From the top of its rocky outcrop overlooking the Erve valley, behind its ramparts and its keep which successfully challenged William the Conqueror, hides one of the Most Beautiful Villages of France, the little medieval city of Sainte-Suzanne. Located in the heart of land of art and history Coëvrons-Mayenne, it is a village rich in history but also in charm and character. Ideal historical discovery destination for the family, it can also be it for lovers under the benevolent gaze of Saint Suzanne, patron saint of the fiancés.
From the origins to the Middle Ages: the story of a fortified village
Former stronghold of the XIe century, the remains of Sainte-Suzanne go back well beyond the feudal period. Numerous Celtic vestiges attest to the antiquity of a human settlement. If on the one hand, the oldest monument in the department dating from the IVe millennium BC, the Dolmen des Erves, rests only a few kilometers from the village, it is above all recent archaeological excavations which allowed to attest the origins of the city around the Ve-VIe centuries BC. These excavations revealed in particular the presence of vitrified stones at the foot of the ramparts of the city that the visitor will be able to discover while walking along the fortifications. This is an ancient technique of solidifying walls that we can find as the basis of the ramparts mainly in Scotland and Hungary. The technique of vitrified stones was then taken up by the Romans and remains today an enigma for researchers unable to reproduce it.
It is thus from its origins that Sainte-Suzanne presented itself as a fortified village but which did not really take off until the feudal period with the construction of a keep in the XIe century by the Viscounts of Beaumont who were quickly at grips with William the Conqueror from 1083. The latter vainly besieged the fortress for nearly four years, paradoxically making the wealth of the besieged. The defenders of Sainte-Suzanne repeatedly took the Norman nobles prisoner in order to free them against ransom. On William's death, his heirs gave up continuing hostilities, making the castle of Sainte-Suzanne the only fortress that resisted the Conqueror. Subsequently, the city continued to strengthen, becoming the recurring object of clashes between English and French during the Hundred Years War. The ramparts of the wall were as such undermined by the beginnings of artillery. Defended by a companion of Joan of Arc, Ambroise de Loré, the city was taken by the English masters of Normandy in 1425. It was not until 1439 that the French troops recovered the fortified village thanks to - this is what the they say - with the complicity of an English soldier, married to a Suzannaise.
Following the Hundred Years War and apart from the period of the wars of religion where the city was again besieged, this time by the Leaguers, Sainte-Suzanne experienced a long period of peace, diversifying economically over time: agriculture , breeding, crafts, etc. The visitor will be able to retrace the history of the city thanks to the associative museum of the audience but also by the visit of the castle which has become a Center of Interpretation of Architecture and Heritage (CIAP).
If the ramparts bordering it date from the fourteenthe and XVe centuries, the castle itself dates from the XVIIe century. Indeed, on the ruins of the old fortress bought in 1604 from Queen Marguerite of France, Guillaume Fouquet de la Varenne, Minister of Henri IV, wanted to transform this old castle into a residential residence. However, with the assassination of the good king in 1610, Fouquet de la Varenne fell out of favor. He could not complete his project, the only part then completed being the house, a beautiful body of building between Renaissance style and classical style, characteristic of the architecture of the great Century. This explains to the visitor why today the old and massive ruined keep of the XIe and the beautiful but sober and frail dwelling housing a Center for the Interpretation of Architecture and Heritage.
Project of the General Council to restore it to present the history and heritage of the department, the Château de Sainte-Suzanne is not a simple museum but a CIAP. In other words, this space focuses above all on interactivity with the visitor by providing documentation spaces and databases of information on the heritage of Mayenne, by scheduling events, meetings and debates or even by supporting a regular renewal of temporary exhibitions in order to highlight certain aspects of the territory of the department. Also accessible to the disabled, the CIAP shows its willingness to work with all audiences by presenting all the heritage of Mayenne. Because if a part of the castle is obviously attached to the history of Sainte-Suzanne, it is indeed 300,000 years of history of a department which are revealed through the architectural, archaeological and, in particular, natural heritage, all in a fun and very interactive way.
Sainte-Suzanne: a dive into history
A charming medieval city, Sainte-Suzanne is not without reason collecting tourist labels. Playing on his patronage of fiancés with for example a very good concept of lover's lodge housed in a hovel of the XIVe century, Sainte-Suzanne offers in many aspects a real dive into the history of its department, both global thanks to its castle and above all medieval and modern through the city with its maze of cobbled streets, its ancient monuments such as the attic salt or its walk along the towers and ramparts. In addition, with its Gothic calligraphy and illumination workshop that will thrill young and old, its demonstrations on the weapons of the Middle Ages and the Renaissance or its soap-making crafts, etc., Sainte-Suzanne offers its visitors various and very interesting animations helping to extend this journey through time.