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We had a day in Saintes yesterday and despite it being the second week in October it was hot and largely sunny. There was a little cloud, some quite black and threatening but it only rained for about 30 seconds at the end of lunch, taken in Clos des Cours Restaurant, and eaten outside,  but we were under cover and it would not have mattered if we had not been.

Saintes has a lot to offer, not surprising as its history goes back to before the Romans. It was originally the main settlement of the Celtic tribe known as the Santones and then in Roman times it was their southern capital of the region of Aquitaine. It has prospered from being on one of the Routes de Santiago de Compostela.

The most obvious features which date back to Roman times are the Germanicus Arch beside the Charente river, the Amphitheatre and of course the very straight road which bisects the town.

The Arch was constructed between 18 and 19 AD so during the time when the Emperor was Tiberius.  The inscription on the Arch is to Emperor Tiberius and to his two sons Drusus and Germanicus. Obviously the person who paid for the construction, one Lulius Rufus, was trying to get maximum benefit by dedicating it to not one but two generations of emperors as he thought.  As it happened the next emperor was the dreadful Caligula, son of Germanicus. With the passage of time the inscriptions have faded somewhat and now the most visible is the name Germanicus which is perhaps why it is known as the Germanicus Arch and not the Tiberius Arch.

When it was originally built the arch was at the end of a roman road running from Lyon to Saintes and at the head of a roman bridge over the Charente.  It was then moved between 1843 and 1851. This was because it was going to be demolished so that improvements could be made to  the bridge and banks of the Charente and it would have been lost forever were it not for Prosper Merimee who paid to have it saved and reconstructed just 15 meters from its original position. Good for him! He also wrote Carmen which was turned into the opera of the same name composed by Bizet and he was quite close to George Sands so it is said – at least, he was good friends with her.

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