I decided to indulge myself and spend a little time digging into the history of our little fortified town, 'bastide', of Cordes sur Ciel, the town on the clouds in the sky. So often we walk with friends up to the top of Cordes for an apero and to admire the views, and I fine it lamentable that we know so little of this fascinating town. This is what I discovered:
Cordes sur Ciel
A short history of a small fortified town in the Tarn
(Worth a visit!)
In 1200 the area was under the rule of the Count of Toulouse and wasn’t part of modern France. Simon de Montfort, a French warlord, ordered by the King of France and the aptly named Pope Innocent III, arrived with 10,000 crusaders, to rid the region of the Cathars. Thus started the only crusade on European soil: the Albigensian Crusade, so called as many Cathars inhabited this part of South West France around the town of Albi. The Cathars had their own ideas about God and more importantly they had their own banking system. The Pope didn’t like this very much and the King of France, Louis IX, quite fancied having the lands of the Count of Toulouse as part of his kingdom. Simon de Montford, in his enthusiasm, burnt many strongholds to the ground, raping, pillaging, gouging out eyes, cutting off ears and slaughtering thousands of innocent people along the way. After the death of the ruthless Simon de Montfort in the siege of Toulouse in 1218, the Count of Toulouse regained much of his territory and started a building programme of ‘bastides’. These towns served to defend the Count’s northern territories from attacks from the French King, and to house the many homeless people. Cordes was built on the Puech de Mordagne rock in 1222. Many of the new settlers were displaced Cathars. The persecution against the Cathars continued by the church, and they were eventually wiped out by the Inquisition. Not that the population of Cordes took this lying down. Local legend has it that the people of the town were so upset that a local Cathar was condemned to be burnt at the stake, they captured three inquisitors and threw them down the well at the top of the town. The town did not fully submit until 1321. The Bishop of Albi commissioned the Cathedral at Albi (well worth a visit) as a demonstration to the local population of the power of the Catholic Church. The then Count of Toulouse married his only daughter off to the brother of the King of France, and on his death, the area came under French rule.
Nowadays the population of Cordes is around 1000 (rising to 3000 at the height of the summer). In the early 14th century, the population counted 5000 inhabitants. Five more city walls were built to accommodate the growing population. Walking up to the top town you pass through several city gates. The town grew rich trading cloth, leather and wool, and became a favourite stop for weary pilgrims en route to Santiago de Compostela. Many houses still have the scallop shell symbol of the pilgrims above the door.
Unfortunately Cordes suffered heavily losses, at least a quarter of its population, as a consequence of the Black Death and the Hundred Year War (1327-1453) against the English. The English captured and occupied the local castle at Penne (worth a visit!) for 30 years. However, after the war, the town recovered rapidly and from the 1450s it flourished from the production of pastel, a blue dye made from woad. There are no records on how the town survived the awful smell of processing the woad. In fact, Queen Elizabeth I had a law disallowing any woad production within a mile of any of her royal residences. Pastel was popular until the arrival 100 years later of indigo, a cheaper blue dye from India. Recently there has been a revival of pastel and there are small, artisan shops in Cordes and Albi, selling beautiful pastel cottons and other products such as creams and soaps (worth a visit!).
In the 16th Century, Cordes sunk away into oblivion, its population declining by further civil war and pestilence. However, in 1870 a local man, Albert Goorse, came back from Switzerland with four lace-making looms. Before long 300 looms were busy lace making in Cordes. Sadly, the business was short-lived, and by 1930 the looms were no longer competitive. In 1960 the Lacoste crocodiles were the last order of embroidery works. You can see the looms and the photographic exhibition in the Art Museum (worth a visit!) at the top of the town.
In the 1940s, the artist Yves Brayer visited Cordes and stayed here with many of his artist colleagues. Today Cordes has survived largely because of the large artist community. The town now attracts thousands of visitors every year, drawn to its beautiful medieval streets, artist studios, history, architecture, and views. It is no wonder that Cordes-sur-Ciel was voted ‘Le Village le plus preferé en France’, France’s most preferred village, in 2014. Ah yes, it is definitely worth a visit!
We open the pool next week as the weather is warming up nicely. The garden, however, is out of control. Matt is working in London and the one-wonky-eyed 70 year old gardener with a dicky heart and I aren't quite keeping on top of it all.
Watch this space....