Saint-Valery-sur-Somme – Origins

Saint-Valery-sur-Somme

Somewhere in the Ville Haute

Saint-Valery-sur-Somme commands the mouth of the Somme estuary from the top of a cliff.

The site has been occupied since ancient times as the Celts, Romans and the Vikings landed and settled on its shore.

This strategic location and its access to both the river and the sea turned it into a major port.

The former Gué de Blanquetaque, a ford that allowed the crossing of the Somme at low tide, was until the late 18th century a major communication axis.

Saint-Valery-sur-Somme was originally called Leuconus then Leuconay.

In the 7th century King Clotaire II bestowed the Gallo-Roman estate of Leuconus to Gualaric, the monk who evangelized the region.

The hermit Gualaric retreated to the cliffs of Leuconus, but the many miracles he realized gained him notoriety.

Gualaric of Leuconay became known as Walaric, Wary and eventually Valery of Leuconay.

Saint-Valery-sur-Somme-

By the church

He was buried in 622AD in the abbey he founded and his relics kept attracting pilgrims until the 11th century.

The pilgrimage was so popular that Leuconay was renamed Saint-Valery in the 10th century.

The Holy Man was also renowned for his prophecies.

Indeed, he appeared to Hugh Capet to promise him that his successors would rule over the kingdom of the Franks “to the seventh generation”.

In 981 Hugh Capet crossed the Somme at the Gué de Blanquetaque to seize the Holy Man’s precious relics!

Saint-Valery-sur-Somme re-appeared in history in 1066 when William the Conqueror’s fleet anchored in the port while waiting for favorable winds in order to cross the Channel.

A large procession carried the saint’s relics through the city before William sailed off onboard La Mora to conquer England!

In 1197 the city was granted its first freedom charter.

Saint-Valery-sur-Somme during the Hundred Years War

That same year Richard the Lionheart seized the city, burned the ships, sacked the abbey and took the saint’s relics to the neighbouring Pays de Caux.

Saint-Valery-sur-Somme-Tour-de-Pierre

Vestiges of the Tour de Pierre

Saint-Valery-sur-Somme changed hands several times during the Hundred Years War.

However, the major event of that conflict was the short stay of Joan of Arc when she was prisoner of the English.

She left her name to the Tour de Pierre, the massive tower where she was detained during her stopover on December 20, 1430.

She was on her way to Rouen where she was burned at the stake.

On July 14, 1475, Louis XI burned the city to the ground in order to stop the progression of Charles the Bold (who had made an alliance with the English).

Saint-Valery-sur-Somme – Peace and prosperity

Peace eventually returned, so did prosperity.

The port thrives and expanded thanks to the export of wines.

Saint-Valery-sur-Somme-walled-city

Porte Guillaume

However, the Wars of Religion of the 16th once more brought destruction and misery.

The city, the fortifications and the abbey were again damaged.

However, the abbey was fully restored and became a major intellectual center during the 17th century.

In 1785, King Louis XVI commissioned the construction of the Canal de la Somme which was completed in 1821.

The abbey and the castle were sold as National Property in 1791 (French Revolution.)

The abbey was pulled and the buildings, including the church, served as stones quarry.

All that is left is the convent house, which is now a private property.

Saint-Valery-sur-Somme-Ville-Basse-Courtgain

Le Courtgain – Ville Basse

The strategic location of Saint-Valery-sur-Somme came as a blessing during WWI.

Indeed, the British turned it into a landing base where goods, wares and troops as well as Chinese workers (recruited in 1917) landed.

Georges V stayed at La Colonne de Bronze hotel when he came to review his troops stationed in the sector.

Centuries of history shaped the modern day city into three districts.

The Ville Haute (walled city), the Quartier de l’Abbaye in its extension, and the Ville Basse (fishermen district) by the port of La Ferté.

The fishermen district, a gathering of picturesque cottages, is also known as Le Courtgain.

Saint-Valery-sur-Somme – Port

Saint-Valery-sur-Somme has been a major port since ancient times because of its exceptional location.

Saint-Valery-sur-Somme-marina-Port-de-la-Ferte

Marina – la Ferté

However, it is mainly from the 15th century that it became an active commercial port, specialized in the wine trade!

An armed warship of 6 guns permanently moored there.

It thrived even more a century later when the king of France created the Admiralty of Saint-Valery.

Goods coming from various countries, and fishery products, especially herrings (a specialty of the city) transited in the port.

On the top of that, Saint-Valery-sur-Somme shared with Calais the monopoly on English cloth!

Until the 17th century, Le Hourdel and La Ferté formed one port.

Le Hourdel is today independent; it is 10km from Saint-Valery, by the sea, and is a renowned spot to observe seals.

Saint-Valery-sur-Somme-port

Port

The trade of salt largely contributed to the prosperity of the city.

L’Entrepôt des Sels was built on the Quai Lejoille in 1736.

The warehouse could store up to 20,000 tons of salt to serve Picardie, Artois, Champagne and Burgundy!

The modern day port, located at the mouth of the Canal Maritime de la Somme, is therefore a sea port but also a river port.

The marina has 250 moorings (including 30 for visitors), and is adjacent to the city, shops and restaurants.

It can accommodate ships with a maximum length of 16m and a draft of 2.30m.

Le Hourdel, Saint-Valery-sur-Somme – La Ferté and Le Crotoy are today the 3 ports on the Baie de Somme.

Boat buoy Somme II

SOMME_II_04

Somme II

You can explore the beautiful Baie de Somme, ranked among the most beautiful bays in the world since 1999, by booking a ride on the Somme II boat buoy.

This boat was decommissioned on November 2, 1999; it was then the last buoy on wooden hull in service as well as the flagship of the maritime historical heritage of Picardie.

He was listed as a Historical Monument on May 26, 2000.

The Association pour la Sauvegarde du Baliseur Somme II – Association for the Protection of the buoy Somme II restored it to the identical in 1983 and the General Council of the Somme bought it in 2000.

The association offers regular educational boat rides in the Bay of Somme and on the Canal on board the Somme II.

More photos

  • Saint-Valery-sur-Somme-Porte-de-Nevers
  • Saint-Valery-sur-Somme-Joan-of-Arc-entered-the-city-here
  • Saint-Valery-sur-Somme-La-Colonne-de-Bronze-hotel
  • Saint-Valery-sur-Somme-hospital
  • Saint-Valery-sur-Somme-former-Gendarmerie
  • Saint-Valery-sur-Somme-St-Martin-Church
  • Saint-Valery-sur-Somme-restaurant-in-Ville-Basse
  • Saint-Valery-sur-Somme-shop-in-Ville-Basse
  • Saint-Valery-sur-Somme-artisan-shop-by-the-port
  • Saint-Valery-sur-Somme-Theatre-by-the-port

Directions: Department of Somme – Picardie region
Coordinates Saint-Valery-sur-Somme: Lat 50.188648 – Long 1.629695

Photo via Wikimedia Commons: Somme II by Raphodon is licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0