The city of Saint-Lô in north western France is the capital of the department of the Manche. It is situated in the region of Lower-Normandy, Basse-Normandie. It lies on a promontory dominating the Vire River valley.
The city of Saint-Lô lies on a rocky spur dominating the valley of the river Vire. In ancient times it was called Briovere by the Gauls, then in the 6th century the city was re-named after Saint Lô, Bishop of Coutances. Saint Lô was said to have cured a blind woman.
In June 1944, the city of Saint-Lô was almost totally destroyed during the Battle of Normandy in World War II. One of the largest air attacks of all time started during the night on 6 June 1944. It ended on 19 July 1944 with the surrender of the German troops. 95% of the city had been destroyed and hundreds of its inhabitants killed. The city was awarded the Légion d'Honneur (rank of Chevalier), with the War Cross and palms by the President of the Republic Vincent Auriol who stated 'During the night of 6 to 7 June 1944, the city was submitted to such a huge bombing that its inhabitants are entitled to consider themselves as citizens of the 'Capital of the Ruins'.
After the war it was initially planned to rebuild the city of Saint-Lô elsewhere and to keep the ruins as a memorial, but eventually it was decided to rebuild it. Its reconstruction was completed in 1962. Two towers remained of the Notre-Dame church, originally built in Flamboyant Gothic style from the 13th to the 15th centuries, were incorporated into the rebuilt church. Also the former prison was transformed into a War and Resistance memorial. The prison’s porch is one of the remains of the ancient city.
A Franco-American Memorial Hospital was built in Saint-Lô after the war. As partial reparations for the destruction of the city the American established, at that time, the largest hospital in Europe. The hospital was decorated with a big mosaic by Fernand Léger (1881-1955), celebrating the Allies' friendship.
One enduring feature of St-Lô is the National Stud Farm a fine example of architecture from the 19th century. The centrally located equestrian centre has become home to the largest of the 23 national stud farms in France. It was said of St-Lô 'the ruined capital' has become 'the capital of the horse'.
The Museum of Fine Arts located at the place du Champ de Mars has on display some wonderful ancient tapestries from the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries. Also modern paintings and drawings by great painters, such as Corot, Millet, Boudin, Morot, Jordaens and Gericault, evoking Saint Lo pre-war and its reconstruction from the ‘Capital of Ruins’.