France is often reputed for its repugnant fromage and I recently had a day to discover the Roi des Fromages des Rois de France: Le Roquefort. Before heading to the caves where the cheese is produced, we first went to La Couvertoirade, a fortified city from the Middle Ages.
This tiny town is situated northwest of Montpellier and about 750 meters higher. That means that despite being a beautiful day in Montpellier, there were slight flurries up there (something I and most other people did not take into account when dressing for the outing). Though now there are only 27 citizens who reside in the city year round, during the Moyen Âge, there were probably close to 600.
In a small town such as this, there were many communal facilities. For example, in the photo below, the steps (to the left of the blue bins) lead up to a community water reservoir and the building on the right was a community oven. Citizens would pay a small tax to the lord and then have access to these facilities. There is also a communal mill, but we’ll see that later.
Like most medieval cities, the highest point is the church. The steps leading up to the church are on the other side of this hill (that don’t really look like steps, but rather the same jagged rock face), were the only path the villagers could use. Later, the Templar Knights built a fortress with a path that was much easier to climb, however, this path was reserved for them.
Below and to the right is the Templar fortress. During the XII century, the Templars used this city as a resting point on their way to the Holy Land. They were also successful in raising sheep for wool, meat, and milk. Despite its size, there were probably no more than five knights inside the fortress at a time. The two stone columns you can see on the face of the building above the door used to be a chute of sorts. In case of an invading army, the knights could throw stones, arrows, hot pitch, or even hot oil. When the city was fortified later during the Hundred Years War with England, they used the same materials to hinder advancing armies. However, due to the high cost of oil, they did not have the means to waste it on an enemy. The Templars on the other hand had money, so why not hot oil?
Along with the Templars, Les hospitaliers de Saint-Jean de Jérusalem were another religious order that established itself in La Couvertoirade during the Crusades. After the infamous arrest of the Templars on Friday the 13th, 1307 and subsequent abolition of the order in 1312, les hospitaliers were deemed to be still necessary to the city. Today, this order still carries out humanitarian efforts; however they no longer have a presence in the City.
Like most European cities, their Christian heritage is extremely evident. As seen with the Templars and Hospitaliers, La Couvertoirade is no different. In the same Christian tradition, La Couvertoirade has a patron saint : St. Christophe. He is also the saint of travelers. That is why he is pictured above the main gate as you exit the city. However, as with many western societies, they are losing this tradition. The church in this city no longer holds mass. Sometimes it is used for weddings or baptisms, but the people need to invite a priest from elsewhere to perform the city. In general, the church has become a tourist attraction under the responsibility of the Office of Tourism there who open and close it each day.
Pictured on the stone is the Occitan Cross, also known as the Cross of Toulouse. In different regions, religious symbols are often changed depending on the region (think about how many different crosses there are: Celtic, Coptic, etc.). Nobody really knows what the twelve points represent; some suggestions are: Twelve Apostles, twelve months, twelve hours in a day.
Enclosed by 420 meters of ramparts 10 meters high and towers 20 meters high, during the 100 years war with England, this city became a fortress for its citizens. There are only three ways in or out of the city. Two are large gates with large wooden doors that could have been reinforced in time of conflict. The last, is this small portal in the back of the city which served as an emergency exit if the citizens needed to flee into the country side.
This would be the countryside to which they would flee:
That’s the communal mill in the distance:
Despite their time, the people of the city had a pretty sophisticated system for collecting water. When it rained, all the water would be funneled through a system of gutters on the streets and on roofs into a basin for public use. Hundreds of years ago, there was a large reservoir in the city center. This was a life line for the city until people started contracting Typhoid Fever from the water.
Viaduc du Millau:
The Viaduc du Millau is the highest bridge in France. It stands at 245 m above ground in places. The city nestled in the valley is Millau. In modern times, the city is most known for its anti-globalization activist José Bové who destroyed a McDonalds in 1999 then received a presidential pardon from Jacques Chirac. However, it also has a history dating back to the Romans and becoming significant during the Middle Ages.