Lacaune les Bains
Lacaune-les-Bains is a small city in moderate-altitude mountains located in the heart of the Haut-Languedoc Regional Natural Park, in the Tarn department, Midi-Pyrénées region, in southwestern France. Belonging to the Haut-Languedoc country, Lacaune possesses a heritage rich in history and culture due to the succession of historic periods, from the very origins to contemporary times, which have left their mark and have allowed Lacaune to enrich itself : the neolithic period, Gaul, the Roman occupation, the Middle Ages, wars of religion, the French Revolution, the 19th century which will see Lacaune opening out to the rest of the world and the 20th century marked by two World Wars and rapid economic development.
The name Lacaune comes from the Latin Cauna-ae which means cave, cavern.
The origins of the city of Lacaune are without a doubt very, very old and its first known inhabitants seem to have been the Tectosages, a people from Celtic Gaul. However, much before the Gauls, it is certain that the land was inhabited by another people, as is witnessed by the presence of numerous megaliths, which, according to scientists, were shaped, sculpted and erected more than 4,000 years ago towards the end of the late neolithic period, at the dawn of the Bronze Age. The area around Lacaune has the highest concentration of menhir statues in Europe.
Integrated into the Narbonne Province in 118 B.C., Lacaune conserves from the Roman occupation an ancient Roman way linking Béziers to Cahors.
Lacaune’s “Green Book”
Lacaune's history becomes clear in the Middle Ages, in light of certain texts which have been handed down to us. The most important of these texts is the LIVRE VERT, the Green Book, a manuscript composed of 78 charters from the 13th and 14th centuries and issued by seigniorial or royal authority. It is preciously kept at the City Hall in Lacaune. It is to be noted that one of thesetexts, dating from 1336, regulates the profession of the Mazeliers, ancestors of the salaisonniers (meat salters) of today.
Religious matters dominated in the centuries to follow: the Crusade against the people of Albi, the 100 Years War, confrontations between Huguenots and Catholics. The revocation of the Edict of Nantes brought about the departure from Lacaune of the most influential Protestant families, and also its economic decline.
Lacaune came through the French Revolution of 1789 with a certain fatalism. From the writings in the journal of grievances, no hostility toward the royalty or the clergy is apparent. Some refractory priests even found refuge in the area and enjoyed the support of the local population. The platform was erected only once, on September 30th, 1793, the day Jacques Bonnet was guillotined for counter-revolutionnary activities, incitement to disobedience, and provocation.
Francois Truffaut and the “Enfant Sauvage”
A discussion of the 18th century has to include the incredible story of the " Enfant Sauvage " , the child found by a group of farmers in the woods of La Bassine, near Lacaune.
Displayed in the town square, the child, named "Joseph " by the people of Lacaune, was able to escape to the woods of Roquecezière, in the neighboring Aveyron department. It was there that he was captured a second time and entrusted to the care of Abbot Bonaterre, from Rodez.
By order of the Ministry of the Interior, he was taken to Paris and placed in the Institute for the Deaf-and-Dumb. There he was named "Victor", and was officially designated as the " Enfant Sauvage of Aveyron ". He was taken under the protection of Professor Itard, who studied his behaviour.
In July 1811, Victor and his housekeeper, Madame Guérin, settled at number 4, Impasse des Feuillantines in Paris. Madame Hugo, wife of the famous Victor Hugo, and her children, settled at number 12 in the same street. In spite of all the attentive care he received, and without having much developed his intellectual faculties, Victor died during the winter of 1828, in the arms of Madame Guérin. He was buried in a communal grave. This story was made famous by the film-maker François Truffaut, in his film, "Victor, L'Enfant Sauvage de l'Aveyron ".
In the 19th century, Lacaune was essentially an isolated rural village, where most of the inhabitants lived in particularly difficult conditions. The arrival of the railway would little by little help Lacaune to come out of its isolation, despite strong opposition at the time. Nevertheless, the line Castres-Lacaune-Murat, begun in 1905, and finished in 1911, and the "Petit Train" (thus named as opposed to the " Grand Train, " taken from Castres) considerably modified the appearance of the Mountain. The "Petit Train " constitutes, without a doubt, the starting point of our current prosperity.
Along with the development of different means of communication, tourism also began a rapid and unprecedented expansion, thanks to the opening of a spa. The "Bel-Air " thermal spring, already used under the Roman Occupation (a Gallo-Roman pool was uncovered in 1609), was the object of several attempts at developing all during the 19th century. François Fourès obtained the concession to the water rights and constructed a thermal complex on the property, including 2 pools, 2 heated pools and 32 baths. However, ministerial authorisations were delayed, and the spa was never really able to start up. In 1874, the year that Count Ludovic of Naurois acquired the spring and its buildings, all of the authorisations were delivered. The spa then experienced its peak during the 1890's. Visitors to the spa, originating from the more well-to-do levels of society, came from the Bas-Languedoc (lower lands) to take the waters in Lacaune. Unfortunately, difficulties in managment appeared around 1912, and the war of 1914, declared just at the beginning of the summer season, hastened the decline of the establishment.
