Lauzerte, one of the most beautiful Villages of France

Lauzerte has been listed since April 1990 as one of the “Most Beautiful Villages of France”, villages selected for the quality of their heritage, of their architecture and of their environment. Obtaining this classification involves a rigorous selection process and retaining it requires constant efforts.

Les Plus Beaux Villages de France

Originally, the hill on which Lauzerte is located was a Gaulish oppidum or administrative centre. Its present name dates back to approximately 1000 AD. Derived from the Latin lucerna (lamp), it designates an ideal position, visible - like a light - from a distance.

At the end of the 12th century, the Count of Toulouse was gifted the hill in order to build a castelnau, a city protected by a castle. The foundation of the castelnau, given its strategic and economic advantages, was an instant success. Two hundred building plots were distributed to the first inhabitants, drawn by the freedoms they would earn. By around 1200, Lauzerte stretched along a single road, to the north, while a path circled the plateau to the south. Between the two, the space rapidly filled up and the square was built modelled on that of Montauban. Outlying neighbourhoods were later to complete the urbanisation of the fortified site.

Halting place on the pilgrimage route to Compostela, a thriving market town, populated and wealthy - witness its medieval houses - Lauzerte remains to this day one of the most beautiful and the most typical of the hill top castelnaus to be founded in the south of France.

Located in the heart of the Chasselas table grape appellation (certified area), where Quercy melons are also grown, Lauzerte does indeed look out over a mouth-watering landscape, its pathways meandering between limestone plateaus and gentle valleys. As the seasons unfold, the latter take on the colours of the fruit trees, sunflowers, sweet corn, vines, lavender…

The richness of the minor local heritage, dominated by the dazzling white of the limestone rock (pigeon towers, mills, isolated chapels, prosperous farms, etc.) echoes the charm of the village itself.

In the upper part of the village, a typical example of medieval architecture, houses are arranged around the church of Saint Barthélemy and the square, Place des Cornières, one of the finest in the region. The ramparts are a reminder of the role played by Lauzerte, alternately seized by the English and the French during the Hundred Years War. Early Gothic or Renaissance houses are a reminder that the medieval city was also much prized by rich magistrates and prosperous merchants. They knew full well how to defend the privilege of their quality of life. Today, Lauzerte follows in their footsteps, to the great delight of its many visitors. 


Comité Régional du Tourisme de Midi Pyrénées.

Tour of a bastide

Place des Cornières
The modestly proportioned square (35 x 30 metres) is laid out where the summit of the hill broadens out, giving the greatest scope for building. Focus of community life in the bastide par excellence: markets, proclamations of consular decisions, and place of entertainment and execution alike. Bordered on three sides by basket handle or three-centred semi-circular arches and houses dating from the 15th to the 18th centuries, the square also boasts the corner house which lends it its name.

The church of Saint Barthélemy
The church is positioned at an unusual angle, perpendicular to the square. Of the earliest 13th century building, only the first bay and the doorway opening onto the square survive. In the course of various reconstructions and enlargements, the church has been somewhat thrown off balance and the various phases of these works can be clearly identified. Inside, some interesting features: stalls, paintings, a Baroque altar, painted panels attributed to Joseph Ingres and his pupils, and a pipe organ.


The Barbican
Now that the great periods of strife are over, this defensive military structure, designed to protect the Auriac gateway from assaults launched from the lower part of the village, has given way to a graceful esplanade. Its magnificent views indeed inspired a local poet, Pierre Sourbié (1906-1985), to write a poem entitled La Barbacane.

The Pilgrim’s Garden
This unusual garden traces the history and the journey of self-discovery of the pilgrimage of Santiago de Compostela. .
The garden takes the form of the Game of the Goose. The players or visitors progress along a path dotted with squares and numbered panels, following stages recounting the daily life of the pilgrim.
Free entry. Open all year. Explanatory notes and dice are available from the Office de Tourisme.

The medieval houses of the Grand Rue and the Rue de la Gendarmerie
Lauzerte can hardly be said to conform to the classic chessboard layout of a bastide and this can be explained by the nature of the site. Two long streets cling to the contours of the hilltop, linked by narrow transverse alleys. Lined with merchants’ houses built of dressed white stone and dating from the 13th and 14th centuries, these are a visible legacy of the most opulent period of civil construction in the bastide. They recall the prosperous days when Lauzerte acted as a granary for the city of Cahors. The unity of their façades can still be made out beneath more recent transformations: on the ground floor, two pointed arches (the larger reserved for the shop, the smaller giving access to the living area); a mezzanine floor lit by small openings to display merchandise; a first floor serving as a living area and the finest part of the house, opening onto two gemeled windows with carved capitals; and finally an attic floor lit by a single circular window.
13th century merchant’s house. Drawing by René Bandoch

The former Clarisse convent
This ensemble of buildings housed a community of Poor Clare Sisters from the 17th century until the Revolution. It was subsequently the police headquarters, hence the current name of the Rue de la Gendarmerie. Renaissance façade (doorway, mullion windows). Private property.

Place de la Brêche
This square takes its name from the various occasions on which the defences were breached here (by the English during the Hundred Years War and by protestants during the Wars of Religion) . Ceramic fountain and pyramids by Jacques Buchholtz in the garden below.

Rue de la Mairie
The bastide’s second main artery. This street corresponds to the castelnau’s first attribution of building plots, subsequently the most modified. Dwellings dating from the 18th century with some remaining medieval features (doors, windows, etc.). The quarter of the rich and powerful, in contrast to the outlying areas (home to the common people and the tanners).

