160 miles south of Calais and just 20 miles short of Paris lies Pontoise, the picturesque town twinned with Sevenoaks since the early 1960's. A place full of history too, who's origins pre-date Sevenoaks by almost a millennium. The Romans called it Pons Hisarae, from which evolved the current name, Pontoise, the bridge over the river Oise.
Once one of the principal towns in medieval France, its castle provided both a royal residence and an imposing fortress. It became an important centre for skilled craftsmen and a major agricultural market. However, plague, war and revolution all took their toll and several centuries of decline followed. It wasn't until the coming of the railway that Pontoise saw a revival in its fortunes. It was then that the impressionist painters discovered the Oise valley and Camille Pissarro settled in the town.
Opening of the Foire Saint-Martin
With around 30,000 inhabitants, present day Pontoise is about fifty per cent larger than Sevenoaks but is itself in danger of being dwarfed by the adjacent new town of Cergy, built since the advent of our twinning and its partner in the modern conurbation of Cergy-Pontoise. However, Pontoisiens are fiercely independent and visitors will be impressed by their sense of history and culture.
Above the town's ramparts, on the site of the old castle, stands the Pissarro Museum, one of several art galleries to be found. Beneath it, in fact beneath much of the old town, one can explore numerous vaulted tunnels, dating from the 13th century. And, of course, the town is dominated by the magnificent Saint-Maclou cathedral.
Left - View from the Ramparts
A packed calendar of events starts the year with the International Piano Campus and ends with one of the world's oldest fairs, the Foire Saint-Martin dating from 1170. Salted herring, for which Pontoise was once famous is still served on the opening day. In between comes the Spring medieval spectacular "Bouquet Provincial", the Autumn Baroque Music Festival and much more.
In fact, far too much to list here, and more than enough to support the increasing cultural links and growing bond of friendship between our two towns. The Friends of Pontoise is always happy to welcome new members and, be reassured, fluency in French is by no means essential.
Medieval tunnels beneath Pontoise.
If you would like further information on our twinning activities, or on Pontoise itself, please take a look at these websites:-http://www.friendsofpontoise.co.uk
Sevenoaks Town Council Offices n Bradbourne Vale Road n Sevenoaks n Kent n TN13 3QG