Les châteaux? Yes, there are two, built at different periods. The village of Bruniquel is one of France’s plus beaux villages (most beautiful villages). It is perched on a rocky outcrop overlooking the River Aveyron and once commanded a strategically important crossroads.
The origins of the two châteaux
The site has been inhabited for thousands of years. The Merovingian queen Brunehaut, or Brunehilde, is said to have founded the village and a château around 600 AD on a site originally occupied by a Roman fortified camp. The current ‘vieux château’ was built in the 13th century, owned by the Counts of Toulouse and inhabited by the Viscounts of Bruniquel.
Family disputes meant that a branch of the family built another jeune château, between 1485 and 1510. The two châteaux opposed each other for the next three centuries until a viscount of the vieux château bought the jeune one. However, the imposition of a window tax led him to block up all the doors and windows of the jeune château and it fell into ruins. It’s ironic that the vieux château is much better preserved and was inhabited until 1980.
The village saw its share of tribulation during the medieval period, owing to its strategic position. It was handed over by treachery to the crusaders during the Albigensian Crusades, re-fortified during the Hundred Years War and defended by Catholic troops against Protestant aggressors during the Wars of Religion in 1623.
In between times, it was a thriving centre for the cultivation of saffron, flax and hemp and a halt on one of the Saint-Jacques de Compostelle pilgrimage routes.
In addition to the châteaux, the village contains some well-preserved buildings and its steep cobbled streets are a delight.
Offenbach at Bruniquel
Every summer, an opera company puts on an operetta by Offenbach at Bruniquel. It’s staged in the courtyard of the jeune château, where tiered ranks of seating perch perilously over the drop below. The weather is normally good and the standard of singing and acting is excellent.
We went several years running, but there are only a limited number of times you can keep doing something. And, in our opinion, it started to get a bit expensive. However, if you’re interested, their website is here.
Le Vieux Fusil
Bruniquel was the setting for a film (transl. ‘The Old Gun’) made in 1975, directed by Robert Enrico. The story is set in June 1944, just after the Allied invasion of Normandy. It concerns atrocities committed by the Das Reich 2nd SS Panzer Division as they headed north towards the fighting.
There’s no evidence that any such massacres took place at Bruniquel, although other places in Tarn-et-Garonne – the village of Dunes is a notable one – experienced a vengeful carnage. And, of course, the Limousin village of Oradour-sur-Glane remains as a testament to those dark times.
The film starts peacefully, almost idyllically, but soon transforms into horror. The old gun in question has been hidden by the owner of the château at the beginning of World War II. He uses it to take revenge on the detachment of German soldiers who have commandeered his ancestral home.
I wrote a post about the film a while ago, so I won’t say more here, except that we saw it years ago sur place at Bruniquel. A large screen was set up on the esplanade of the jeune château. It was particularly evocative to watch the film at the spot where it was shot.
See the tourist office site here.
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