Uzerche, ranked among the 100 Most Beautiful Detours in France
It is perched at 342m above sea level, on a rocky promontory nestled in a meander of the river Vézère.
This eagle’s nest once stood at the crossroads of ancient paths.
One linked Western France to the Mediterranean, the other was the north-south road that crossed the river over a ford.
The spur overlooked a natural depression, Col of Eulalie, which was named after the chapel built there in the early Middle Ages and dedicated to St. Eulalie.
A small community developed around the chapel; it has become the current Sainte-Eulalie District.
Is Uzerche the Gallic Uxellodunum?
This exceptional situation attracted men since the remotest times.
The Gauls built their oppidum (fort) on the spur more than two thousand years ago.
The name of their fortified city remains, however, at the heart of a polemic!
Some indeed believe it was the mythical Uxellodunum, the last Gallic stronghold seized by the troops of Julius Caesar during his conquest of Gaul.
No evidence has been found to date, in order to support any of these assumptions.
All we know is that the Romans enlarged and improved the Gallic oppidum of Uzerche some 2000 years ago.
We also know that the Visigoths ransacked and burned it in the 6th century.
The stronghold was, however, rebuilt and fortified a century later and played a major defensive role in the region.
Frank King Pepin the Short reinforced the fortifications in the 8th century.
These proved not as effective, as the Vikings raided the citadel when they sailed the Vézère in the 9th century.
The medieval town started to properly develop around the influential Benedictine abbey that was built in the 10th century.
The Lordship of Uzerche extended kilometres around, as did the authority of the abbot.
The abbey of Uzerche was indeed very influential during the Middle Ages.
One of the monks, Maurice Bourdin, even became Antipope Gregory VIII in the early 13th century.
Sadly, the abbey was destroyed during the 16th century Wars of Religion.
All that is left is the Eglise Saint-Pierre, which is considered a superb illustration of Limousin Romanesque architecture.
The Crypte des Corps Saints, which contained the relics of two major Breton saints, St-Léon et St-Coronat, is the other building that escaped destruction.
The church was classified Historical Monument in 1840.
Uzerche, an influential medieval town
The city of Uzerche enjoyed an era of prosperity under the reign of the English kings.
Eleanor of Aquitaine indeed married Henry II and brought him Limousin – which was part of the Duchy of Aquitaine – in her dowry.
The region, however, kept benefiting from the same influence after it was reunified with France in the 14th century.
Many kings, queens and great lords sojourned at the Abbey of Uzerche.
Among those were Eleanore, Henry II of England and their son Richard the Lionheart who was killed in Châlus, but also the Duke of Burgundy, the Count of Toulouse, Louis IX of France (St-Louis), Philippe the Bold, Charles the Fair and Pope Clement VI.
Uzerche retained its predominance as a defense citadel, but also as an administrative, financial and judicial centre.
The city became in fact the seat of an important sénéchaussée or bailiwick during the 15th century.
It was also made capital of Lower Limousin.
This resulted in the emergence of a local nobility, who erected the town’s many manors and noble houses
Many of these exceptional buildings are now classified Historical Monuments.
They include Château de Bécharie, Maison Eyssatier, Hôtel du Sénéchal, Maison de Tayac, Château Pontier, Hôtel des Joyet Maubec and Maison Boyer Chammard.
However, the Wars of Religion put an end to this golden era.
The Protestants, led by the Vicomte de Turenne, indeed sacked the abbey in 1575.
Sadly, the town never really recovered its past influence.
Uzerche, Perle du Limousin
All that is left of the 16th century fortifications is the Porte Bécharie.
The rest was demolished in the 17th century.
The Tour du Prince Noir dates from the same period, however, the origin of its name remains unknown.
It was classified Historical Monument in 1933.
Uzerche might not be as influential as it once was, but is considered one of the most picturesque towns in France!
Uzerche is indeed known as Perle du Limousin – Pearl of the Limousin.
It was granted the label Ville Etape in 1996 and was ranked among the 100 Plus Beaux Détours en France – Most Beautiful Detours in France in 2010.
Its exceptional architectural heritage earned it also a famous saying:
” Qui a maison à Uzerche a château en Limousin – Who owns a house in Uzerche owns a castle in Limousin”.
The medieval town is laid out around Rue de la Justice.
The street is lined by the mansions mentioned above as well as picturesque timbered houses.
Uzerche clings to the hillside and is renowned for its hanging gardens!.
Gardens and courtyards are indeed laid out in terraces supported by stone walls.
The superb Pont Turgot is one of Uzerche’s landmarks and a classified Historical Monument.
It was built in 1753 in order to connect the medieval town to the old Quartier Sainte-Eulalie.
Department of Corrèze – Limousin region
Coordinates: Lat 45.424066 – Long 1.563457