In the Middle Ages, Pons was one of the strongholds of the Haute Saintonge area.
Today, this medieval town still boasts 12th century monuments in perfect condition, and also displays a great deal of interesting architectural features, for example the ramparts, the church of Saint Vivien, the chapel of Saint Gilles, and the 'Hôpital des Pèlerins' (Pilgrims' Hospital).
'Hôpital des Pèlerins' The 'Hôpital des Pèlerins' complex is better known as 'Hôpital Neuf' (New Hospital), and was first classified as a Historical Monument on 8th October 1879, before being listed as a World Heritage Site.
Built from 1150 to 1180 by Geoffroy III of Pons, the hospital was looked after by the Knights Templar for many years. It took in the poor, sick, and destitute (who very often finished their lives there, leaving what few possessions they had to the 'house'), as well as abandoned children, and also distributed food to those who had fallen on hard times.
It was also ideally positioned on the road to Santiago de Compostela, and quickly became a very popular place for pilgrims to stop off safe in the knowledge they would be offered sustenance in the form of a piece of bread and a spot of wine.
It stopped operating as a hospital after 1789. The church gate, a few of its walls, and the sepulchral troughs lined along each side of the corridor are the oldest existing remains on the site. Further evidence of this hospital can be seen in the form of the two doors opposite one another, whose geometric arches have been well preserved.
The capitals of the right-hand bases have been scrupulously finished, and on one of these that has been designed to receive the springing of the vault's arches, the 'Aiguille de Pons' (needle of Pons) can be seen, as a reminder of a local legend referring to an ancient feudal tribute.
The period pillars have also been conserved, although graffiti can be seen on the walls in the room to the right.
However, what really makes the 'Hôpital des Pèlerins' such an exceptional site is its vaulted passage, which is the only one of its kind in France. Indeed, only one other passage of its kind is known in the world, in Spain.
This rectangular tower built on a rocky base in a position overlooking the Seugne valley dates back to the end of the 12th century.
The first keep built here was razed to the ground by Richard the Lionheart, Duke of Aquitaine, in 1179.
Therefore, the building we see today was the tower rebuilt on the orders of Geoffroy III between 1180 and 1185 and belonged to the fortress. It is more than 30m high and has a commanding view of the town. In 1621, the fortress was not spared when the Protestant town surrendered, and was even demolished by King Louis XIII.
The battlements adorning the top of the building are not original, and were in fact added in the 20th century!
For more information:
Pons Tourist Information Office, Place de la République, 17800 Pons, France
Tel.: +33 (0) 5 46 96 13 31