Home page > English > History


Contenu de la page : History

At the crossroads of two prestigious and historical routes, the Route des Dauphins which goes North-South and the Hannibal Road which goes East -West, Crest is the traditional stopping place for the visitor. How long has its Tower been dominating the City and who built it?

Many writers and historians have focused their attention on this picturesque place in the Drôme. All of them agree that the foundation of Crest dates back to the 10th Century, after a period of disturbances which happened at the end of the Roman occupation. At that time, the successive and repeated Barbarian forays had incited towns to settle at the top of the hills or surround themselves by walls.

However it is likely that the Tower was prior to the City and that it already existed in Roman times. Nowadays we talk about La Tour de Crest as if there were only one tower. At the end of the 19th Century, Local historians among whom the Minister Eugene Arnaud is the most representative, suggested the possibility that a watch tower be raised on the site of the current one. In fact, the study of its foundation led to the conclusion – one that has still to be confirmed -that it was built in the 4th Century AD. One thing is sure: The tower was built in order to guard the road from Valence to Italy. This is the famous “Hannibal Road” which played an important part in Antiquity.

The City of Crest was officially first mentioned in March 1120 when Pope Calixte ll stopped there. He wrote to the Bishops of Coimbra and Salamanque from “le château fortifié de Crest” (the fortified castle of Crest).

The foundation of Crest is attributed to the Arnauds. The name “Crest” comes from the latin “Crista Analdorum” meaning “Crête des Arnaud”. The Arnauds were a noble family who owned several castles in the region. They also owned Crest on a “franc alleu” basis which meant without paying any tax to anyone. But, in 1145. Arnaud of Crest named himself “Vassal of Hugues ll” in return for 1200 sols (the currency in Valence and Die) and forgiveness of his sins. Then, the Arnaud family was succeeded by the Poitiers, Earls of Valentinois and Diois. In 1138, Adémar de Poitiers granted “his people of Crest” a Charter of freedom and franchises while we learn from another charter in 1178 that the Bishop of Die had half of the city under his authority As early as 1170, the Bishops ruled the City and granted the inhabitants a few privileges. This situation led to frequent quarrels, which were to last for about two centuries. These opposed the Bishops and the Earls of Valentinois who wanted complete possession of the land and the fortified buildings. In 1217, the Albigesian war had some consequences for Crest: Simon de Montfort seized the city twice in five years. The Episcopal war ended in 1347 with the victory of Aymar VI de Poitiers. In order to reward the inhabitants who had remained faithful to him, he abolished some of their taxes. In 1382, Louis II de Poitiers moved his royal mint to the third floor of the dungeon. In 1419, he made Charles, Dauphin of the Viennois and son of the French king Charles VI sole legatee. In 1426, Crest became French. All through the following centuries, the sovereigns momentarily and briefly let the Valentinois which had become a dukedom slip from their authority. In consequence they also left Crest to Caesar Borgia (1498), to Diane de Poitiers (1548), and for a longer time to the Grimaldis, who were lords of Crest from 1643 to the French Revolution, in 1789.

On 26th January 1632, Louis XIII, who had stopped at Crest in 1629 on his way back from the Piedmont campaign, published an edict ordering the complete destruction of the citadel of Crest. This followed Richelieu’s order that all feudal fortresses be destroyed.

The local authorities managed to avoid part of this destruction programme: the Castle and the walls were demolished, but the Tower was spared.

It was at about that time that the Tower was turned into a prison where a number of key figures were locked up for political reasons. Following the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes (1684), a great number of Protestants were imprisoned there.

They were followed in the 18th C. by priests, soldiers, public servants and even nobles whose actions were not appreciated by the local authorities. People were imprisoned on a simple lettre de cachet, but they were given a great deal of freedom: the prisoners were allowed to organise receptions and balls and they would invite bigwigs of the city with their ladies. Thanks to these festivities, lots of escapes were recorded, the prisoners swapping their clothes with those of their guests. In 1811 under Napoleon, by Imperial decree, the Tower became the property of the Department, but in 1832 it was transferred to the Army who used it as a military prison. In 1851, on the order of Napoleon III, 600 Republicans were imprisoned in the dungeon. The numerous graffiti they left on the walls attest their faith and passion.