Jaunt to Nègrepelisse

Even after 24 years, there are still places in our département I haven’t visited. The small town of Nègrepelisse is one. I was able to rectify this omission this week when I visited for my first Covid jab. It was one of the only places within a 50 km radius that offered plenty of appointments. I wouldn’t normally get so excited about a vaccination, but this was a jaunt outside the lockdown regulation 10 km. We had a lovely drive there and back. The spring green of the trees and fields stood out against the cobalt skies.

Nègrepelisse is situated on a hillock above the River Aveyron. The riverbanks are a pleasant spot, where you can hear the rushing mill race from above. I may be mistaken, but because of its elevated position, the town didn’t seem to suffer as much as some of the riverside towns along the Aveyron – or Montauban itself on the Tarn – during the devastating floods of March 1930.

Pigeonnier by the river

The area around the town and towards Montauban is flat agricultural plain. It’s only to the East that the rugged Gorges de l’Aveyron begin, presided over by the hilltop villages of Bruniquel and Penne.

Like many such places, Nègrepelisse offers more of interest and a stormier history than one might at first imagine.

Unusual name

First, the name. Why on Earth would you call a place “Black Coat”? In fact, the town was originally named Sieurac and then La Mothe Saint-Pierre dit Nègrepelisse. The latter mouthful was condensed to its current name in 1097.

This odd soubriquet stems from the fact that the plain was once heavily forested. The town’s woodcutters made charcoal, which they sold throughout the area. Since they wore black coats and were covered in charcoal dust, their nickname stuck to the place itself. Of the original Forêt de Tulmont, only strips of woodland remain today.

Contested prize

Nègrepelisse was originally founded around 1070. The land belonged to the Vicomtes de Bruniquel, but they ceded it to the Abbey of Moissac, which established a thriving settlement and benefited from the revenues this brought.

Having witnessed its prosperity, Adhémar of Bruniquel decided he wanted it back. Nègrepelisse appears to have changed hands several times during this period. The Pope intervened on at least one occasion in favour of the monks.

The town later became one of a string of bastide towns created by the Kings of France in the Southwest. This was partly to consolidate their authority in unruly border lands by concentrating the population and partly to encourage economic development. The bastide of Nègrepelisse was created in 1273 under the patronage of the Vicomtes de Bruniquel. It was finally ceded to the Crown in 1285.

Nègrepelisse followed the typical grid pattern, with a large, arcaded market square in the centre.

Many of the buildings you see today were built from the 17th century onwards, since Louis XIII’s troops sacked and burned much of the town in 1622. The architecture is the typical red brick and stucco of the Montauban plain; quite different from our local stone.

Arcades along the South side of the square.

Ruined château

Around the time of its establishment as a bastide, a château was built on the original fortifications dominating a bend in the River Aveyron. By the mid-19th century, the château was in ruins, but the commune finally restored it a decade ago. The painter Fragonard (‘The Swing’) stayed there in 1773 and drew a sketch of the château.

Retaining wall for the bank below the château, built in the 17th century

Royal retaliation

Nègrepelisse wasn’t always loyal to the Crown. In common with a number of towns in the area, including Montauban, it was a Calvinist stronghold during the Huguenot rebellions against royal authority in the 1620s.

Royal troops stormed and took Nègrepelisse in August 1621. The Huguenots re-took it four months later and massacred the 400-strong garrison. Not surprisingly, Louis XIII was infuriated. His troops attacked and set fire to the bastide and forced the rebels to surrender.

The survivors asked for mercy, but Louis’ orders were to give no quarter. By their request, the insurgents were hanged from the trees in their own gardens.

The church (already a second construction) was destroyed, although the spire of 1460 remained and is still there today. Apparently, the Archbishop of Paris rapped Louis over the knuckles for his lack of Christian charity towards his subjects.

By the early 19th century, Protestants were tolerated. In 1806, Napoleon decreed that the Protestants of Nègrepelisse could build a Temple of worship. The first two efforts were disasters of shoddy workmanship. Finally, the architect Jules Bourdais was commissioned to built a third Temple, which was inaugurated in 1870. It’s now a Monument Historique.

Nègrepelisse today

Unusually, Nègrepelisse is one of the few places whose population has grown since World War II. At its lowest point in 1921, the town had 2, 051 inhabitants. By 2018, this had risen to 5,642.

Mairie de Nègrepelisse, whose façade looks to my way of thinking like a Wild West saloon

Nègrepelisse is a dormitory town for Montauban, and a lot of housing development has taken place on its outskirts. It loses out tourist-wise from its proximity to Montauban and to the more picturesque villages of the Gorges de l’Aveyron. I wouldn’t make a special detour to see it, but if you happen to be passing nearby, it’s worth a look.     

