|Intercommunality||Canton of Melle|
|• Mayor (2008–2014)||Yves Debien|
|• Land1||9.76 km2 (3.77 sq mi)|
|• Population2 density||400/km2 (1,000/sq mi)|
|INSEE/Postal code||79174 / 79500|
|Elevation||87–174 m (285–571 ft)
(avg. 119 m or 390 ft)
1 French Land Register data, which excludes lakes, ponds, glaciers > 1 km² (0.386 sq mi or 247 acres) and river estuaries.2 Population without double counting: residents of multiple communes (e.g., students and military personnel) only counted once.
The town was founded in the reign of Charlemagne as a mining centre and was, for a time, the home of the French mint: the Aachen penny of Charlemagne, the first coin of Charlemagne to be found at his capital of Aachen/Aix, was minted at Metullo. The silver mines which supplied the mint continued to function off and on before being forgotten altogether in the 18th century, not to be discovered again until the 20th century. The mine is now a tourist attraction and can be visited most days of the year.
In the Middle Ages, Melle flourished as a town, as we can see from its surviving medieval houses and the three churches, built in the Romanesque style during the 11th and 12th centuries.
Melle is an ancient town which has traditional French architecture, some dating back before the 17th century.
Melle is the site of the oldest silver mine in Europe still open to the public. The mine itself is some 20 km (12 mi) long, and visitors can explore 350 m of it, with guided tours each day.
The church of Saint-Hilaire was listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site as part of the World Heritage Sites of the Routes of Santiago de Compostela in France. The church of Saint-Hilaire has an "ecclesiastical juke-box" which plays hymns and chants.
Among other places to visit are the wash-houses and fountains of Melle. 400m from the church of Saint-Pierre is a small octagonal building with an arcade around its perimeter. There a fountain pours from the rock, into the basin where women gathered to do their washing. In the meadow nearby is a medieval fountain and basin, known as the Pré de la Maladerie, which was reserved for lepers.
Melle also boasts a 6 km (3.7 mi) walk known as the 'Arboretum, Chemin de la Découverte'. This walk passes more than 1000 species of trees and shrubs from the temperate areas of the world, and a collection of over 100 roses.
Today, Melle is a vibrant small town. It is the major hub of business for the nearby towns of Saint-Léger, Chef-Boutonne, and Celles-sur-Belle and this is demonstrated by its large business community and by the fact that it is home to the lycée (high school) for the region. Melle and the surrounding countryside is known for its own particular type of goat's cheese, 'chabichou'.
The rural atmosphere of Melle can be experienced nowhere better than at the weekly market (every Friday), selling fresh vegetables, meat, bread, cheeses and many other French delicacies, as well as clothing and household goods. The area surrounding Melle is full of Romanesque châteaux, mills, fountains and wash houses. There are forests of chestnut, walnut and parasol pines.
The town boasts a variety of traditional shops, as well as two large supermarkets and several restaurants featuring regional French cuisine, a popular steak house, and a pizza parlour.
One of the finest zoos in France is not far away. Zoorama in the Forest of Chizé, commune of Villiers-en-Bois, contains 600 animals in large enclosures, which can be observed from Hides and ditches.
Lambon, 10 km (6.2 mi) from Melle is a wonderful leisure centre for families. Rowing, sailing, swimming and fishing are all catered for, as is horse-riding over the 50 hectares of the site. There are also tennis courts and a children's playground.
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