Figeac: Medieval Gem

 

The churches and rooftops of Figeac with the hillside above the Célé beyond

The churches and rooftops of Figeac with the hillside above the Célé beyond

Every time we go to Figeac I ask myself why we don’t go more often. About 50 minutes’ comfortable drive from here through attractive countryside, it’s no particular hardship to get there. You often need an incentive to do these things and having visitors to entertain this week provided just that spur.

Figeac straddles the River Célé at the boundaries of the Lot and Aveyron départements. It’s effectively a crossroads where all points of the compass meet and, as such, the traffic can be irritating. However, a bypass to the southeast has alleviated at least some of this.

Twisting medieval streets

Twisting medieval streets

A bit of history

Like so many places, the town grew up around an abbey that was founded in the 9th century. Figeac prospered during the early Middle Ages from international trade. Well-to-do merchants displayed their wealth in the embellishment of their mansions, some of which still stand. However, the Hundred Years War and the plague put the brake on economic development in the 14th and 15th centuries.

Eglise Saint-Sauveur - remains of the original abbey

Eglise Saint-Sauveur – remains of the original abbey

The Renaissance saw renewed prosperity and construction. But the Wars of Religion in the late 16th century brought conflict to the town again and it was held by the Protestants between 1576 and 1622. The Église Saint-Sauveur, which was badly damaged during the Catholic Reformation and restored in the 17th century, is all that remains of the original abbey.

Architectural gems

The best way to see the town is to follow the marked trail that starts from the Tourist Office. The latter is housed in a medieval mansion known as “la maison de la Monnaie”. In my opinion, it’s not an especially beautiful structure, but it is one of the best preserved in Figeac.

Tourist Office - well-preserved building

Tourist Office – well-preserved building

The circuit leads you around some of the most interesting buildings. The centre of the town is compact, the streets are twisting and narrow and parts of the medieval ramparts remain. Many of the buildings are examples of styles of architecture dating from different periods. Half-timbered Renaissance upper floors were often built on top of a medieval ground floor. Some of the houses are topped with an open loft – a solelho – which was used for drying and storing fruit and vegetables.

The write place

Musée Champollion

Musée Champollion

Figeac’s main claim to fame is that it was the birthplace of Jean-François Champollion (1790-1832), who deciphered Egyptian hieroglyphs. The house where he was born, right in the centre of Figeac on the Place Champollion (what else?), is now a museum that celebrates the evolution and history of writing.

Behind the museum, the Place des Écritures contains an enlarged reproduction of the Rosetta Stone, of whose hieroglyphs Champollion published the first translation in 1822.

Place des Ecritures - reproduction of the Rosetta Stone

Place des Ecritures – reproduction of the Rosetta Stone

Above it, steps lead up to a peaceful square from which you can gain access to the town’s Heritage Centre. This is a permanent exhibition relating Figeac’s history.

Rooftops above la place des Ecritures

Rooftops above la place des Ecritures

Right at the top of the town, l’Église Notre-Dame du Puy dominates and you get a fantastic view of the jumbled rooftops and the hills on the other side of the Célé. The church became a fortress during the Protestant occupation and was rebuilt during the Catholic Reformation.

Church of Notre Dame des Puys

Church of Notre Dame des Puys

Figeac is a bustling little town. It’s far enough away from Cahors, the Lot Préfecture, to have a character and a life of its own. And, to the SF’s great delight, it has a museum celebrating the manufacture of aircraft propellers, a long-standing industry in Figeac that continues today. We didn’t have time to visit le Musée Paulin Ratier this time but will save it up for the next visit.

You might also like:

Black wine and secret gardens in Cahors
Pilgrimage to Rocamadour
Beautiful Bastide: Villeneuve-d’Aveyron
Peyrusse-le-Roc: A Hidden Corner of the Aveyron

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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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7 Responses to Figeac: Medieval Gem

  1. Pingback: Life on La Lune French Christmas Quiz 2014: the Answers | Life on La Lune

  2. Osyth says:

    I love Figeac but like you rarely go (2 hours for me is my lame excuse) but I must say I do enjoy having summer guests who prompt me out of my routine and remind me to go to the lovely places all around. Like Murat today which I know you are find of 🙂

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    • nessafrance says:

      Well, 2 hours is a bit of a step. We have much less excuse than you. I regard Figeac almost as a gateway to the Auvergne, since we turn off there to take the road that goes via Maurs to Aurillac whenever we go to Cantal. Yes, I do like Murat – it’s not unlike Figeac in some ways.

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  3. Evelyn says:

    I love Figeac as well, but don’t go there very often even tho it’s close. There is a very nice, ver big Saturday morning market, but if you go…be there early so you can find a parking place! Did you drive along the river road from Cajarc to get there (D662) If you did, you drove right by my house!

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    • nessafrance says:

      Parking in Figeac is not easy at the best of times, so I can imagine how it is on market day. A bit like Villefranche, I expect. No, we don’t go past your place. We take the road from Parisot to Villefranche and then the bypass before turning off via Villeneuve.

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  4. MarinaSofia says:

    It looks absolutely charming – everything we love about the French countryside and its towns. Mind you, I have Evian, Annecy and other such places on my doorstep and don’t go there all that often either. Far too easy to get stuck in a rut…

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    • nessafrance says:

      Figeac is a pretty town and so well preserved – although I think a lot of restoration work has gone on in the past 15-20 years. Yes, you live near some lovely places, too. But, like you, we tend not to go to the places on our doorstep and get stuck in the daily round.

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