You might also like:

Trip along the River Aveyron

Virtual Visits: Discovering the Gorges de l’Aveyron

Every Château Tells a Story #5: Les Châteaux de Bruniquel

Copyright © Life on La Lune 2021. All rights reserved.

17 comments

  1. One of the joys of retirement. A french friend took me along to a monthly salsa class soon after we moved here. The following year I joined the weekly ‘rock’ class. In English we’d call it jive. Salsa was fantastic but we had to move according to calls in Spanish with a french accent…too much of a challenge although I went to the occasional ‘stage’. I am the oldest member of the rock crowd but I love it. The other half has two left feet so I haven’t jived since my teenage years. Covid means the group hasn’t met up since February 2020 and we’re all missing it…

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Vanessa,good to hear you have been to Negrepelisse,it was a regular place for me to visit on their market day when I was staying nearby.You are aware of my interest in all things connected to France in World War 2,not sure if you know of the nearby memorial off the road to Vaissac to the resistance group – Maquis de Caberat.Although it was understandably located off the main routes,it was unfortunately discovered by the Nazis with the usual dire consequences.The memorial is very impressive,well maintained and there a number of display boards with a wealth of information,but I am sure you would discover more.
    Keep well and safe
    Best wishes
    Stuart

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hello Stuart, I was pleasantly surprised by the town, since I had previously thought it was just a faceless modern place. I had heard of the resistance group, but I didn’t know about the memorial. The area is off our usual stamping ground, so I don’t know it well. I will have to find out more. I hope you and yours are keeping well. All the best, Vanessa

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        • Vanessa,
          I do indeed,fascinating thing about the internet is from a casual search it can lead you to hours and hours of further investigation.You may have seen the website http://www.archives82.fr. It has a lot of very interesting pictures I hadn’t seen before.There are mentions of what happened at the villages of Dunes and Realville which helped me get a better understanding of what happened there.There are many people in the UK at the moment,keen to inform you how to improve your mental wellbeing during the ongoing lockdown restrictions.I am genuinely sorry for anyone struggling but I cannot help wondering what it must have been like for people who lived through that turbulent period,when simply by being in the wrong place at the wrong time could cost them and their families their lives.
          Keep well and look forward to more of your interesting and thoughtful articles.
          Best wishes
          Stuart

          Liked by 1 person

        • Yes, I use the Archives 82 (departmental archives) site quite a lot for various purposes. It has all the births, marriages and deaths listed by commune, which have enabled me to find out more about the people who lived in our house long ago. It has other interesting information, too, as you rightly say. Some of the terrible acts of revenge that took place in our region have been overshadowed by the horrific events at Oradour. It must have been a very difficult and uncertain time for many people.

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  3. I’m glad you have been vaccinated, we feel safer having had both doses. A fascinating insight into a town with a turbulent past. I only know the name because my rock group regularly make forays (when we could) to negrepelisse for rock nights. A bit far for me, I can’t stay up until five in the morning anymore! Keep safe..

    Liked by 1 person

    • I never thought I’d look forward to a vaccination, but it’s a relief to have got #1 over with.

      It’s interesting what you learn about people. I didn’t know you were involved in a rock group. Nègrepelisse is a long way from you.

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  4. How nice to hear you are out and about, albeit to have a needle stuck in your arm! We have been to Montauban on Olivia Rose, feels like a different life. Beginning to dream about exploring again. What was our normal, now an unbelievable treat. And hope to get back over your way over next few months. MJ

    Liked by 1 person

    • We take any opportunity, more or less legitimate, to get out and about! My excuse for going to Nègrepelisse was legitimate, and my husband came along to drive me home in case I felt ropey after the jab. So we duly completed our attestations. Yes, these banal outings have become treats, but perhaps this makes us appreciate more the simpler things of life. Hope you can soon get out exploring again.

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  5. We walked diwn to the river & mill one day, to an art exhibition.
    There is also a small hydroelectric plant, which, we were told, still generates!

    Liked by 1 person

    • We didn’t have time to get down all the way to the river, because of my appointment. But I have to go back for #2 in four weeks’ time, so perhaps I’ll get the chance to explore then.

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  6. Vanessa, what a great storyteller you are! And I bet that nowadays you couldn’t coin a village’s name containing the word nègre….
    And the name Fragonard I know very well from our visits to Grasse. I always had a small spray flacon on me – and it was in St Paul de Vence where it was much needed as at the same time one of the many gulls was shitting so copiously on me, hear, head, silk top and trousers, simply all over me – after I had just walked out of an artist’s shop with a painting under my arm…. a public toilet and much water & soap as well as my Fragonard finally made the day bearable!

    Liked by 1 person

    • I agree! It occurred to me when researching the name of the town that it wouldn’t be acceptable today!

      Oh, I didn’t know Fragonard had given his name to a perfume. Thankfully, I have never been close enough to gulls to suffer the same experience. It’s a good thing you had your spray with you.

      Liked by 1 person

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