Saintes, is a commune located in southwestern France, in Poitou-Charente and Charente-Maritime department of which it is a sub-prefecture. Its inhabitants are called Saintaises and Saintais. Saintes is the second largest city in Charente-Maritime, with inhabitants in 2008; and it has the second largest metropolitan area in the department, with inhabitants.
In Roman times, Saintes was known as Mediolanum Santonum, and during much of its history, the name of the city was spelled Xaintes and Xainctes.
Primarily built on the left bank of the river Charente, Saintes became the first Roman capital of Aquitaine, and later, the capital of the province of Saintonge under the Ancien Régime. Following the French Revolution, it briefly became the prefecture of the department (then called Charente-Inférieure) during the territorial reorganization of 1790, until La Rochelle took its place in 1810. Even though it was but a subprefecture, Saintes was allowed to remain the center of the judiciary life in the department. In the last third of the 19th century, Saintes was chosen as the seat of the VIIIth arrondissement of the Chemins de Fer de l'État, which enabled an era of economic and demographic growth.
Today, Saintes remains the economic heart of the center of the department and it is an important transportation hub. Its industry counts but a few companies (electronics industry, rail repair, construction of hoists), but the city is an important commercial (with the seat of Coop Atlantique) and tertiary center (administrative functions of state, criminal court and judicial activities, banks, schools, hospital).
Because of its noteworthy Gallo-Roman, medieval and classical heritage, Saintes is a popular touristic destination, member of the French Towns and Lands of Art and History since 1990. It has several museums, a theater, cinemas, and organizes numerous festivals. A European center of musical research and practice is located in the Abbaye aux Dames.