Beautiful Bastide: Villeneuve-d’Aveyron

Villeneuve - Porte Haute

Villeneuve – Porte Haute

Today is la fête de la Pentecôte (Pentecost) in France – for those of you who think I don’t know my dates, this was posted late on Monday. And in keeping with the tradition of public holidays it’s cold and grey. In fact, the weather the whole weekend was lousy. In addition, the entire area’s electricity went off at 13h15 on Saturday and EDF didn’t restore it until 20h00. This necessitated a move to Plan B for the dinner party we were holding that evening. It will have been even more annoying for the disco and funfair at our local village – both dependent on electricity to pull in the punters.

However, that wasn’t what I intended to write about. Instead, I’ll return to one of the only sunny days we’ve had so far this year when I took a little trip into the Aveyron. I’ve already written about the spectacular site at Peyrusse le Roc, which I visited that day. But my first port of call was to Villeneuve-d’Aveyron, a compact bastide town a few kilometers from Villefranche-de-Rouergue towards Figeac.

As ever, out of season few people were around, just the townspeople going about their daily business. I was the only “tourist” – conspicuous with my camera and notebook. Everybody smilingly wished me “bonjour”. You don’t get that in Paris.

The Hundred Years War was behind the urban development of SW France during the 13th and 14th centuries. Some 600 new towns (bastides) were established to provide protection to local people, accommodate the growing population and develop trade and commerce. Raymond VII of Toulouse built Villeneuve in 1231, an outpost at the northernmost limit of his lands. Only four others were built in the Aveyron, which was on the edge of the conflicts: Villefranche-de-Rouergue, Najac, Sauveterre-de-Rouergue and Labastide-L’Evêque.

La Place des Conques

La Place des Conques

Villeneuve is like other bastides in that the streets are in a grid pattern around a central market square. La Place des Conques has characteristic arcades that protected the stallholders’ goods. However, not all the alleyways are arrow straight and some meander around improbable corners, testifying to a settlement that existed here long before the founding of the bastide. In the 11th century the Bishop of Rodez had already established a sauveté around the church: an enclave protected by the Catholic Church in which temporal laws had no authority.

Eglise Saint-Sepulcre

Eglise Saint-Sepulcre

The Romanesque parts of the church of Saint-Sepulcre date back to the 11th century. The church was later enlarged in the Gothic style in the 13th century and houses a series of wall paintings dating from the 14th century, depicting pilgrims on the route de Saint-Jacques de Compostelle, presided over by Christ in Majesty. You are not allowed to use flash photography, hence the slightly hazy photos.

Wall painting -Christ in Majesty

Wall painting – Christ in Majesty

Wall painting depicting a pilgrim with a rather natty handbag

Wall painting depicting a pilgrim with what looks like a rather natty handbag

Wall painting of pilgrim

Wall painting of pilgrim

Raymond never got much benefit from his bastide, since he died in 1249, three years after its completion. His son-in-law, Alphonse de Poitiers, who built the bastides of Villefranche and Najac took over. When he and his wife Jeanne died in 1271 (Jeanne in suspicious circumstances), the domain of Toulouse went to the crown of France.

Villeneuve originally boasted four tower gateways. Two remain – la porte Haute at the top of this post (the main gate, which served as a prison at one time) and la tour-porte Cardalhac.

La tour-porte Cardalhac

La tour-porte Cardalhac

The town also has a Musée des arts et savoirs populaires, which was closed when I was there. In fact, it looked definitively closed but perhaps that was just because it was out of season. Villeneuve also celebrates its medieval past with a fête at the end of July each year, featuring costume parades, a feast and fireworks.

Copyright © 2013 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved

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About nessafrance

My husband and I moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I am fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs and enjoy seeking out the reality behind the myths. I run my own copywriting business and write short stories and the occasional novel in my spare time. My husband appears here as the SF, which stands for Statistics Freak, owing to his penchant for recording numbers about everything.
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14 Responses to Beautiful Bastide: Villeneuve-d’Aveyron

  1. Pingback: 5 More Hidden Gems in Southwest France | Life on La Lune

  2. Pingback: 5 Hidden Gems in Southwest France | Life on La Lune

  3. Deborah says:

    Another great tour, Vanessa! Really hope the weather perks up soon. It’s been grim down south.

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      It’s been really ghastly here. I was down in the Camargue last week and, although it was bright and sunny, the wind was strong and cold. In Arles last Friday, I had three layers on and was still freezing. C’est pas normale!

      Like

  4. Sel says:

    If it were not for your posts, many of us would not be aware of some of these
    places. Great job!!! By the way, the man with the natty bag, seems to me a priest.
    Dresses much like the clergy of old Europe…Sel

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      Thanks, Sel. I enjoy visiting these places and hope I can convey some of their essence in my photos. Yes, the man with the natty bag is probably a cleric of some description.

      Like

  5. Sue Whatmough says:

    Looks lovely and I had to giggle at the natty handbag. I hope they were able to re-accommodate the disco. Presume the funfair was no fun, not fair – sorry!

    Like

  6. Kate Swaffer says:

    Thanks Vanessa, another wonderful tour, with great photos. I rather like the natty little handbag too!

    Like

  7. Kate says:

    Bonjour Vanessa,

    Thank you for the information! I have just arrived in Villefranche de Rouergue on this ‘wintery’ day and will be staying near St Igest, not far from Villeneuve. I’ll be sure to check it out and your information will come in handy! Thanks a million!

    Kate.

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      Hi Kate,
      I’m so sorry about the weather and I hope it doesn’t ruin your trip. May can be variable here but we’ve never known it to be so gloomy AND wet AND cold. It’s been like this since the start of the year, with the exception of a few fine days. At least it’s very green everywhere, but you’re not seeing the countryside here at its best.
      Enjoy your stay, anyway. I will be very interested to know if some of the places I have written about were as you imagined them!
      Vanessa

      Like

  8. Evelyn says:

    It’s a sweet village. My friend and I went in August when it was a little busier, but not much.And the flowers around the arcades were lovely. Do you think the sun will ever shine again here??

    Like

    • nessafrance says:

      It is a pleasant place and very compact so you can stroll around it without getting tired out.

      Some farmers were overheard at Caylus market this morning saying that this would last to la Saint-Jean, which is around 20th June, I think. No one can talk of anything else…

      Like

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