We thrive on variety in our lives, but it’s been sadly lacking in the past few months. Even a walk down the drive to collect our post constitutes an outing these days. And so, when my husband went to Caussade for his Covid vaccination on Friday, I jumped at the chance to accompany him. Caussade is not a place I would normally elect to spend much time in, but anywhere that offers a chance to get out will do. Fans of Caussade, please don’t write in; I haven’t finished yet.
Before I get to that, this week’s big news in the region was the torrential rain and the flooding that occurred as a result.
We are fortunate that our house is on high ground, and we are glad we didn’t buy one of the mill houses we viewed years ago. The pic shows the temporary lake in the normally dry pastures downhill from us. It has diminished slightly, but the water still covers a large expanse.
Others less fortunate in the villages along the Aveyron were flooded out. The point where the Bonnette joins the Aveyron in Saint-Antonin-Noble-Val is particularly prone to flooding.
Even worse was the situation along the Garonne around Marmande, where the floodwaters were several metres deep in places and covered a huge area.
Let’s hope it dries out fast. Being flooded at any time must be miserable, but especially in the winter.
Caussade is situated at the foot of the Massif Central and the hills of the Quercy Blanc. The town is a transport hub, on the main railway line from Paris Austerlitz and at the junction of several major roads and an autoroute. Despite the bypass, constructed some years ago, Caussade is traffic-ridden, and the usual rash of out-of-town superstores blights its outskirts.
However, once you’re off the main drag in the old part, you see a different face of the town. The architecture is interesting, being a mixture of the typical red brick of the Montauban plain and the limestone of the uplands.
I wandered around the narrow alleys, although even here the town was a hive of activity. I narrowly avoided being run down by an impatient white van man, helped a lady to manoeuvre her car between two badly parked vehicles, and smiled at a heated argument among a group of builders about the correct way to remove the crépi (rendering) from an old building. Parked cars were everywhere.
The town’s position on major routes ensured its prosperity in past times but also made it a strategic prize.
Caussade enjoyed a period of growth in the 13th century, having been passed back and forth during the Albigensian Crusade and granted its own charter in 1248. The town was ceded to the English in 1360 during the Hundred Years War along with the Quercy region. During the turbulent times of the Wars of Religion and the Huguenot Rebellions (16th and 17th centuries), Caussade was staunchly Calvinist, like nearby Montauban.
The Eglise Notre-Dame de l’Assomption has been destroyed and rebuilt several times. During the Wars of Religion, the church was burnt, but the red brick tower was retained as a watchtower. The church was rebuilt during the 17th century and then again in 19th-century neo-Gothic style. It isn’t particularly attractive, in my opinion, but it’s difficult to get a good shot of it because of the surrounding buildings.
Opposite the church stands la tour d’Arles, built in the late 13th century, which was the home of a wealthy family. One of the upper rooms served as a place of worship for the handful of Catholics who remained in Protestant Caussade after the Edict of Nantes. The building is well preserved, includes the vestiges of medieval wall paintings, and is a good example of medieval civil architecture.
Behind the church stands a new market hall, built in 2019. The forged iron grilles represent straw, the primary material for Caussade’s renowned hat industry.
Caussade hosts one of the biggest markets in the region every Monday. It also has marchés aux truffes, gras (duck products) and saffron in season.
Presumably, a spot under the halle is coveted, but I haven’t yet made up my mind if I like it or not.
Next up, la tour Maleville, built in the 17th and early 18th centuries on top of la porte Vermeille, one of the town’s original gateways. The Malevilles were an important Protestant family who owned the building for 300 years.
Close by stands la fontaine du Thouron, formerly la fontaine de Vermeille. Beneath it lie two large, vaulted chambers, which provided the town’s water from medieval times. The fountain was built over them in 1850, and water was supplied by a pump via the lions’ heads.
The narrow alley behind the Mairie once contained a crémerie (cheese and dairy produce) and a poissonerie. I had never previously noticed this building, dating from the 13th century, called la Taverne. It belonged to a rich merchant family and, like la tour d’Arles, contains 13th-century wall paintings.
When you stroll about like this, you see things you wouldn’t have noticed otherwise. Hence I came upon this trompe l’oeil painting, sadly framed by cables and builders’ detritus. The straw hat celebrates Caussade’s position as an important hat-making centre.
The town calls itself “la cité du chapeau”, although straw hat making actually began in nearby Septfonds. The hat industry enjoyed its apogee during the 20th century, but declined along with hat-wearing, although several factories still exist.
A former monastery, les Recollets, built during the 17th and 18th centuries, now houses the tourist office and a museum, l’Epopée Chapelière. The latter is devoted to the history of Caussade’s hat industry. For the moment, of course, it’s closed.
You couldn’t describe Caussade as picturesque. It’s not a tourist honeypot; rather, it’s a working town with an industrious past. But it provided an unexpected amount to see, which just goes to show that if you take the time to look, even apparently unpromising places can yield a few surprises.
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