An American organisation rented the buildings to house children evacuated from occupied zones. At the end of the hostilities, the spa of Lacaune no longer existed and the institution was converted into a sanatorium, took the name "Saint Michel" and housed nearly 300 children.
Lacaune's hydropathic history, of which simply the name Lacaune-les-Bains remains, has stayed strongly anchored in the collective memory. Today, the Domain Saint-Michel is the property of the commune, which has plans to establish on this site a Play and Leisure Activity Park including chalets, a campground, and pools supplied with water from the thermal hot springs.
The two World Wars
The First World War carried dramatic consequences, since 125 Lacaune youths were killed between 1914 and 1918, not to mention a large number of wounded and invalid; equally dramatic were the effects upon farming concerns and demography in the following years.
The Second World War was in no way less dreadful, the area around Lacaune having been the stage for some very distressing events. Thus, from 1942 on, Lacaune became a place of assignation to forced residence for Jews, mostly of foreign nationality. In all, 648 persons, 520 adults and 128 children, were summoned and two round-ups were carried out – on 26 August 1942 and on 20 February 1943. One hundred and nineteen Jews, including 22 children, were arrested and deported. There were no survivors. The Memorial to the Deported Jews of Lacaune, inaugurated on 17 April 1999, stands witness to this tragedy.
Likewise, the moutainous relief of the region allowed the installation of a very active Resistance network, integrated into the Corps Franc of the Montagne Noire. On 22 April 1944, violent combat broke out between the Resistance and a German convoy. The death toll was high: many men were lost on the German side but also five young resistance fighters were killed, an old and deaf man was executed for not having heard a patrol's warnings, and two young farmers from the hamlet of Sagnens were arrested : both died in deportation.
Meat-salting, in between heritage and economic strength
To close this brief historical overview, it is essential to bring up the evolution of meat salting, which nowadays is Lacaune's foremost economic strength. History teaches us that, already in the time of the Gauls, the breeding and rearing of pigs, fed on plants, roots, acorns and wild fruits, was quite widespread in our mountains and that pork meat made up the larger part of our ancestors' diets. This tradition perpetuated itself all during the Middle Ages, and the Mazeliers (meat-salters), who dealt with all different kinds of meats, quickly specialized in pork meat, because of the higheraltitude, the cool climate and the turbulent winds that allowed drying of the meat.
The first trading of these products was carried out with the low lands, or Bas-Languedoc, where hams from Lacaune enjoyed an excellent reputation. It was toward the middle of the 19th century that these exchanges intensified, at a time when the development of wine-growing in the Languedoc required an extensive labour force from the Mountain.
At first a family or secondary enterprise, the pork meat trade (charcuterie) rapidly evolved in the period between the two World Wars, and became during the 1950's an economic activity in its own right, due to the generalisation of the techniques of refrigeration.
Lac de Raviege and Le Salvetat Sur Agout
Built on the river Vèbre at Anglès, Lac de Raviege was put in operation in 1957. At 700 metres above sea level and 80 kilometers from the sea, the Lake of Raviège goes from east to west and is about 12 km long. It is surrounded by evergreens in what looks more like a Norwegian setting than the south of France. It’s very green and beautiful and cooler and wetter than areas further towards the coast. It is an ideal location for green tourism as it sits in the middle of beech and fir trees and is located in the heart of the Regional Natural Park of Upper Languedoc shared between Herault and Tarn, near the lake of Laouzas.
The lake offers a great and pleasant beach covered with grass where you can quietly and safely sunbath, play and swim in the summer (the water is crystal clear and very refreshing); plenty of activities for children (the tree climbing park, the bungy trampoline and jumping castles); and multiple water activities at the Port of Bouldouïres (water skiing, sailing and horse riding).
The history of this rural commune is inseparable from that of its abbey. Founded by the companions of Saint Bernard, in a fertile valley with its gently sloping wooded sides, it was the first Cistercian abbey built in the Rouergue in the 12th century.
The Sylvanes abbey represents a monastic architecture that bears witness to one of the greatest spiritual and artistic moments in the Western world. It is one of the first Cistercian abbeys to be founded in the Aveyron, and has, since its restoration, experienced a cultural and spiritual influence that goes far beyond our frontiers. The International Festival of Sacred Music takes place each year in July and August and now figures amongst the main national festivals. International festivals of classic and ancient music also take place over this period. The abbey also organises different courses on singing and choir singing, iconography, floral art, painting, book binding and theatre from June to September.
Auguste Zamoyski Museum and L'Eglise Russe (Orthodox church)
Take the small road that twists along the mountain to reach the cloisters of Granges Priory. The Auguste Zamoyski museum is set in the heart of the countryside, in an old building where rural architecture rhymes magnificently with modern architecture. The Polish artist’s sculptures are exhibited around a Zen patio: come and let yourself be invaded by the calm and serenity.
