Evidence of the past...
A journey through time, from the first known inhabitants who arrived after the last glacial period, to the modern day, reveals the rich history of the area through the visible evidence of man-made structures and their place in the landscape.
Neolithic to late bronze age
The causses of Montvalent and surrounding areas were populated by hunter gatherers. They have left important remains at Les Fieux near Miers where even mammoth were hunted and butchered in the cave. It is thought that the hunters roamed the causses in support of their families who stayed safely in the river valley of the Dordogne. The prehistoric shelter at Monges is a good example. Their burial chambers still survive on the causses, with many dolmens to be seen between les Fieux and Montvalent.
The late bronze age (-1100 à -750) and the first iron age (-750 à -450)
Around 10BC alpine Celts occupied the area, evidenced by their stone circles and tumuli, most concentrated on the causse of Gramat. The Celts created a social framework and also became the majority of the population. They created markets, meeting places, villages, towns and cities. The Celts established the oppida or hill forts such as the enormous Puy d'Issolud at Vayrac as well as more modest oppida such as La Roque and Saint-Cyr.
Sheltered from the flux of migrations, the Cadurques, born from the fusion of the Celts and indigenous peoples such as the Ligures, lived on the causses for 1000 years. Along with the Biturges they were the most ancient inhabitants of Gaul. The Cadurques, allies and clients of the Avernes who for some considerable time dominated two thirds of Gaul, held the region which was to become the province of Quercy. The rivers Cère and Dordogne formed the northern frontier. The present day canton of Saint-Céré and the confluence of the Cère, Bave and Dordogne formed the fines cadorcorum. According to Caesar they belonged to that part of Gaul whose inhabitants had long hair - the region bordered by the Seine, the Garonne et the ocean.
The roman occupation and repression of the Gauls came to a head in 54AD when Caesar fought the final decisive battle against the Gauls at Uxellodunum, just upstream of Montvalent at Puy d'Issolud, Saint-Denis. It is recorded by Hirtius that up to 30,000 centurions and mercenaries took part in the battle and it is a feat to imagine these numbers, with their baggage train and horses marching south after the battle. Their route across the Dordogne could well have been via Copeyre and onwards along the Voie Romaine passing through Veyssou and on towards Alvignac and Gramat by what is now called the Chemin Large. Many such roads still exist as green tracks across the causses, each notable by its width of seven metres, sufficient for a centurion to pass. Apart from these roads, little remains of gallo-roman times in Montvalent.
The routes from Toulouse to Paris crossed the Dordogne at Creysse and Brassac. The Tin Road from Cornwall to the Mediterranean possibly passed through Gramat.
The Frankish and Carolingian dynasties
Following the fall of the Roman empire, its region known as Septimania (Lower Languedoc) became occupied by Wisigoth tribes and, to the north, what is now Holland was occupied by the Franks.
In 731 the Moors, masters of the Iberian peninsula, poured over the Pyrenees, and entered the Septimania. They had come not to conquer and pillage, but to conquer and occupy. They had brought with them their wives and children. They took Narbonne, Carcassone and Nimes, besieged Toulouse, and almost totally destroyed Bordeaux. Thrusting up further, they reached Burgundy on one side and Poitou on the other. Autun was sacked, and the church of St Hilary in Poitiers burnt. The Christians were hewn down with curved scimitars; they passed on like a swarm of locusts leaving desolation in their wake. Those of the natives who escaped did so by taking advantage of the subterranean refuges either natural or artificial that abounded. And that they did so is shown by the relics of Merovingian times that have been found in them.
The Moors were routed at Poitiers by Charles Martel in 732. Three hundred thousand Saracens, say the old chroniclers, with their usual exaggeration, fell before the swords of the Christians. The rest fled under the walls of Narbonne.
From the middle of the 9th century as monasteries were being established in Quercy, such as that at Souillac, the authority of the king was devolved to the counts, for example, the Counts of Toulouse, Turenne and Brassac. By the middle of the 10th century the counts had, in their turn, ceded their authority to their barons such as the barons of Gourdon, Cardaillac and Castelnau-Bretenoux who proceeded to construct powerful castles forcing the local rural population to regroup around them. This is what happened at Brassac and Montvalent.
Pilgrims, Templars and the Hundred Years War
Quercy was badly affected by the incessant conflict between the dukes of Aquitaine and Toulouse. In the end the towns of Cahors and Moissac were taken by the Duke of Aquitaine in 1097 and the Plantagenet dynasty came to inherit the lands of Quercy after the marriage in 1152 between Eleanor of Aquitaine and Henry Count of Anjou, Duke of Normandy, soon to be king of England. The great war in the south-west of France was triggered by the seizure of Quercy by Richard the Lionheart in 1188, after which various matrimonial alliances progressively brought an end to these power struggles.
Henry II quarrelled with the count of Toulouse concerning the lands which he required to be returned to his wife. After forcing the gates at the castle of Castelnau-Bretenoux, he came to Rocamadour in 1159 accompanied by his chancellor Thomas Becket whom he designated as governor of Cahors. In 1166 the intact body of an unknown hermit was found in a cave and was later baptised as Amadour and venerated as a saint. Henry returned to Rocamadour in 1170 as an act of pilgrimage, the first king and the most powerful monarch ever to do so. Thus the pilgrimage to Rocamadour became established. For Montvalent this was an transformational event because the volume of pilgrims passing along the north/south road was vastly increased and the 'business' of pilgrimage became a major part of the local economy.
After the first crusade to the holy lands (1096 - 1099) the returning knights established chapels such as that at Gluges and in 1153 the Templars established themselves at Le Bastit in Quercy to protect the pilgrim routes. It is believed that the ruined chateau of Taillefer, guarding one of the routes near Loubressac, was a Templar stronghold.
By the start of the Hundred Years War in 1337, the fortress of Montvalent, with its chapel of St Jean, was a formidable structure but, by 1450, after being taken by the mercenary Companies, the chapel at least had been destroyed. Today a watch tower remains intact, another tower has been integrated into the rebuilt church of St Christopher, the construction of a trunk road through the middle of the village took its toll, and the rest of the masonry has presumably been incorporated into the chateau of today.
Look out towers
The area abounds with excellent examples of look out towers and redoubts dating from the era of the Hundred Years War. Many towers still stand alone, such as: Floirac, Martel, Montvalent and Vayrazet, and many have become integrated as belfries, for example at St Michel de Bannieres, St Martin de Vers and Sarrazac.
Typical houses of the area