Discovery of Tonnay-Charente and its Suspension Bridge

Tonnay-Charente
Share Discovery of Tonnay-Charente and its Suspension Bridge
Discovery of Tonnay-C ...
A link between the Atlantic Ocean and the interior of the Charente region, the Charente Valley benefits from a very rich past and heritage which is revealed today to the eyes of contemplatives. Situated on the right bank of the river, the river city of Tonnay-Charente with evocative tells the fascinating history of trade brandies of Cognac shipped worldwide from the 18th century. A stone's throw from the Charente maritime coasts, this former official port for the exports of precious spirits, emblematic of the region, has forged an extraordinary destiny. Come and find out...

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Tonnay-Charente: commercial port and historic river stopover

Tonnay-Charente
Tonnay-Charente


During an escape, Tonnay-Charente is one of those little detours where it is good to stroll and where you are sure to find an interesting heritage. Dominated by one of the oldest suspension bridges in Europe, this atypical town stretches lazily along the Charente and can be explored on foot or by bike to fully enjoy its port atmosphere and its superb panoramas. You cannot visit the city without walking along the quays of the river nicknamed by Henry IV the "most beautiful stream in the kingdom" which crosses the former provinces of Angoumois and Saintonge to join the ocean at Rochefort.  

The Charente has always known navigation. From the Middle Ages, this means of communication ensured the economic wealth of the region, in particular with the transport of wine and salt. This activity intensified in the 18th century when the river was channeled to facilitate the transport of salt produced on the coasts of Aunis and Saintonge as well as the transport of goods to the ocean such as brandy and wine in barrels, wheat, barley, freestone, paper and cannons. Tonnay-Charente then plays a major role in this transit operated by traditional flat-bottomed wooden boats called "gabarres". Like its big neighbor Rochefort, the city thrives on this very flourishing trade.


Tonnay-Charente

 

Walking through the quays which have been restored today, it is easy to imagine the effervescence and animation of this river port which welcomed more than 150 barges per day, loaded with barrels, cereals and other foodstuffs. The traffic was such that the merchants of Amsterdam demanded a "turn for the loading of ships"! We go back in time and we almost manage to visualize the incessant comings and goings of the boats which transported the production of Cognac and eaux-de-vie sold on the quays of Tonnay-Charente to travel the whole world, from England in the Far East. Architecturally, the predominance of old trading houses gives all its charm to the banks and to the city center. At the corner of rue de l'Eglise, be sure to observe the famous Maison Girard built in 1881 to house the offices, warehouses and distillery of high-end cognac merchant Etienne Girard.


Tonnay-Charente
Tonnay-Charente


If today the trade in eaux-de-vie has ceased, the port of Tonnay-Charente still exports cereals, animal feed, fertilizers, and mainly imports Russian and Baltic conifers. Managed by the Chamber of Commerce, it is twinned with that of Rochefort. Annually, some 900,000 tonnes of goods still pass through these ports.


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The Tonnay Charente Suspension Bridge, a breathtaking experience

Tonnay-Charente


By following the marked route from the quays of the lower town, notice some curiosities of the Tonnacquois heritage: the houses with colored shutters, the old cellars, the fountains, the wash house, the Saint-Étienne church. The weekly market is held on rue Kilmaine every Sunday morning from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.


Tonnay-Charente

The old town heart of Tonnay-Charente

Tonnay-Charente


Throughout our stroll in the heart of the city, the gaze inevitably falls on the gigantic bridge which spans the Charente. We therefore take the direction of the upper town built on the rocky and limestone escarpment which dominates the right bank of the river, originally developed around an old fortified castle whose remains of the ramparts are still partially visible. It will be necessary to climb a few dozen steps to reach the top where the famous suspension bridge stands majestically, which can be walked on or by bicycle because it has been forbidden to car traffic since 1964. This remarkable building claims a heritage importance which has resulted in an inscription in the historical monuments in 1988. From its footbridge, the panoramic views are breathtaking!


Tonnay-Charente  Tonnay-Charente
Tonnay-Charente  Tonnay-Charente


This exceptional, open-access bridge overlooks the Charente at 23 m above the highest water levels. Suffice to say that if you are subject to vertigo, refrain from crossing it!

Responding to the needs of the Charentais who were once obliged to use the ferry to reach the other side of the river, the bridge was inaugurated on April 21, 1842. With its 620 m long, it is one of the oldest bridges. suspended from Europe. The apron, 204 m long and 5 m wide, is supported by 51 pointed arches. The views are breathtaking over the town of Tonnay-Charente on the right bank, as well as the wild and marshy landscapes of the left bank which stretch as far as the eye can see. On the horizon, we can see the mouth of the Charente located 27 km away and the meanders of the river.  

An imposing monument, extremely photogenic and a must to discover during a stay in Charente Maritime!


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Article and photos prepared by Lesley Williamson for the Charente Maritime Guide


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