Auguste Zamoyski Museum L'Eglise Russe
Continuing along this same road, at the heart of the mountains appears the Russian Orthodox church, emblem of friendship and of spiritual and cultural exchange.
Contact: Sylvanes Abbey: +33 (0) 565 98 20 20
From prehistory to the Romans
The first human traces in the region would date from the Quaternary Era (discovery of carved flints, polished stones, dolmens etc.).
Around 600 B.C., the Ligures from Italy and the Iberians from Spain settled in the Corbières area. The arrival of the Celts (Gauls) caused the apparition of the Celtic-Iberian people, an active and progressive population, who built roads. The Roman invasion quickly assimilated the Celtic-Iberian population by latinising their language.
If the low plain remained uninhabited, villages settled on the hills (Gavart, Roquenegade, Congoust, Vinesolus, Septembrianum, Valfrège, Cadoual, Mata). The village of Mata, thanks to its central location, absorbed all the surrounding villages (Montlaur would rise there). The land would have dedicated to Diana (hunting goddess) from where the name Val de Daigne (Diana Valley) comes.
Access ways linking Narbonne to Carcassonne brought Roman civilisation and then Christian religion around the third century to the region. In the fifth century the first chapels were built.
The Mattes country under the Visigoths and the Carolingians
The Visigoths of Germanic origin had become the masters of Narbonne which was part of the Visigoth kingdom of Toulouse (from 414 to 507). They fortified Carcassonne and placed it under the protection of both the forts of Alairac and Miramont. After a three century long domination, their empire succumbed under the blows of the Saracens in 712.
In Montlaur, they razed the village and exterminated the population. Charles Martel, after Poitiers, vanquished them a second time next to Sigean, but Charlemagne would drive them out for good.
From this time, there are still villas (agricultural centres): Villedèse, Domneuve, Villefrancou, Villemagne, Villalaur and monasteries of Lagrasse and Saint-Michel de Nahuze.
The counts of Barcelona and Toulouse were at war with each other for two hundred years. To protect themselves the lords of the Mattes country pooled their efforts to build the fort of Montlaur (around 1160). On the left bank of the stream watering the la villa Mata rises a peak (Pech Matus): an ideal spot for a fortress. The rock crowning it will be lined by a wall to form the first surrounding wall. Half way down the hill, another wall with three gates and a barbican will be the second surrounding wall. Two gates will make the square communicate with the stockade (“lices”). Only one still stands: the gate of Bissens (“le portail de Bissens”). But this fort, during the wars between the lords, was quickly demolished. In 1360, the first surrounding wall was already in ruins. After the Hundred Years’ War (1337-1453), the village will expand out of the surrounding walls and will even cross the stream of La Fargue.
The name of Montlaur was created when the fort was built. Several explanations have been put forward for its meaning but the most likely and the most simple seems to be the mount laurel (latin: Montem Laurum)
(Source: “Montlaur-en-Val” by Pierre Cabirol – ISBN: 2750412986)
Chateau De Montaigut
The Château de Montaigut is a castle in the French commune of Gissac in the département of Aveyron.
The first traces of the Château de Montaigut date from the 10th century. Built on a rocky outcrop dominating the valley of the Dourdou de Camarès river, it defended the town of Saint-Affrique against attacks from the south. Enlarged and transformed in the 15th century by the Blanc family, it was restored several times before falling into ruin. The association Amis du château de Montaigut, which took ownership in 1968, undertook a massive restoration. The castle was finally saved in 1989.
The castle is built on a Middle Ages necropolis.
The castle has beautiful vaulted rooms served by a spiral staircase, a cellar, a cistern carved in the rock, a guard room and prison, bedrooms and kitchens. Visitors can admire 17th century plasterworks.
Today, the castle has become a permanent centre for cultural events. The Château de Montaigut is one of a group of 23 castles in Aveyron who have joined together to provide a tourist itinerary as the Route des Seigneurs du Rouergue. It is listed as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture.
Château de Coupiac
Château de Coupiac
The Château de Coupiac is a castle in the French commune of Coupiac in the département of Aveyron.
Dating from the 15th century, the castle is formed by two T-shaped wings, built directly on the bare rock, flanked by three powerful round towers. These remaining towers show architectural differences, evidence of building over an extended period. Built in the flamboyant Gothic architecture, the castle impresses both in area and height, by the number of its machicolations, its latrines and its murder holes. It includes beautiful windows and the towers and large windows on the second floor.
Since 1928, the castle has been listed as a monument historique by the French Ministry of Culture. The Château de Coupiac is one of a group of 23 castles in Aveyron who have joined together to provide a tourist itinerary as La Route des Seigneurs du Rouergue. The castle is open to visitors in July and August.