When I visited Cordes-sur-Ciel last January I was blown away by this incredible medieval French town. On first appearance it seems nothing has changed in the last seven centuries. Despite the fact people continue to live within its walls, Cordes-sur-Ciel is probably the closest thing you will get to a medieval town in the 21st century.
Since my visit I have tried to write about it on numerous occasions. Each time I failed, until today when it dawned on me that perhaps ‘the less said the better’ is fitting in this case. Even factoring in my poor photography skills there’s little I can add to these pictures with words, save a little bit of background information.
Background – Cordes-sur-Ciel and the heretics of the County of Toulouse.
Located in the medieval County of Toulouse, Cordes-sur-Ciel was founded in the early 13th century. During this period the south of France became one of the most contested and violent regions in Europe. The development of Catharism in the County of Toulouse, a spiritual belief which challenged the ideas and authority of the christian church, led to conflict with the papacy. In 1208 the events reached fever pitch when a papal legate was killed in the region, which led the Pope of the day Innocent III, to launch a crusade against the County of Toulouse and its Cathars.
This became known as the Albigensian crusade, so called after the Cathar stronghold of Albi. This crusade saw the nobility of the Northern France attack the region under the pretext of wiping out Catharism. Lead by Simon de Montfort the crusade quickly became a massive land grab resulting in a ferocious war that lasted until the eventual annihilation of the cathars in 1244. It was amidst this conflict that the highly fortified town of Cordes-sur-Ciel was founded.
The foundation of Cordes-sur-Ciel.
During a lull in fighting in 1222 the Count of Toulouse Raymond VII in an attempt to fortify his lands built what became Cordes-sur-Ciel. The location was stunning. Situated on a rocky outcrop above the Aurosse and Cerou rivers the town dominated the surrounding territory. In this first slideshow you can see Cordes as approached from the North and the views of the surrounding region from the town.
On entering the town it is the streets, alleys and lanes of the town that some preserve its late medieval character in the most striking fashion. The often winding, irregular and at times awkwardly narrow lay out is distinctly medieval.
The buildings are also in a remarkable state of preservation. Built over the last eight centuries many are still residential homes. While they have been renovated and added to over the centuries, they still hold their original character. Interestingly while most medieval towns were dominated by a castle, Cordes was not seat of a noble family so it instead it was the symbol of power of its merchant families which dominated the town. This was a covered market place.
Built amid the chaos and the danger of the Albigensian Crusade, Cordes-sur-Ciel was a highly fortified town. It witnessed several phases of development – each time the town’s population grew the walled area had to be enlarged leading to more and more walls and gates. Today most of these gates and defensive works still survive.