The Benedictian Abbey of Pontlevoy (Abbaye de Pontlevoy) was established in 1034. It made the town an important commercial and cultural center. A local knight named Gelduin de Chaumont founded to fulfill a vow. It is believed that Gelduin's boat was caught in a storm on the way back from a Crusade in the Holy Land. He prayed to the Virgin for help, promising to build Her a church in Pontlevoy, which he held as a vassal of the Count of Blois. Allegedly, the Virgin dressed in white, appeared above the rolling deck and calmed the sea.
Geldiun endowed the abbey with enough revenue for Benedictine monks to build a huge church, dedicated to the White Virgin. From the east, it looks like a complete Gothic cathedral with flying buttresses and trefoil stone tracery in the windows of the radiating chapels. There is a gravel courtyard where it the nave should be.
The church was almost completely destroyed during the Hundred Years' War. The monks rebuilt the apse and choir but couldn't afford to replace the rest. Inside, on the wall behind the altar, there is a little 11th-century statue of the White Virgin with her Child in her arms. The child leans against her left shoulder. She presses his left hand to her heart. The naif style indicates it was done by a local mason rather than a professional sculptor. The monks ran a hospital here, with a sanctuary for lepers, until the 16th century. But by 1623, when Cardinal Richelieu was named abbot, the monks had abandoned their vows and the buildings were in ruins.
Richelieu repaired them and brought in six Benedictine monks from St. Maur. They started a seminary for the sons of the nobility and the rich bourgeoisie. Students came even from England. In 1776, Louis XVI turned the school into one of the 12 royal military academies of France; a huge cedar of Lebanon in the courtyard was planted in honor of his accession to the throne.
In the 19th century after The Revolution, the college became a private, secular institution, proud of its conservative tradition producing famous scholars, provincial officials, priests and soldiers. It was a boarding school; some families moved to Pontlevoy to be near their sons. They built large, elegant houses with steep, slate roofs, walled gardens and spiked wrought-iron fences that still grace the town. The huge 18th-century building - three stories high with a mansard roof - resembles those government ministry buildings around the Palais Bourbon in Paris. The college closed for a period of time after the Second World War.
The previous owner of the abbey and the college was the Marquis du Vibraye, a descendant of Gelduin, allowed Pontlevoy to open a municipal museum on the third floor. The first two rooms displayed a collection of 19th- and early 20th- century cards advertising Poulain Chocolates. The company, founded by Auguste Poulain, who was born in Pontlevoy in 1815, is still a major manufacturer in Blois. Poulain was a pioneer of modern advertising. Each year his company issued a new series of brightly colored cards commemorating notable men (including Benjamin Franklin) with flowers and illustrations of fairy tales. They were collected and traded throughout Touraine in the 19th century.References:
The Porta Nigra (Latin for black gate) is the largest Roman city gate north of the Alps. It is designated as part of the Roman Monuments, Cathedral of St. Peter and Church of Our Lady in Trier UNESCO World Heritage Site. The name Porta Nigra originated in the Middle Ages due to the darkened colour of its stone; the original Roman name has not been preserved. Locals commonly refer to the Porta Nigra simply as Porta.
The Porta Nigra was built in grey sandstone between 186 and 200 AD. The original gate consisted of two four-storied towers, projecting as near semicircles on the outer side. A narrow courtyard separated the two gate openings on either side. For unknown reasons, however, the construction of the gate remained unfinished. For example, the stones at the northern (outer) side of the gate were never abraded, and the protruding stones would have made it impossible to install movable gates. Nonetheless, the gate was used for several centuries until the end of the Roman era in Trier.
In Roman times, the Porta Nigra was part of a system of four city gates, one of which stood at each side of the roughly rectangular Roman city. The Porta Nigra guarded the northern entry to the Roman city, while the Porta Alba (White Gate) was built in the east, the Porta Media (Middle Gate) in the south, and the Porta Inclyta (Famous Gate) in the west, next to the Roman bridge across the Moselle. The gates stood at the ends of the two main streets of the Roman Trier, one of which led north-south and the other east-west. Of these gates, only the Porta Nigra still exists today.
In the early Middle Ages the Roman city gates were no longer used for their original function and their stones were taken and reused for other buildings. Also iron and lead braces were broken out of the walls of the Porta Nigra for reuse. Traces of this destruction are still clearly visible on the north side of the gate.
After 1028, the Greek monk Simeon lived as a hermit in the ruins of the Porta Nigra. After his death (1035) and sanctification, the Simeonstift monastery was built next to the Porta Nigra to honor him. Saving it from further destruction, the Porta Nigra was transformed into a church: The inner court of the gate was roofed and intermediate ceilings were inserted. The two middle storeys of the former gate were converted into church naves: the upper storey being for the monks and the lower storey for the general public. The ground floor with the large gates was sealed, and a large outside staircase was constructed alongside the south side (the town side) of the gate, up to the lower storey of the church. A small staircase led further up to the upper storey. The church rooms were accessible through former windows of the western tower of the Porta Nigra that were enlarged to become entrance doors (still visible today). The top floor of the western tower was used as church tower, the eastern tower was leveled, and an apse added at its east side. An additional gate - the much smaller Simeon Gate - was built adjacent to the East side of the Porta Nigra and served as a city gate in medieval times.
In 1802 Napoleon Bonaparte dissolved the church in the Porta Nigra and the monastery beside it, along with the vast majority of Trier"s numerous churches and monasteries. On his visit to Trier in 1804, Napoleon ordered that the Porta Nigra be converted back to its Roman form. Only the apse was kept; but the eastern tower was not rebuilt to its original height. Local legend has it that Napoleon originally wanted to completely tear down the church, but locals convinced him that the church had actually been a Gaulish festival hall before being turned into a church. Another version of the story is that they told him about its Roman origins, persuading him to convert the gate back to its original form.
In 1986 the Porta Nigra was designated a World Heritage Site, along with other Roman monuments in Trier and its surroundings. The modern appearance of the Porta Nigra goes back almost unchanged to the reconstruction ordered by Napoleon. At the south side of the Porta Nigra, remains of Roman columns line the last 100 m of the street leading to the gate. Positioned where they had stood in Roman times, they give a slight impression of the aspect of the original Roman street that was lined with colonnades. The Porta Nigra, including the upper floors, is open to visitors.