The Bastides: (Almost) the First Free Towns

Between the 13th and 14th centuries, more than 300 bastides, or fortified towns, were built in the southwest of France. Today, they can mostly be found in the regions of Nouvelle-Aquitaine and Occitane. The majority of the remaining bastides in France are located in the department of Lot-et-Garonne, which has a total of 42. Discovering these new towns.

Vue aériene de la bastide de DamazanFondation du patrimoine

The origins of the bastides

The bastides appeared in France at the beginning of the 13th century. The first bastide, Cordes, was founded in the Albigensian region in 1222 by the Count of Toulouse, Raymond VII. The town is now known as Cordes-sur-Ciel. This type of free town, generally built from scratch, spread rapidly in the southwest region of France. (Pictured here: Damazan, founded in 1256.)

Vue de la bastide de Tournon d'AgenaisFondation du patrimoine

They differed from the towns that had been created previously because they were not under the protection of abbeys or castles.

The master who owned the land on which the new town was created—either a civil or a religious figure—signed an equality agreement with its founder, granting the new inhabitants certain rights and privileges.

Pictured here: Tournon d'Agenais, founded in 1270.

Maisons sur le Lot dans la bastide de Villeneuve-sur-LotFondation du patrimoine

Safe havens

The founding of these towns can be partly attributed to significant population growth, which led to the reorganization of rural space.
The bastides took in those who could no longer find living space in the existing cities.

They provided safe havens for their inhabitants and for those traveling across the plains and forests, where many brigands and outlaws lived.

Pictured here: Villeneuve-sur-Lot, founded in 1264.

Porte de la bastide de DuranceFondation du patrimoine

A military purpose 

The bastides represent their founding lord on their territory. 

Lot-et-Garonne was, in the 13th century, divided between the possessions of the Counts of Toulouse, those of the King of England and a constantly disputed march between the two. 

Pictured here: Durance founded in 1320.

The geopolitical situation explains why a large number of bastides were founded in this particular region.

Between 1250 and 1305, on what is currently the territory of Lot-et-Garonne, Alphonse de Poitiers, Count of Toulouse, created 12 of these bastides, while Edward I, King of England, founded 11.

Vue aérienne de la bastide d'AiguillonFondation du patrimoine

Economic centers

The inhabitants were offered a plot of land in the bastide and some farmland nearby in exchange for paying fees.
The bastides thus became important trade centers.

Pictured here: Aiguillon, founded in 1300.

Centre de la bastide de VillaréalFondation du patrimoine

The bastides were built in grids around a central square, where the market took place square each week—this major event was established by the town's charter.

These markets were sometimes held in central halls, like this one here in Villaréal, founded in 1267.

Place Armand Casse de CaudecosteFondation du patrimoine

They also took place under the arcades of houses, which were specially arranged to accommodate the merchants' stalls and to allow customers to browse, whatever the weather.
A fine example of these arcades can be seen here in Caudecoste, founded in 1273.

Voûtes de la place Armand Casse de CaudecosteFondation du patrimoine

Living in a bastide

Life in the bastides was dictated by their founding charter and traditions. The charter determined the rights and duties of the inhabitants and also laid down the organization of communal life, such as the market day, the amount of taxes paid, and the number of representatives, known as consuls, that the inhabitants had.

Maison des Consuls de CaudecosteFondation du patrimoine

There were usually six of these consuls, who were initially chosen by the lord, then elected by their predecessors.
Originating from the most important families, they took care of the daily administration of the city.
In Caudecoste, they used to meet in the House of Consuls (Maison des Consuls), which was rebuilt in the 16th century and restored with support from the Fondation du Patrimoine (Cultural Heritage Foundation).

Intérieur de la Maison des Consuls de CaudecosteFondation du patrimoine

As this reconstruction in the House of Consuls of Caudecoste shows, the consuls shared the administration of justice with the bailiff, who represented the authority of the lord, and hence, the king. The notary was responsible for enforcing the laws by transcribing them and distributing them in writing.

Intérieur de l'église Sainte-Marie-Madeleine de CaudecosteFondation du patrimoine

Caudecoste is one of the rare examples of a bastide founded by a religious order: the Priory of Layrac.
However, unlike most bastides, its church, Saint Mary Magdalene (Sainte-Marie-Madeleine), is located at the edge of the village.

It suffered damage from the rebels and their slingshots in the 17th century. The church was almost completely rebuilt and restored at the end of the 19th century. Three paintings dating from this period were officially registered as heritage paintings and restored with the help of the Fondation du Patrimoine (Cultural Heritage Foundation).

Cap Sud-Ouest - MonflanquinFondation du patrimoine

Discover another typical bastide in the Lot-et-Garonne region with this video of Montflanquin.

Credits: Story

We'd like to thank Pierre Simon from the Lot-et-Garonne Bastides Association (Association des Bastides du Lot-et-Garonne) and François Dailledouze, Mayor of Caudecoste, for their invaluable help in the creation of this content.

Follow this link to support the work of the Fondation du Patrimoine (Cultural Heritage Foundation):

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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