 

Place du Château
The square from which Lauzerte’s strategic and naturally defensive position can best be appreciated, formerly a fort, overlooking the valley of the Barguelonne to the north and the valley of the Lendou to the east. Location of the former castle.

The Carmelite church
At the foot of the village, as you leave the Faubourg d’Auriac. Originally built following the installation of the Order in the 14th century, rebuilt in the 17th century following the Wars of Religion and modified in the 19th century. Baroque altar, pipe organ, pulpit.

Promenade de l’Eveillé
Built by the Consuls (or bastide administrators) in the 18th century on the site of the former moats, the promenade provided the inhabitants with a place both for strolling and for holding cattle fairs. The outer façades of the houses, set deep into the rock, served as ramparts.

Local history

Lauzerte dominates the valleys of the Barguelonne and the Lendou, providing a natural defensive site. The period which has most marked the identity of Lauzerte is the Middle Ages. At the end of the 12th century, two local noblemen approached Raymond V, the Count of Toulouse, with a request to establish a castle and a plot of 200 houses on the site: this marked the birth of the Castelnau, an urbanisation movement prefiguring bastides, reflecting both a policy of land use and a strategic move in the face of the English threat, hard by. According to the historian Charles Higounet, the construction of Lauzerte could be said to represent both the peak and the end of this movement. The fortress, with its castle, enclosure, towers and six fortified gateways were the pride both of the inhabitants and of the kings of France. Henri IV depicted it as “one of our four keys of the said Quercy land […] virtually impregnable, as much thanks to its location as to its fortress.” Despite this, it was occupied by the English and later suffered under the Wars of Religion. Lauzerte’s prosperity can be attributed to the existence of a secondary senechalsy (or court of appeal), created between 1450 and 1500, the authority of which extended over some hundred communes. Its exercise of economic control over the surrounding countryside and the offerings left by pilgrims on their journey were the other main sources of Lauzerte’s wealth.

A few dates… 

11th century: The Pays (or extended area) belongs to the Lords of CASTELNAU-MONTRATIER.
12th century: LAUZERTE becomes the property of the Chapter of CAHORS, which pledges it to the Lords of AUCASTELS, the DE CASTANHER family.
1176 Raymond V, Count of Toulouse, attracted by the dominant position of the “PUOIG DE LAUZERTE” (the Lauzerte summit), requests it from ARNAUD GAUSBERT DE CASTANHER as a gift.
1194 Raymond V promises to bestow Customs and privileges on both the inhabitants and the Lords and all this is confirmed in a Charter.
1241 Raymond VII, grandson of Raymond V, fulfils his grandfather’s promises. The Charter is placed in the hands of the inhabitants.
1251 Alphonse of Poitiers, brother of Saint Louis, husband of Jeanne of Toulouse, accompanies the latter on a visit to Lauzerte.
1259 The treaty of Paris gives Quercy to the King of England. The English meet fierce resistance when they attempt to occupy LAUZERTE and great carnage ensues, witness the many weapons and human bones found on the small Place du Carnel (charnel-house square).
1269 Alphonse de Poitiers and his wife visit once again. The Count makes a gift of 60 solidi (gold coins) for the hospice, while the Countess Jeanne gives the same amount for the Maladrerie (leper-house).
1271 Death of Alphonse of Poitiers. For the first time, LAUZERTE passes under the direct dominion of the King of France.
1272 The King of England challenges the will of Alphonse of Poitiers, leaving Quercy to the King of France, Philip III, known as “the Bold”. [NDLT: Philippe III, pas XI, à corriger dans le français].
1289 The King of England obtains an annuity of £3,000. LAUZERTE is still occupied by the English.
1291 Quercy revolts. LAUZERTE frees itself from the English occupation on its own. As a reward, Philip the Fair, by letters patent, elevates Lauzerte to the rank of chief bailiwick, châtellenie of Quercy (with judicial and administrative authority), and Seat of the senechalsy (or court of appeal).
1305 Foundation of the Carmelite convent, restoration and new consecration of the Cathedral of Our Lady of VAULX.
1320 Massacre of the Jews by the Pastoureaux.
1346 Hugh of Cardailhac puts LAUZERTE on a serious defensive footing, enabling the inhabitants to hold out against the King of England and his allies. Thanks to this resistance, LAUZERTE enjoys the favours of King John the Good.
1562 On 15 August, DURAS, at the head of a protestant army, succeeds in penetrating LAUZERTE as the villagers celebrate a feast day. The battle between Catholics and Protestants turns in favour of the latter, leaving 567 dead including 194 priests.
1572 LAUZERTE is once more in the Catholic camp thanks to Terride and his soldiers.
1789 LAUZERTE is represented in the Third Estate. A Cahier de doléances (list of grievances) is drawn up, and the 58 elected members designate ARNAUD GOUGES CARTOU, a merchant in favour of reform, to represent them.
1800 With the elimination of districts, LAUZERTE is no longer any more than a Canton capital.
1808 Napoleon I creates the department of Tarn-et-Garonne. LAUZERTE, which until then was in the Lot, is attached to the new department.

 

Documentary on Lauzerte’s history, heritage and cultural figures, and hommage to Jacques Buchholtz, world famous ceramist.
DVD made by inmediaprod, on sale at the Office de Tourisme.

www.inmediaprod.com

 
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