Mediæval patrimony : the Dropt "bastides"

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All over France, the celebration of the Middle Age times is in fashion (exhibitions, guided tours, “medieval” shows…).
The Dropt valley is fortunate to be endowed with its XIIIth century “bastides” ; it can take advantage of this fancy to promote its history.

Contents of the page : Foundation of a "bastide"  -   Plan of a "bastide"  -  The "bastides" today   

    The “bastides” of the South-West of France (there are around 300) were built between the  XIIth and the XIVth centuries.
One characteristic of the Dropt “bastides” is that they were established over a very short period : second half of the XIIIth century, from Castillonnès (1259) to Monpazier (1284). They are the result of an original policy designed to control the space and bring populations together : voluntarist policy, egalitarian and encouraging freedom.

 Foundation of a "bastide" :

    The decision to found a “bastide” was the result of  "paréage" contract settled between a lord or an ecclesiastical establishment, owner of the land, and an authority – king, seneschal, lord – in charge of setting up the new town, populating it and protecting it ; its administration and the profits derived from its exploitation were shared according to various methods.

      The motivations that led to founding a “bastide” were complex :
     -  the forests that covered the Dropt banks were zones of insecurity, that harboured gangs of pillagers who devastated the country. The creation of a city under royal protection was supposed to restore order and safety in the area.
     -  the new inhabitants had to clear the surroundings of the “bastides” ; the land became a source of income for all : sovereign, doners and donees
some of the people who settled down in the “bastide” came from neighbouring domains ; this led to weaken these unruly and predatory lords.
     -  some “bastides”, conceived to serve as fortified towns, could command the Dropt valley, easy zone for enemy invasion.

    A "franchises" and "customs" charter was added to the “paréage” contract, a set of privileges designed to attract as many new inhabitants as possible.
    The newcomers had to build according to a given plan and in a limited time (or else they were fined) and to take part in collective interest works (church, marketplace, if needed ramparts and fortified gates).

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        Plan of a "bastide" :

    Once the location chosen, expert-jurors drew the limits of the city to be, and structured it on a plan as regular as possible, based on an orthogonal pattern (except in case of topographic necessity) : the main “charretières” streets for carts (8 metres wide) and the secondary orthogonal “traversières” streets (6 metres wide) cut out rectangular blocks, each allotted in originally identical (egalitarianism) 8 metres wide parcels (length of a beam taken from a whole tree). On the “charretières” streets, houses face each other, the back of the allotments open onto an alley parallel to the main street, the “carreyrou” (word still used today).

Plan of the bastide (33 Ko)


Plan of the bastide (46 k.octets)


     At the heart of the “bastide”, the square, also square in shape, lined by houses with arcades which form a covered street (“les couverts”) ; the square is a forum and the market place. The “charretières” and the “traversières” streets lead to the square by its corners ; the access to the square takes place through a slanted passage, the “cornières” (today, the “cornières” often refer to the “couverts” themselves). At the centre of the square, a hall accommodates the consular house on the first floor.
In one of the corners, outside the square, is the church.Top of the  page  

The "bastides" today :

    The Dropt “bastides” have generally kept in great part the original orthogonal pattern of the streets layout, the squares lined with “couverts” and sometimes remains of fortifications (ramparts, gates). The market has, most of the time, disappeared (fire or destruction) with one exception : the beautiful market of Villeréal. The Monpazier “bastide” is the best preserved architectural scheme.

      To this day, the “bastides” constitute the network of the larger towns of the region, capitals of the districts with their weekly markets.

      After having been forgotten for a long time, the “bastides” are subject to renewed interest : restoration and development of a form of cultural tourism.

      Since 1983, the “Centre d’étude des bastides” (the centre for the study of the « bastides », antenne Aquitaine : BP3 – 47150 Monflanquin) is devoted to the study and the life of the “bastides”, to the implementation of the conditions to make living in a “bastide” possible and desirable. It has triggered the creation in Monpazier of the “Bastides Workshop”, a place of reception, information and work on the “bastides”.

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Bibliography : 
Périgord. J.P Leray   Ed.P.Fanlac - 
Connaître les bastides du Périgord. J.Dubourg. Ed.Sud-Ouest
Connaître les bastides du Lot-et-Garonne. J.Dubourg.Ed.Sud-Ouest
Notice historique sur Castillonnès. J.J Oscar Bouyssy. Ed.du Roc de Bourzac