Sainte-Suzanne (Mayenne) is a village of one thousand inhabitants located in Western France between Le Mans (Sarthe) and Laval (Mayenne).
Main town of the district of Erve and Charnie, Sainte-Suzanne lies 11 km from the Vaiges exit of the A11 motorway.
Situated at an altitude of between 86 metres and 220 metres above sea level Sainte-Suzanne covers an area of 23.14 square kilometers.
Sainte-Suzanne has five seals of approval from various organisations :
• One of « les plus beaux villages de France » (Most beautiful villages in France)
• Petite Cité de caractère (Small town of character)
• Pays d’Art et d’Histoire ( Region of Art and History)
• Station verte de vacances (Green holidays resort)
• Terra Incognita
It has also been designated as a tourist village.
The walled town history
Man first settled on the rock hanging some 60 metres above the river Erve in prehistoric times. Evidence of this is the Erves dolmen, the remains of which lie three kilometres from Sainte-Suzanne and which date from 4000 years BC.
Sainte-Suzanne is renowned in the history of both the county of Maine and England as the famous fortress which resisted the army of William the Conqueror when he laid siege to it between 1083 and 1087 : « the only castle the Conqueror himself could not take ».
At the time, Hubert II viscount de Beaumont was pursued by William’s soldiers. Although he possessed two other castles in Maine, he sought refuge in his third castle, Sainte-Suzanne, which was reputed to be impregnable. Having failed to capture the town,William decided to mount a siege and established a camp (moat) in the Beugi valley some 800 metres North of the town ramparts.He abandoned the siege in 1087 shortly before his death.
Unvanquished by William the Conqueror in the 11th century, during the Hundred Years’ War in the 15th century, Sainte-Suzanne was to prove vulnerable to the onslaught of English bombards (early cannons) and was occupied by the English for 14 years.
In 1439, an Englishman called John Ferremen betrayed his own side and allowed the French to enter and recapture the town.
At the beginning of the 17th century, a new « château « was built by Fouquet de la Varanne, one of the ministers of king Henry IV but the building was never completed.
There followed a period of economic prosperity for the town : markets and a fair authorized by king Louis XIV in 1661; numerous mills were operating along the river Erve and a salt store was erected in the 18th century. The city population increased to reach 1811 inhabitants in 1856.
The stone castle and the city
Built on the top of a rocky spur, the castle comprises buildings from differents periods :
the oldest, the stone keep, dates from the beginning of the 11th century
the outer walls built in the 13th century and modified in the 15th century to accommodate artillery
the «château »of Fouquet de la Varanne, known as the « Logis »dates from the 17th century
The castle itself covering an area of 8000 square metres, includes eight round towers, four square towers and the former drawbridge. It is owned by the Conseil Général de la Mayenne (the regional council) which has created a center for the study of the local heritage and architecture.
The medieval town which is triangular in outline, is protected by high walls and there were originally eight towers, but four of these were destroyed in the 18th century. There were also two bastions corresponding to the Northern and Southern entrances to the town. The walls are 750 metres long and the part of the town within the walls covers an area of 2.5 square metres.
Opportunities and challenges
1- Preserving and improving the town’s five seals of approval, especially that as one of the most beautiful villages in France
2- Completing the work of burying all electricity and telephone cables close to protected sites or visible from the castle
3- Continuing the work to improve the town’s appearance and floral displays
4- Carrying out archeological digs at the site of William the Conqueror ‘s camp and developing the ICOMOS seal of approval
5- Developing mediaeval festivals and other activities in the town
Raising the height of old retaining walls on the castle slopes, with both public and private financial support
Planting vines around the outer walls as in the Middle Ages
Illuminating the castle, with aid from the Conseil Général de la Mayenne
Mr Jean-Pierre MORTEVEILLE, mayor of Sainte-Suzanne and president of the Erve and Charnie district
Sainte-Suzanne City Hall (53270) FRANCE
Tel : 02 43 01 40 10
e-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org
EWT contact person
Mr Jean BELLANGER
« Sainte-Suzanne friendship association »
5,Rue Jean de BUEIL
Tel : 02 43 01 45 00
e-mail : email@example.com