Montauban

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Spend the night or a week at an ancient abbey considered one of the most beautiful Romanesque structures in France and bask in the beauty of the Midi Pyrenees and its lovely, inviting bastides.

Saturday, September 10th, 2011

The abbey-church was a popular stop for pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compostela, in what is now Spain.

The abbey’s church is celebrated for its tympanum depicting the “Last Judgment.” It is embellished with 124 carved figures. There is also a gilded wood reliquary studded with precious stones that is one of the oldest statues of the Christian era.

Nearby Conques is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It is among the very few sites in France that can boast such a grand heritage. Stroll through its city streets and take note of the fact that Conques is a place that seems to have traveled through time unchanged. A stop on the route to Santiago de Compostela, the allure of the village is highlighted by its Romanesque -style abbey church. The area encompassing the church is a picture postcard setting of slate-roofed, half-timbered houses.

Close to Conques, Rodez lies on a hill with wide horizons dominated by the late 13th century red sand stone Cathedrale Notre-Dame, an outstanding edifice of northern Gothic style crowned by a 240’ tower. The interior preserves a finely worked 15th century screen, a 16th century “Entombment” in polychrome stone and a double row of sculpted stalls. There is a sense of history in Rodez as seen in the town’s ancient quarter, now a pedestrian zone, retains its old world charm.

Among the main reasons to visit this part of France are the bastides. “new” towns built by feudal lords to attract settlers and soldiers in the 13th century. The bastides  are defined by a central marketplace bordered by arcaded houses, an adjacent church and checkerboard streets. More than three hundred bastides are strewn in an enchanting galaxy across the entire southwestern part of France.  Of special note, no two are alike, yet all share the same basic grid design; a central market and market square with a network of streets and lanes radiating out in perfect symmetry.

The bastide Villefrance-de-Rouergue is a landscape of architectural charm, old world sensibility and charm. A regimented alignment of roofs, narrow lanes, a central arcaded square and a church form the heart of the village. A fortified town, it was founded in 1252 by Alphonse de Poitiers, brother of King Louis IX. The ancient core is overshadowed by the stalwart bulk of Cathedrale Notre-Dame. Built in southern Gothic style, the church is marked by a massive 15th century belfry. The Penitents Noirs Chapel has a gilded wooded altarpiece and 15th century choir stalls.

Montauban is one of the finest and earliest bastides. Built of pink bricks by the Count of Toulouse, it traces its founding to 1144. Also a fortified village, excellent examples of the golden age of the 13th century are obvious in its place Nationale and bishop’s palace, now the Musee Ingres.