Rodez Historic Episcopal City – Rouergue
Rodez, the former capital of Rouergue
Rodez is the former capital of the historic Rouergue, which today corresponds to the department of Aveyron.
The Celtic tribe Ruteni arrived in the region between the 6th and 8th century BC.
They built their oppidum (fort) on the Butte de Rodez, a hill that rises 120m above the Aveyron River.
The stronghold became the Roman Segodunum, the capital of the Pagus Rutenicus (Land of the Ruteni).
The name evolved into Rouergue over the centuries.
Segodunum was a major trading platform.
It indeed stood along the local road leading to Millau-Gaufresenque and was connected to the great Roman road that led to Spain.
Rodez, a dual city
Medieval Rodez was a dual city.
It indeed consisted of La Cité and Le Bourg, two entirely independent 'districts'.
The Bishops of Rodez ruled over the walled Cité.
La Cité therefore unfolded around the cathedral and its square (Place de la Cité) and the Episcopal palace.
Tall ramparts and 30 towers protected it.
The Counts of Rodez ruled over Le Bourg and its main square, Place du Bourg.
Several conflicts opposed the Counts to the Bishops of Rodez, and resulted in the construction of a rampart in order to delineate the two districts.
The County of Rodez was eventually attached to the French Crown in the early 16th century and the rampart consequently pulled down.
However, modern day Rodez is still laid out in two districts, both centered on their square!
The medieval city
The Boulevard Estourmel and Boulevard Belle-Isle replaced the rampart.
All that is left of the fortifications are 3 towers out of the 30.
You'll find the Tour Corbières and Tour Raynald on Boulevard Estourmel.
The Tour Maje is now part of the hotel located on Place du Maréchal Foch.
The Bishop's Palace still overlooks the Place d'Armes.
Built in the 17th century, it boasts a superb iron horse-shoe staircase similar to that of the Château of Fontainebleau.
Historic Rodez is a maze of medieval streets, timbered houses and mansions with corbelled facades and mullioned windows.
The 15th century Maison de Benoît on Place d'Estaing is the oldest mansion in Rodez.
It boasts a superb Gothic Flamboyant gallery overlooking its courtyard.
The nearby Tour des Anglais is a 14th century tower with mullioned windows.
It is also known as Maison Guitard because it bears the coat of arms of the Guitard, a family of bankers.
The Place du Bourg, the main square of the Counts of Rodez's district, has retained several medieval and Renaissance buildings.
The 16th century Maison d'Armagnac, on Place Olmet, is decorated with medallions representing the Counts of Rodez.
St-Amans Church is dedicated to the first bishop of Rodez.
The current church was rebuilt in the 18th century with the stones of the 12th century original building.
Rodez also has a museum dedicated to modern art - Musée Denys Puech.
Cathedral of Rodez
The pink sandstone Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Rodez is one the city's iconic landmarks.
Construction began in 1277 and ended in the 16th century.
However, the building underwent additions and alterations until the 17th century.
It is therefore a superb illustration of architectural styles, ranging from Gothic to Renaissance and Classical.
Two massive towers frame the western facade and overlook the Place d'Armes.
The square once stood outside the fortifications because this facade was once part of the fortifications.
Only half of its current size, it was elevated during the 17th century and therefore boasts an interesting mix of Renaissance and Classical features.
It indeed boasts a giant rosette, a crenellated gallery and and a Renaissance gable.
The 14th century defense tower was raised and converted into a bell-tower 2 centuries later.
It illustrates perfectly the transition from Gothic Flamboyant to Renaissance style.
The cathedral's main architecture, however, is mostly Gothic.
This shows in the building's impressive dimensions (107m long x 36m wide x 30m high) and magnificent flying buttresses.
High vaulted ceilings and wide windows let the light pour into the chancel and the broad nave.
The imposing ambulatory runs along 27 lateral chapels that shelter the tombs of the bishops of Rodez.
However, the overall interior decoration is quite sober in order to enhance some exceptional decorative features.
This includes the richly decorated stalls (1468), the 16th century rostrum, the 17th century organ's carved wooden case and the many statues and carvings.
How to get there?
Park on Place du Forail; access is clearly marked and it's free; it's also a two-minute walk from the cathedral and the city centre.
Coordinates Rodez: Lat 44.349389 - Long 2.575986
Photo via Wikimedia Commons: Cathedral western facade