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World Heritage Site

for World Heritage Travellers

Blog: WHS #648: Saint-Savin sur Gartempe

Saint-Savin sur Gartempe is a quaint French village with just over 900 inhabitants. It has a couple of hotels and restaurants, and as I was pressed into slow travel because of limited public transport options I found the place pleasant enough to stay overnight. I had a fine 4-course gourmand dinner at Le Patisson, the quality of which in such a small town provides at least one reason why so many NW Europeans choose to move to rural France. But of course at the end of the day I came just for its enlisted Abbey Church and its medieval murals.

The Abbey at the Gartempe

The next morning I started with a walk along the Gartempe river and across both bridges for some photos of the Abbey. Its size is remarkable for such a small town and it was fully included in the core zone by a minor boundary modification in 2015. Most of it though is from a much later date than the medieval murals that provide the site’s OUV.

Entrance nowadays costs 8 EUR, which includes a good booklet with explanations (without it is 1 EUR less). There's a large souvenir shop, where they even sell lollipops displaying the logo of this WHS. After buying the ticket one is directed first to the main Abbey (which features an exhibition) and the gardens, but these are mildly interesting to say it nicely. To get to the murals, you have to take another entrance: the front door of the church.

Candystick columns

At the church I was the only visitor. Upon entering the candystick-coloured columns definitely stand out. I know I’ve seen similar ones before – probably at another WHS, but where?

There are some paintings already in the porch of the huge gothic tower, where you enter. These include the Lady and the Dragon, with an especially fierce dragon. The uninterrupted strip of main murals is located in the nave, painted at a height of 17 meters in a semi-circle. The most famous painting is Noah's Ark, a crowded wooden boat with 2 copies of a few animals in front of the windows and several human passengers at the top deck. Most interesting I found the Tower of Babel - not really on scale, but you see people in elegant robes supplying stones to the builders at the top. And there’s also God introducing Eve to Adam, both looking like primitive cave people.

Tower of Babel mural

Getting to Saint-Savin by public transport is not an easy task as the schedules are mostly geared to daily commuters. The slow bus 103 leaves Poitiers 5 times a (week)day for Chauvigny, a town 19km away from Saint-Savin. Twice daily this bus connects with a ‘bus on demand’ for the final km’s, a service that has to be booked a day beforehand by phone. Otherwise you have to hope someone else did that already and you can ride along (I was lucky on a Thursday evening). As a last resort there will be taxi’s. There also is a second bus company, TER, covering this stretch – only a couple of times a day as well but they take a faster route and do not have to be prebooked. This seems to be the best choice, but I only found out about them on my way back.

Published 11 November 2017

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Responses to WHS #648: Saint-Savin sur Gartempe
Els Slots (11 November 2017)

Thanks for your research, Clyde. I see a new Connection!


Clyde (11 November 2017)

After some research, it seems that the colourful columns are painted replicas of marble ones in The Santa Apollinare Church in Ravenna or the San Paolo Fuori Le Mura church in Rome.

The tecnique is called faux marble or marbleizing and has been used in Albi Cathedral, Peter and Paul Cathedral in St Petersburg, the Chartres Cathedral, the Pavlovsk Palace in St Petersburg, the Venus Room in Versailles Palace and many more whs for sure.