The rest of the monastic buildings, the living quarters that surrounded it and the Saint-Julien hospital just beside them, a complete complex of buildings that were the legacy of Saint-Emilion’s golden age just before the Hundred Years’ War of 1337 to 1453 broke out, was demolished during the first dew years of the conflict. The “Great Walls” are the sole standing memory today of this development.

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