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History in Perigueux

There are many tours that will enable you to enjoy a full tour of Perigueux, and especially the history of the city. This is a part of the story… A Celtic tribe, the Petrucores, occupied the hills on the south bank of the Isle, and at the time of the creation of Aquitania by the Romans at the end of the 1st century BC, the territory became known as Civitas Petrucoriorum. The main oppidum, Vesunna (or Vesona), was named after a local god to whom a sacred spring was probably dedicated. A fine Roman town of some stature developed on the right bank, with forum, temples, amphitheatre, thermae and aqueducts, but this was attacked at the end of the 3rd century AD by the Alemani. The inhabitants of Vesunna rebuilt a smaller city within the walls, using the amphitheatre as a bastion of defence, and gradually the name Vesunna disappeared and the area became known as La Cite.

Legend has it that St Front brought Christianity to the Perigord; the first bishop recorded was Paternus in 360. The relics of St Front became crucially important and were placed in the first sanctuary on the hill, or puy, opposite La Cite. This developed into a monastic centre around which the suburb of Puy-St-Front grew up, eventually eclipsing the Cite where traditionally the nobles lived. The bourgeoisie, artisans and immigrants inhabited Puy-St-Front, which came under the protection of the King of France. By 1240 the two communities had come together as Perigueux, although unification was not necessarily harmonious.

There were severe attacks during the Hundred Years War, and by the Treaty of Bretigny (1360) the town was subjected to English administration. Accounts vary, but either Count Archambaud V betrayed the English, or the French hero Bertrand du Guesclin liberated the town in 1369. Renewal during the relatively peaceful period 1550-1650 produced the handsome Renaissance buildings which enhance the old centre. During the Reformation, Perigueux remained Catholic until taken by the Protestants (1575-81), was torn apart by the Civil Wars, and divided during the Fronde. By the 19th century navigation on the Isle provided employment and the arrival of the railway in 1856 opened up even more opportunities for the development of industry. The town grew rapidly and spread beyond its medieval confines, necessitating new roads and public buildings. The start of the 20th century coincided with a downturn, and the First World War and lack of employment decimated the population. During the Second World War some 25,000 refugees from Alsace swelled the numbers for a while. There was a strong Resistance network based in Perigueux which provoked the Germans to establish a garrison here for 21 months until Liberation in August 1944. The population is now around 60,000 and the suburbs are spreading. The largest employer is the French stamp print-shop, transferred here from Paris in 1970, but Perigueux is now best known as a gastronomic centre.

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