Tours is a city in central France, the capital of the Indre-et-Loire department.
It stands on the lower reaches of the river Loire, between Orléans and the Atlantic coast. Touraine, the region around Tours, is known for its wines, the alleged perfection (as perceived by some speakers) of its local spoken French, and the Battle of Tours in 732. It is also the site of the Paris–Tours road bicycle race. Tours is the largest city in the Centre region of France, although it is not the regional capital, which is the region's second-largest city, Orléans.
In Gallic times the city was important as a crossing point of the Loire. Becoming part of the Roman Empire during the first century AD, the city was named "Caesarodunum" ("hill of Caesar"). The name evolved in the 4th century when the original Gallic name, Turones, became first "Civitas Turonum" then "Tours". It was at this time that the amphitheatre of Tours, one of the five largest in the Empire, was built. Tours became the metropolis of the Roman province of Lugdunum towards 380–388, dominating the Loire Valley, Maine and Brittany. One of the outstanding figures of the history of the city was Saint Martin, second bishop who shared his coat with a naked beggar in Amiens. This incident and the importance of Martin in the medieval Christian West made Tours, and its position on the route of pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, a major centre during the Middle Ages.
In 732 AD, Abdul Rahman Al Ghafiqi and a large army of Muslim horsemen from Al-Andalus advanced 500 km deep into France, and were stopped at Tours by Charles Martel and his infantry igniting the Battle of Tours. The outcome was defeat for the Muslims, preventing France from Islamic conquest. In 845, Tours repulsed the first attack of the Viking chief Hasting (Haesten). In 850, the Vikings settled at the mouths of the Seine and the Loire. Still led by Hasting, they went up the Loire again in 852 and sacked Angers, Tours and the abbey of Marmoutier.
During the Middle Ages, Tours consisted of two juxtaposed and competing centres. The "City" in the east, successor of the late Roman 'castrum', was composed of the archiepiscopal establishment (the cathedral and palace of the archbishops) and of the castle of Tours, seat of the authority of the Counts of Tours (later Counts of Anjou) and of the King of France. In the west, the "new city" structured around the Abbey of Saint Martin was freed from the control of the City during the 10th century (an enclosure was built towards 918) and became "Châteauneuf". This space, organized between Saint Martin and the Loire, became the economic centre of Tours. Between these two centres remained Varenne, vineyards and fields, little occupied except for the Abbaye Saint-Julien established on the banks of the Loire. The two centres were linked during the 14th century. Tours is a good example of a medieval double city.
The recent history of Tours is marked by the personality of Jean Royer, who was Mayor for 36 years and helped to save the old town from demolition by establishing one of the first Conservation Areas. This example of conservation policy would later inspire the Malraux Law for the safeguarding of historic city centres. In the 1970s, Jean Royer also extended the city to the south by diverting the course of the River Cher to create the districts of Rives du Cher and des Fontaines; at the time, this was one of the largest urban developments in Europe.
- Saint Gatien's Cathedral is the Roman Catholic cathedral church of the Tours diocese and the metropolitan cathedral of the Tours ecclesiastic province. Saint-Gatien's Cathedral was built between 1170 and 1547. At the time construction began, it was located at the south end of the bridge over the Loire, on the road from Paris to the south-west of France. It has been a classified Monument historique since 1862.
- The Basilique de St-Martin The new Basilique de St-Martin is neo-Byzantine in style and is much smaller than its great medieval predecessor. Next to it stand the only remains of the Romanesque basilica: the Tour de Charlemagne and the western clock tower. The relics and shrine to St. Martin are in the basilica's crypt, the walls of which are carved with hundreds of votive prayers dedicated to the saint. In December 1860, excavations located the site of St. Martin's tomb, of which some fragments were discovered. A new basilica to house these relics was constructed by Mgr Meignan, Archbishop of Tours, from 1886-1924. Martin's tomb is still a place of pilgrimage for the faithful.
- The Musée des beaux-arts de Tours is located in the bishop's former palace, near the cathedral St. Gatien, where it has been since 1910. It displays rich and varied collections, including that of painting which is one of the first in France both in quality and the diversity of the works presented. The museum has over 12,000 works but only 1,000 are on show to the public. On the ground floor, the museum has a room especially dedicated to Tours art of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. The museum was classified as a monument historique on 27 June 1983.
- Pont Wilson. Crossing the River Loire, is the elegant Pont Wilson. Known locally as the pont de pierre (stone bridge), it is an exact replica of the original 18th century bridge which collapsed in a flood in 1978. It had previously been repaired after serious damage in the Second World War. On the opposite bank from Tours city centre are four pavilions arranged in a semi-circle to create a small plaza.
- The Château de Tours Built in the 11th century, the building displayed an architecture of the Carolingian period, and was the residence of the Lords of France. Until the 2000s, the Royal Castle of Tours was used as an aquarium where about 1,500 fish of 200 different species could be seen. It also served as Grévin museum. The castle was classified as monument historique on 20 August 1913. Currently, the building houses contemporary exhibitions of paintings and photographs, including works by Joan Miró, Daniel Buren, Nadar, and the workshop of Tours history where archeological and historical documents, models, audio-visual films on the history of Tours, etc., are shown.