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Centre-Val de Loire, Part 1


Centre-Val de Loire logo

Departments of Centre-Val de Loire

Centre, comprising the historic former provinces of Orléanais, Berry, and Touraine, is an administrative region in north central and central France. Established in the 1970s, it has an area of 39,150 km2 (15,116 mi2) and a population of 2,440,329 (1999). Centre encompasses six French departments — Cher, Eure-et-Loir, Indre, Indre-et-Loire, Loiret, and Loir-et-Cher. Its administrative capital is the city of Orléans, famous for its association with Saint Joan of Arc.

Drained by the Loire River and its tributaries, the region includes the scenic Loire Valley and such other historic cities as Blois, Bourges, Chartres, Châteauroux, and Tours. The region is a producer of wheat, barley, corn, and grapes and also has manufacturing and service industries and an important tourism sector. Among the area's principal landmarks are the Chartres Cathedral; the Gothic Cathedral of Saint Gatien and remains of the Basilica of Saint-Martin, both in Tours; and the châteaus of the Loire Valley, including Château de Chambord and Château de Chenonceaux.


Berry was an historical region in central France whose capital was Bourges; its area roughly corresponds to the modern departments of Indre and Cher. Originally occupied by the Bituriges Cubi, part of the strongest Celtic tribe in Gaul (ca. 600 B.C.), Berry later became part of the Roman province of Aquitania Prima.


Official Regional Flag
of Centre-Val de Loire

It passed to the Franks in the 6th century, and later was ruled by a line of hereditary counts until 1200, when the French kings gained control. In 1360, it was made a duchy; Jean, duc de Berry (1340-1416), was an important patron of the arts. Berry was annexed by the French crown 1601, remaining a province of France until 1789. Berry gave title at various times to French royal princes. The later novels of George Sand give a good picture of Berry.


Orléanais {ohr-lay-ah-nay'} is an historical region and former province in north central France. Watered by the Loire, Loir, and Cher rivers, Orléanais is mainly an agricultural region producing fruits — especially wine grapes — and vegetables. The chief cities of the region are Orléans, the historic capital; Chartres, known for its cathedral; and Blois, once a favorite residence of France's kings and now a busy center of commerce and industry.

From the 10th century, Orléanais was part of the holdings of France's kings, and it became the appanage of the cadet branch of the royal dynasty. In 1790 the province was divided into the departments of Loiret, Loir-et-Cher, Eure-et-Loire, and parts of Essone and Saarthe.


Touraine {too-ren'} is an historic province of France renowned for its châteaux, built mostly during the Renaissance, when it was the residence of the French monarchs and aristocrats. Touraine lies astride the Loire Valley in the southern Paris Basin. Most of the modern department of Indre-et-Loire and parts of Loir-et-Cher and Indre occupy the area. The provincial capital was Tours.


Château de Chinon from across the Vienne River
© 1969-2003 Ian C. Mills
(click to see larger version)

The farmland of the rather monotonous Touraine plateau is interrupted by forests, where the kings of France once hunted. By contrast, the valleys of the Loire River and its tributaries are famed for their climate, fertility, and beauty. The grapes of famous wines such as Vouvray are raised on the slopes. The region's proximity to Paris has encouraged the post-World War II growth of industry.


Rich lands once inhabited by the Turons, a Celtic tribe, were also prized from the Roman period into Merovingian and Carolingian times, when pilgrims to the shrine of St. Martin of Tours brought great wealth to the region. After the chaos of the Norman invasions, the feudal county of Tours was disputed by the counts of Blois and Anjou. Control of Touraine went in 1044 to the Angevins, who became kings of England in 1154. The castle of Chinon was their great stronghold in Touraine.

Philip II Augustus of France regained Touraine in 1205, and it was made into a royal duchy. The duchy was again disputed by the English in the Hundred Years' War (1337-1453). In 1429, the young Joan of Arc had her historic meeting at Chinon with the dauphin, the future Charles VII. During the late 1400s and in the 1500s, Touraine was the favorite residence of French kings. The monarchy, nobility, and a rich bourgeois class transformed the gloomy feudal castles into magnificent Renaissance châteaux that are today's principal tourist attractions. In 1584 the duchy became a province, and in the 17th century, court life moved away to Paris and Versailles. Touraine was divided into departments in 1790.

T.H. Elkins, University of Sussex
Source: Encyclopedia Americana, © 2003 Grolier Publishing Company, Inc. — All rights reserved.
Images: View of Château de Chinon from across the Vienne River, © 1969-2003 Ian C. Mills. All rights reserved.

NEXT PAGE » Château de Blois, Bourges, Orléans, City Search


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