Bastides in France

Bastides are one of the iconic landmarks of 14 departments of Southern France.

French Bastides
French Bastides

Their name comes from the Provençal or Occitan (Langue d’Oc) word Batista that evolved form bastir meaning to build.

The Counts of Toulouse, the kings of France and England, the local nobility and the religious communities built 300 bastides in the 13th and 14th centuries.

They developed them on a site enjoying a strategic location, for example a major crossroads or a promontory commanding a valley.

The Counts of Toulouse and the French kings founded the first bastides for economic reasons in order to take advantage of the unprecedented demographic boom that took place after the Year 1000.

These bastides with their regular markets and fairs were active trading places that attracted farming populations.

However, they also played a protective role, offering shelter to these rural populations scattered in the surrounding countryside and often victims of organized robbers gangs.

Raimont VII of Toulouse, built 40 bastides in Périgord, Quercy and Agenais in the 1240s.

You’ll recognise some of their names: St-Pastour, Montfanquin, Villeneuve-sur-Lot, Tournon-d’Agenès, Puymirol, Lamontjoie, Damazan, St-Sardos, Laparade and Montclar among others!

King St-Louis’s brother, Alphonse, became Count of Toulouse and Poitiers in 1249, at the death of Raimont VII .

He built another 50 bastides including Eymet, Catillonès, Villeréal, Villefranche-du-Périgord and Ste-Foy-la-Grande.

Anglo-French rivalry

The bastides defended also the boundary between the County of Toulouse to the east, and the Duchy of Aquitaine to the west.

French Bastides
French Bastides

South-west of France was for several generations at the centre of the conflict that opposed the French to the English after the marriage of Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry II of England.

This alliance dealt a blow to the crown of France since Eleanor brought (among others) the whole of the Duchy of Aquitaine in her dowry.

As a result, England possessed a large portion of the kingdom of France!

In 1259 Louis IX (St. Louis) signed the Treaty of Paris.

Henry III of England received the Perigord, Quercy, Limousin and Agen on the condition that he became the vassal of the king of France.

The English consequently built Lalinde, Beaumont, Molières, Roquepine, Monpazier in their newly ‘recovered’ Périgord.

Bastides – Ville Nouvelles – Villes Franches

The folks settling in these bastides were granted privileges and franchises recorded in charters.

These included duty and military service exemptions, right of inheritance and abolition of the feudal law.

Renaissance house in Domme
Renaissance house

A few bastides have retained the title of Ville Neuve (new town) or Ville Franche (free town) in their name.

You’ll recognise Villefranche-de-Rouergue in Aveyron.

The bastides were also granted local economic and political power and the right of self-management.

They therefore had militias, consulates, weights and measures, markets and fairs.

Amazingly, they retained these privileges throughout the Middle Ages.

Bastides’ grid plan

The bastides were developed with precise and uniform planning regulations and were all built on a grid plan.

The land was therefore divided in plots of equal size allocated free of charge to the new settlers.

Linear streets crossed at right angles and were laid out around a central square hosting the markets and fairs.

Villefranche du Perigord
House with arcade

The houses framing the square and the covered market or halle were built on vaulted galleries or arcades or cornières.

The church and graveyard were slightly off the main square.

Narrow gullies ran between the houses in order to limit the spread of fires, which were commonplace during the Middle Ages!

Finally, the whole town was enclosed within a rampart pierced by several gateways and flanked with watchtowers.

Many bastides have survived the passing of time, and were beautifully restored such as Domme, Eymet and Monpazier.

However, they have long lost their defence role.

Today, they are picturesque and popular market towns that attract flocks of tourists during the holiday season.

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