Nouvelle Aquitaine Section
Collonges-la-Rouge – Red sandstone village
Collonges-la-Rouge, the red city
Collonges-la-Rouge is located about 20km south of Brive-la-Gaillarde.
Collonges-la-Rouge - Collonges the Red, as it has been known since 1969, was built with the local red sandstone.
Collonges evolved from the Latin Colonicas.
This word once designated ‘a land cultivated by a colon’, in other words a large agricultural estate.
Collonges -la-Rouge is also known as La Cité aux vingt-cinq tours (the city with 25 turrets) because of its many mansions.
The medieval town was indeed part of an influential viscounty.
Formation of the red sandstone on the norther basin
The red sandstone is unique to the region.
Its formation is linked to the presence of a geological fault line - Fault of Meyssac.
The movement of tectonic plates triggered the appearance of the fault at the beginning of the Mesozoic.
The two basins that were formed on each side of the fault evolved not only independently from each other, but also at different periods.
This therefore explains the disparity of their soils and landscapes.
The red sandstone soil of the northern basin was formed some 250 million years ago.
Sandstone is a rock made of sand grains cemented together by a clay mortar.
The erosion of the Massif Central produced the sandstone of the Basin of Meyssac.
The rocks were initially fragmented into pebbles then sand grains.
Torrential rivers gushing down the mountains carried the sand and deposited it into the basin.
The level of iron oxide which produces the colour red depends on the weather conditions during the solidification of the sand grains.
The red sandstone was formed when the climate was hot and dry.
This type of climate is conducive to the deposit of high levels of iron oxide.
The dense forests that covered the basin degraded into clay, which was also turned red because of the iron oxide.
This red clay cemented the sand grains over the millennia, turning them into red sandstone.
Formation of the marl and marine limestone of the south basin
The soil of the southern basin consists of marl and marine limestone that were formed between 150 and 200 million years ago.
Fossilised shells of marine animals were deposited in the early Mesozoic, when a vast sea covered the region.
They then solidified over the millennia.
Two marked paths take visitors to the discovery of this geological peculiarity.
Don't worry, the fault has been inactive for a very long time and the last landslide dates from 1914.
The paths follow the demarcation line that runs along the villages of Meyssac, Collonges and Noailhac.
The variations in landscapes, vegetation and crops are very obvious.
Collonges-la-Rouge, part of the Viscounty of Turenne
Collonges-la-Rouge initially grew around a priory built in the 8th century along the pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela.
The town was part of the Vicomté de Turenne, a feudal fiefdom founded in 823AD.
The viscounty became influential during the Crusades (1096 to 1291).
The kings of France indeed rewarded the lords of Turenne with exceptional privileges for their participation and military support.
In the 13th century Collonges-la-Rouge therefore became the capital of a châtellenie (castellany) part of the Vicomté.
By the 14th century the viscounty of Turenne was one of the largest fiefdoms in France.
It also enjoyed complete autonomy and was a state in the state.
As a result Collonges-la-Rouge was granted a charter of freedom along with the right of high, middle and low jurisdiction.
The property of the Counts of Auvergne
The House of La Tour d'Auvergne, Counts of Auvergne, bought the Vicomté de Turenne in 1444.
Henri de La Tour d'Auvergne, a comrade in arms of King Henry IV, converted to Protestantism.
The viscounty became even more influential and once the Wars of Religion over, the châtellenie of Collonges-la-Rouge was enlarged with new districts.
Countless turreted mansions were then built in order to accommodate the officers who served the viscounty.
Collonges-la-Rouge thrived until June 8, 1738 when the last viscount of Turenne sold the viscounty to Louis XV to pay for his debts.
Decline of Collonges-la-Rouge
The viscounty was integrated to the French Kingdom, and the châtellenie of Collonges-la-Rouge lost all privileges and influence.
The priory’s outbuildings were then pulled down during the French Revolution.
The town declined steadily throughout the 19th century.
The phylloxera crisis of the 1850s-70s indeed disseminated the vines and led to a rural exodus.
However, Collonges-la-Rouge was revived in the first half of the 20th century.
A group of inhabitants indeed founded an heritage preservation association and had most buildings classified Historical Monuments in 1942.
Collonges-la-Rouge has since been ranked among the Plus Beaux Village de France.
Not only does it top this list, but it is also the most visited site in Limousin.
Thorough restoration of the town started in 2014 and will take place in three phases.
Collonges-la-Rouge, a unique architectural heritage
The many buildings classified Historical Monuments date from the 15th, 16th and 17th centuries, when the town was thriving.
These include the Halle au vin et grains, the wines and grains covered market.
The Gothic Maison de la Sirène was named after the sculpture of a mermaid and has a superb truncated tower.
It now houses a small Museum of Arts and Popular Traditions.
The 16th century priory, former convent, former court of the châtellenie and town hall boast also exceptional architectural features.
Several mansions were built for the governors and captains attached to the Château de Turenne:
Castels de Benge, Maussac and Manoir de Vassinhac, Maison Ramade de Friac, Château du Martret, Château du Breuil, or Manoir de Beauvirie to name a few.
The cultural preservation includes the Porte Plate and Porte du Prieuré, two gates part of the 14th century rampart.
It also includes the 15th century Chapelle des Pénitents and the 11th/12th century Eglise Saint-Pierre, which was fortified during the Wars of Religion.
The church's Romanesque gabled bell tower is one of the oldest in Limousin.
Its tympanum is one of the most unusual.
It was indeed carved from white limestone in order to stand out against the red sandstone!
Finally you should try the local gastronomic specialties before leaving Collonges-la-Rouge.
You'll discover delicious foie gras (goose paté) and walnuts, but also the local straw wine or vin paillé!
Department of Corrèze - Limousin region
Coordinates Collonges-la-Rouge: Lat 45.060939 - Long 1.654225
Photos Wikimedia Commons: header - Village street - Church - Castel de Vassinhac - Castel and church - Tympanum - Maison de la Sirène