Un portrait de Montvalent

Un portrait de Montvalent


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

Photo: abri préhistorique Photo : dolmen Miers Photo : Dolmen Miers
Prehistoric shelter near Saint-Sozy, dolmen de Pierre Levée près de Barrières (Miers)

Photo : dolmen Couzou Photo : dolmen Photo : dolmen Montvalent
Dolmen de Magès près de la route entre Rocamadour et Couzou, dolmen de Candare à Floirac et dolmen à Montvalent

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.

Image petit oppidum Image : oppidum
These descriptions come from the inventory of the Commission d'étude des Enceintes préhistoriques et Fortifications anhistoriques; LOT by M. Armand Viré, published by the Commission and presented on 27 février 1908. Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française. 1908, tome 5, N. 2. pp. 65-87, la Société Préhistorique de France.

Les Cadurques

Carte des gaulois, Wiki

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.

Roman occupation

Photo : le Puy d'Issolud
Puy d'Issolud

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.

By 507AD the Franks spread south led by Clovis, capturing Aquitaine, and hence Quercy, at the battle of Vouillé. The Frankish dynasty died out when Charles Martel, the military genius and Mayor of the Palace, took control. His son Pepin was declared king by the pope and the Carolingian dynasty began. It was Martel's grandson, Charlemagne, who established the structure of Europe.

The town of Martel is named after Charles Martel, the Hammer, but no traces of the period remain.

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.

Between 752 and 759 Pepin the Short resolved on the conquest of Septimania. The Goths there had risen against the Arabs and appealed for his aid. Nimes, Agde, Beziers, Carcassonne opened their gates, but Narbonne resisted for seven years. When it surrendered in 759, the Empire of the Franks for the first time touched the Eastern Pyrenees. Pepin now picked a quarrel with Waifre, Duke of Aquitaine, and crossing the Loire made it a hunting-ground for the Franks. He delivered the land over to a systematic devastation. From the Loire to the Garonne the houses were burnt, and the trees cut down. "The churches, the monasteries, and secular buildings were reduced to ashes. Vineyards and fields were ravaged, and the inhabitants put to the edge of the sword. Only a few strong places escaped the fury of the soldiers.... The city of Cahors fell into the power of the conqueror and was reduced to the same pitiable condition into which it had been brought by the Saracens. The inhabitants of Quercy who survived owed this to the subterranean retreats which they had made and to the caverns in the rocks that had served them as refuges during the incursion of the infidels. The principal caves are situated on the Banks of the Lot at Cami, Luzech, Vers, Bouzier, S. Cirq, La Toulsanie, Larnagol, Calvignac, S. Jean de Laur, Cajarc and Laroque-Toirac, to above Capdenac; on the banks of the Célé, at Roquefort, Espagnac, Brengues, S. Sulpice, Marcillac, Liauzun, Sauliac, Cabrerets; on the banks of the Dordogne at Belcastel, La Cave, Le Bon Sairon, Mayronne, Blansaguet, Montvalent, Gluges, Saint Denis, &c., and between the rivers, Autoire, Gramat, S. Cirq d'Alzou, Rocamadour, S. Martin de Vers, Crass Guillot, to Vers among the high cliffs athwart which runs the Roman aqueduct, which in certain places, behind its high walls, could shelter a great number of the inhabitants."(17)

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.

The village of Brassac, now disappeared, was located near an important river crossing in the valley of the Dordogne below the site of present day Montvalent, which in effect replaced it. Around 1100 Brassac became an independent viscountcy akin to that of Turenne. The area was at the eastern edge of the duchy of Eleanor of Aquitaine who was Duchess of Aquitaine and Countess of Poitiers in her own right and became the queen consort of France in 1137 through her marriage to King Louis VII of France. The marrìage was annulled in 1152 and within two months she married the Plantagenet Henry II who acceded to the throne of England in 1154, when Eleanor became queen consort of England. She possessed in her duchy the chateau of St Cyr of Alzou near Gramat from where she became the first person of political standing to make the pilgrimage to Rocamadour. The path from St Cyr to Rocamadour is still called the Path of the Queen.
cassini map

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.

Photo : Gluges chapelle Saint-Pierre-Es-Liens Photo : tour à Saint-Georges Photo : château de Taillefer
Gluges chapel, the buildings at Saint-Georges, the ruins of the château of Taillefer

At this time Brassac was progressively abandoned and replaced by the construction of the fortress of Montvalent, from where the valley of the Dordogne and its important river crossing could be controlled. The priory of St Georges d'Issordel and its chapel were established to look after the pilgrims. The site of the priory is still apparent today. Of Brassac, little remains.

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

Photo : tour de Montvalent Photo : tour de Floirac Photo : Tour Tournemire à Martel
Floirac (1), Montvalent (2), Martel - Tour Tournemire (3) and (4)

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

Photo : maison typique Photo : maizon typique Photo : maison fortifiée
Two typical Quercynoise farmhouses, a fortified farmhouse near Mézels


 

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Discovering Montvalent

Evidence of the past...

A history

The Dordogne

The causse

Dolmens

Our ancestors

The Hundred Years War

Location

Villages of Haut Quercy