Having lived here in Central France for 6 years I realised that I knew nothing about the history of the 3 villages which are close to our Gites.
The three villages in question are Le Petit Pressigny, Le Grand Pressigny and La Celle-Geunand.
So I decided that it was about time to do some research and find out more about the place in which I now lived.
Le Grand Pressigny
Le Grand Pressigny was probably settled before its neighbour, Le Petit Pressigny. It is the largest of the 3 small villages around us having approximately 1,000 inhabitants, but growing through the summer months. Back in the 1840s there were nearly 2,000 people living in this thriving village. It is probably most famous for its Chateau which is now a widely respected Pre-History Museum.
The museum depicts the importance of the area in Neolithic times as it was a source of Chalcolithic flint, or “Silex”, which was mined in the commune. It is an unusual caramel-coloured stone which appears to have been highly prized across Europe. Blocks of this flint were traded throughout Europe, and beyond. Unfinished blanks, as well as finished tools, became highly valued commodities and led to the comparative wealth of the early settlers in the community.
The village was mentioned in the 6th century by Grégoire de Tours under the name of Prisciniacus. The name remained in use until the 16th century when the village acquired its modern name.
The Chateau itself dates from the 12th century replacing an early castle on the outcrop of rock above the village. The first known occupant of the Chateau was Guillaume I of Pressigny who completed its construction. The family remained in residence until 1301 and possession moved between The King of England (Richard the Lionheart and Jean Sans Terre) and the King of France (Philippe-Auguste ) who engaged in a series of battles in the area.
The castle changed hands during the 15th to the 16th century, but it was the Marquis Honorat de Savoie-Villars, cousin of François I who transformed the medieval building into a Renaissance-style Chateau.
The last landlords of the property sold their Chateau to the state in 1796. The building was gradually dismantled and disrespected by the local inhabitants, and in the 19th Century the land became a stone quarry. However, realising its potential loss, the town acquired the building and saved it from destruction. The local Police station was sited in what is now the Gallery.
The museum moved into the Gallery in the 1950s. The deterioration of the Chateau continued naturally until 1988 when the Indre-et-Loire Department acquired the property and began some serious conservation. This included the construction of the modern Museum which opened to the public in 2009.
Today, the village (Town?) is a busy commune and a popular place to visit for Tourists and local inhabitants. The central square is surrounded by the Church, shops, pharmacy, bars, and the Mairie. Not to mention the Hotel Savoie Villars named after the Maquis who transformed the Chateau in the 16th Century.
It has a vibrant social calendar with festivals, concerts, dances theatre performances and sports fixtures. All now curtailed due to Covid-19.
Le Petit Pressigny
Le Petit Pressigny is 1.5 km South of our Gites and sits on the Aigronne River which is well know for its Salmonid style of fish. Right in the centre of the village there is a fishing lake and fishing is a popular past-time with the inhabitants. There are approximately 339 inhabitants, but this almost doubles in the summer months when the many holiday homes become occupied. The population was very different in the 1840s when there were over a 1,000 inhabitants and 4 bars!
The village’s website informs us that,“In the 16th century, PRESSIGNY LE SAVOUREULX formed a stronghold under Grand Pressigny. In 1552, it belonged to the VILLEQUIER family , in the 16th and 17th centuries, to the BRULARD DE LA BAZINIERE families, and in the 18th century, to those of MONTFALCON and GAULTIER.”
There is an historic 13th century church in the centre of the village, St. Pierre, which is listed as a national monument. It was refurbished in 16th century and again in the 20th century.
Just over 100 years ago there were many vineyards around Le Petit Pressigny, which clearly serviced the bars in the village, but this is no longer true. Although, one local entrepreneur has just bought some land and is attempting to introduce some new vines. We wait to see what will happen.
In 2019, Le Petit Pressigny celebrated a famous former resident, the internationally known scientist and geneticist, Axel Kahn who was born in the village. The house in which he was born received a plaque and a small garden was dedicated to him. It is just opposite the Michelin Restaurant, La Promenade.
For a small village it is very active (maybe not this year with Covid-19) but their usual annual programme included A Music Festival, and Arts festival, and many other celebrations. To find out more please visit the FACEBOOK PAGE of the Comité des Fêtes.
Le Celle Geunand is situated just 1.5 kms to the North of our Gites and is most famous for three things: The Church, The Chateau and the Annual Brocante:
Church – Notre Dame
The Church, Notre Dame, was built in the 12 century and has just undergone 1 million Euro refurbishment. Funds were provided by a grant from the Government’s Patrimoine fund. Its Baptismal Font is listed separately as a national treasure and I can say, from personal experience, that the church has an excellent acoustic. The 12th century nave is covered with an elongated ovoid dome on pendants and there are still the pillars of the original wooden bell tower.
The village has just under 400 inhabitants which increases seasonally. Back in the 1840s there were over 800 citizens, but as with many French villages the population has drifted towards the towns and cities where the is work and, potentially, a better standard of living.
In the Middle Ages and until 1570, what is now the village of La Celle-Guenand was divided into two châtellenies: the châtellenie of Celle-Guenand and the châtellenie of La Celle-Draon. Both had their own castles. (A “châtellenies” was, in the middle ages, the smallest administrative district allowable.) From this time there are underground refuges located under the current castle. The two fiefdoms came together at the end of the Middle Ages organised by the lords of Celle-Draon.
The building of the current Chateau started in the 15th Century. The first version was completed by Lord Antoine de Guenand in 1422. Through the ages it changed hands. René de Coutance, in 1570; Cantineau de Commacre family in 1780, and Pierre de Gaullier 1789.
There were many renovations in the 18th and 19th centuries which added several towers and other additional buildings.
The underground chambers have, over the years served as places of refuge for refugees in the religious wars and also for the resistance in the Second World War.
The Chateau is now privately owned and run as a Chambres D’hotes / Gite and is very popular for weddings and family celebrations.
The Annual Brocante.
The Annual Brocante in Celle-Geunand is probably the biggest brocante in the region. It happens on the last Sunday in July and just about everyone in the village is involved in its organisation. You can buy the most amazing things at this event. They are just too many to mention, so perhaps you, dear reader, should come and stay with us at Gites de La Richardière and visit the Brocante for your self.
This has been a brief history of the three closest villages to our Gites here at La Richardiere. It is by no means definitive and the accuracy of the information is reliant of ready published sources. If anyone has any interesting information which would enhance this post please forward it to us for credited inclusion.