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Pons, the first capital of the Santon people

Distance : 12 km/14 minutes by car

Small village / walk / viewpoint

Pons has a particularly rich history and a very ancient origin, which makes it one of the oldest cities of the department. It was founded before Saintes, Saint-Jean d'Angély, Saujon or Marennes, all cities of Saintonge, of Roman origin - and not Celtic (Santonne), whereas the majority of the cities of Aunis like Châtelaillon-Plage, La Rochelle, Surgères are of medieval origin.

The distant origins of Pons go back to the dawn of the Protohistoric period when the sheltered rock site on the edge of the Soute valley favoured the sedentarisation of the first inhabitants.

But it is really only in the pre-Roman period that Pons will play an important role because of the settlement of the Celtic Santons people around the middle of the 1st millennium BC where the rocky promontory of the primitive city will shelter what will become the oppidum of Pons.

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During the period of the Santons of Independence

Pons quickly became an active center of crafts and trade and developed its exchanges with the Romans.

However, the abandonment of the castrum after the second half of the first century of the Christian era sounded the death knell of the Gallo-Roman city which, in the course of the third century, experienced a devastating fire during the invasion of the Alamans.

After a hurried reconstruction, it knew a short period of peace narrated by the poet Ausone but with the 5th century arise new barbarian invasions even more destructive, in particular those committed by the Vandals in the autumn 408 where the city disappears during long centuries.

However, the revival of the small city will take place at the beginning of the Middle Ages thanks to the rise of Christianity in Saintonge.

At the turn of the 12th century, Pons became a strongly fortified "city" where its keep, one of the most imposing of all the Saintonge, made it one of the safest cities of the region.

Ideally situated on the road to Santiago de Compostela, it became an active religious centre with churches, monastic orders and even a hospital for pilgrims.

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During the Hundred Years' War, the fortified city will be the constant issue between the great warring powers that are the kingdoms of England and France. It will be particularly illustrated by the Treaty of Pons of August 1, 1242 where Louis IX, better known as Saint Louis, after having defeated the army of Henry III of England before Saintes on July 22 at the battle of Taillebourg will impose the harsh conditions of the English surrender at the foot of the castle of Pons.

However, for historical rigor, it is abusive to call Pons "medieval city". Indeed, the term "city" is used to define what will be later called Diocese. However, at that time the diocese was (already) in Saintes.

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The 16th / 17th centuries: A city that accumulates crises

The Protestant Reformation played a considerable role in the small town. Pons thus became one of the most ardent Protestant strongholds in Saintonge until it was besieged by the royal troops of Louis XIII who put an end to it almost definitively from 1621. In the spring of 1621, the king launched his armies across the country. On June 1, the army arrived at Saint-Jean d'Angély. The siege lasted nearly a month. On June 30, the army arrived at Pons. And on July 1st, without a fight, the city surrendered (as the document in the photo officializes). In the months that followed, and as required by the rules, the defenses of the Protestant strongholds had to be dismantled. The castle was subjected to the pickaxes of Louis XIII's army. It is a few years later (1623-1624) that César Phébus d'Albret (sire of Pons), with the aim of making it habitable, had the castle rebuilt.

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Since 1347, the plague has never left Europe. It is no longer in the lightning form of the Middle Ages but in an extremely contagious form that it makes its return to Pons. In the summer of 1631, more than a third of the population of Pons was affected by the plague. To fight against the epidemic, the lord of Pons decided at first to isolate the contaminated hearths, it is an ineffective practice so much the density of the population is strong. He then decided to build a village of wooden huts outside of the city to fully isolate the sick, in a place near Jolysable and Chartres, a place called "la cafourche du Landay" (now Croix Saint-Roch). Catholics and Protestants - who had been at war for almost a century - found themselves isolated together, and tensions were very high. A chapel was built on this site, but no trace of it remains today.

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The 19th century: An unprecedented urban expansion

It was during the 19th century that the city experienced an unprecedented urban expansion. The city overflowed its ramparts, new roads were built, private mansions were constructed and new factories were developed. It became one of the most important railway centers in Saintonge and the fifth largest city in the Charente-Inférieure region for three-quarters of a century.