"AGEN" Agen by Lady_Mystique
Agen Travel Guide: 5 reviews and 15 photos
AGEN, capital of the Lot-et-Garonne département, is a more pleasant town than it first appears. It was quartered by modern boulevards in the nineteenth century in its own version of a Haussmann clean-up, and it's down these roads that you're funnelled into the town, with the result that you see nothing of interest.
The town lies on the broad, powerful River Garonne halfway between Bordeaux and Toulouse, and lived through the Middle Ages racked by war with England and internecine strife between Catholics and Protestants. But it was able to extract some advantage from disputes as it see-sawed between the English and French, gaining more and more privileges of independence as the price of its loyalty – a tradition that it maintained during and after the Revolution by being staunchly republican (the churches still bear the legend: Liberté, Fraternité, Égalité).
Its pre-Revolutionary wealth derived from the manufacture of various kinds of cloth and its thriving port on the Garonne, which in those days was alive with river traffic. But the Industrial Revolution put paid to all of that. Agen's prosperity now is based on agriculture – in particular, its famous prunes and plums, said to have been brought back from Damascus during the Crusades.
The interesting part of Agen centres on place Goya, where boulevard de la République, leading to the river, crosses boulevard du Président-Carnot.
On the south side of boulevard de la République, the main shopping area is around place Wilson, rue Garonne and the partly arcaded place des Laitiers.
A left turn at the end of rue Garonne brings you to the wide place du Dr-Esquirol and an exuberant fin-de-siècle municipal theatre; opposite this is the Musée Municipal des Beaux-Arts (daily except Tues: May–Sept 10am–6pm; Oct–April 10am–5pm; €3.85), magnificently housed in four adjacent sixteenth- and seventeeth-century mansions. The collections include a rich variety of archeological finds, Roman and medieval, furniture and paintings – among the latter some Goyas and a Tintoretto rediscovered in the museum basement during an inventory in 1997.
Not far from the museum, in place du Bourg at the end of rue des Droits-de-l'Homme, the cute little thirteenth-century church of Notre-Dame is also worth a look.
Behind the theatre, the rue Beauville, with heavily restored but beautiful medieval houses, leads through to rue Voltaire, which is full of ethnic restaurants, and rue Richard-Coecur-de-Lion, leading to the Église des Jacobins, a big brick Dominican church of the thirteenth century, its barn-like interior divided by a single centre row of pillars, very like its counterpart in Toulouse; the deconsecrated church is now used for temporary art exhibitions.
Beyond lie the river and the public gardens of Le Gravier, where a market is held every Saturday morning; there's a footbridge across the Garonne, from where you can see a canal bridge dating from 1839 further downstream.
Opposite place Wilson on the north side of boulevard de la République, the arcaded rue Cornières leads through to the Cathédrale St-Caprais, somewhat misshapen but with a finely proportioned Romanesque apse and radiating chapels still surviving.
There's a piece of the original fortifications still showing in rue des Augustins close by – the Tour du Chapelet – dating from around 1100.
Again nearby, in rue du Puits-du-Saumon, is one of the finest houses in town, the fourteenth-century Maison du Sénéchal, with an elaborate open loggia on the first floor.
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