Tuesday 5th June 2018
Last time I left you pondering, what is Cahors famous for? For those of you without access to Google, I’ll tell you. It is famous for ‘black wine’ and wickedness!
Cahors was exporting its dark red wine through Bordeaux for centuries before the Bordelaise caught on to the idea and began making their own. In the middle ages the bankers of Cahors were infamous for their usury; lending money for profit. A sin considered so heinous that Cahors was used alongside Sodom as places considered the epitome of wickedness!
I am unable to update you as to whether the people of Cahors have seen the error of their ways, and are now upstanding citizens, preferring to become management consultants or personal trainers rather than merchant bankers, as we decided not to stop there as we had planned. The forecast was dire (and completely wrong) and we had made better than expected progress, so we decided to move on to the next town on my black line Villeneuve-sur-Lot. [Editor’s note: The new navigation method was very successful – it took us through some little known and very beautiful places and the roads were mostly just wide enough. Anyway Wendy was driving and I was navigating!]
Cahors did look an interesting place to explore though and we passed two inviting little camping car aires, right on the south bank of the river, that are handily placed for testing the local drink. The black wine appears to be doing well because as we drove through the valley of the Lot there were only grapes being grown, not even a field of hay to be seen. Hidden away amongst the vineyards were some charming villages, Luzech, Albas and Puy l’Eveque that we will have to see another time – so many places, so little time!
Mid afternoon we pulled into our campsite halfway between Villeneuve-sur-Lot and Pujols, Camping Lot & Bastide. How could I resist a schoolboy snigger at the name? Seriously I have wanted to visit a Bastide for a couple of years since learning about them and now was my chance.
A Bastide is a fortified town built to a specific pattern, a central square and a grid of streets around it, in the 13thand 14thCenturies. They were built in the aftermath of the Albigensian Crusade (more of which later!) and are mainly found in the South West quarter of France? The woman who owns the campsite said that the Bastide referred to in the site’s name is Pujols, which looms over the site. I hadn’t got the French or the heart to argue that Pujols isn’t a proper Bastide village, but it isn’t. Pujols is, or was, a fortified village but it has been so since the 5thor 6thCentury. It is built on a small plateau 150metres above the river and by the 11thcentury was a stronghold of the Princes of Agen. They came unstuck in the 13thcentury when Raymond VI, the prince at the time, found himself on the losing side in the Albigensian Crusade (1208-28). The Albigensian Crusade was a result of the Pope calling the Cathars of southern France heretics and so the good Christians of northern Europe, including the English, set about them. It was a particularly bloody war and there were many atrocities including the massacre of the city of Bezier, Christians and Cathars alike.
As part of the peace treaty, Pujols was handed over to Simon de Montfort (Earl of Leicester) who destroyed the town and the former inhabitants fled to the river valley. Alphonse de Poitiers, brother of the King, had gained the land in the valley through marrying the daughter of the defeated Raymond (are you keeping up Katy?) and he created a new town (Villeneuve), along Bastide lines, to house the dispossessed. Unusually it was built on both sides of the river to better aid taxation of traffic using the waterway. So really neither Pujols nor Villeneuve are proper Bastides, my search goes on.
Anyway Pujols was very pretty. By the time we had raised the energy to climb up the hill it was early evening and most of the place was shut (like Baux-en-Provence it is now mainly shops and cafes, rather than a functioning village), still it meant we had the place almost to ourselves. One of the gates in the walls is called the English Gate; a reminder of once it was in English hands during the Hundred Years War.
This morning after a late start we wandered into Villeneuve-sur Lot. By the time we arrived the clocks were striking noon and everywhere was shutting for lunch. We had forgotten how fervently the French observe the lunch hour or two, not a shop was open. The old town was as quiet as the grave, again meaning we had the place pretty much to ourselves.
The bridge over the river Lot was built by the English in 1282 with five arches; two of which were swept away in 1600 and replaced by a single arch. On the north end of the bridge is the Chapel of Notre Dame du Bout du Pont, jutting out over the river. Legend has it that fisherman found a statue of the Virgin Mary in the river in 1289 and they built the chapel astride the river to commemorate this ‘miracle’ and to be a place of pilgrimage for boatmen. Graham Robb, in his book ‘The Discovery of France’, refers to this phenomenon happening across the country, especially in the south. Where they still exist the statues are roman in origin, of goddesses associated with water. The local priest would give the effigy the name of a Christian saint or Mary and place it in the village church. However the congregation would consider the figurine the god, rather than a representation of a religious intermediary. The Church only had a tenuous hold over the religious beliefs of the French.
Wow! That was a history heavy episode in the life and times of two travelling folk wasn’t it? Never mind Katy that should be the last of the history for the time being and we will get back to the ‘human interest’ and ‘lifestyle’ angles in subsequent editions. Have you managed to make contact with Malou yet?