Footsteps of the Templars- Aveyron, France.
This is a location map for the sites visited.
8-1-12 Averyon, France
We left Montpellier, France on the A-75 highway to Paris. It was heavily packed with Sunday traffic and impacted with roadwork repairs. We exited for the first stop in tracking the Footsteps of the Knights Templar at the 11th century site of Covertoirade.
This beautiful walled city is set in the middle of pastoral farmlands with distant rolling hills. The entrance to the village is through huge doors that were barred from the inside during attacks. Then crossing a tiny plaza in front of a museum, we continued walking past both ancient and some refurbished houses and shops. The streets were narrow and graveled. We came to a lovely 12th century church adjacent to the castle/armory built on top of a ridge. This height gave oversight of the stream and farmlands below…a very important factor when you live on a road that leads to the ports of the Mediterranean Sea. Although these local Templars were originally concerned with teaching farming techniques and improving the livestock of the farmers, but roving bands of attackers forced them to also become protectors. Since those mercenaries, whether attacking or not all needed water, the Templars devised means for accessibility without their entering the village. Just right of the entrance gates was a single, narrow passage up a rocky hill where only ONE person could climb and fill his container from a cistern.
Randomly scattered throughout the village were small stone barns for the animals, areas farmers wanted to secure during attempted seizures. Other stone structures were used for sheep shearing and butchering cattle, pigs and chickens. Both the single and double floored buildings have deep basements for storing food and animals.
Some houses have already been rehabbed for cafes and artisan shops, and when we were there, one restaurant. The wares of a weaver were advertized on the flag above his shop and below were vibrant blankets, throws and scarves draped over tables and chairs. He said the government was selling these rustic structures cheaply and in particular wanted artisans, -restaurateurs, writers and the like to buy them. There were two stipulations: the owner would remodel (plumbing, electricity et al) and would live there. The benefit being one could freely sell his or her wares. Since tourism was just beginning in this area, the weaver hoped it would become quite profitable. At a nearby jewelry and trinket shop, I bought a number of items for my granddaughter…who loved them!
Hot and overwhelmed by our surroundings, we stopped for a glass of wine. The bar was in the basement of a small house and the owner motioned for inside or out. Cooler inside but more entertaining people-watching out…and soaking up the atmosphere. The quality of the merchandise we saw (and drank) would definitely be a draw.
The walled village had the typically rough rock and loose stone passage ways—definitely for rubber soled shoes only. We ended our tour at the beginning, in the information booth just across from the entrance. The agent recommended the Hotel Midi-Papillon in Saint Jean-du-Brul AND SHE CALLED AHEAD for us. What a wonderful recommendation it was!
Forty-five minutes of driving through lush green hills brought us to an old mill town and farming community of Saint-Jean-du-Brul. The lovely old Hotel Midi-Papillon was built next to a deep gorge. High wooded hills surrounded the village with a rough 13th century bridge crossing the river and a 15th century church at the end.
The Hotel fronted a small patio beside the gorge where we could partake of drinks, cigarettes, and coffee—but not much conversation due to the roaring water. The 18 room hotel was full but the attached medieval building offered the “Marquis Suite” for slightly more money. Being antiquity loving Americans, we jumped on it. Our suite was on the second floor (no elevators in 14th century houses) and the original, broad curving stone stair steps were hollowed in the middle. We didn’t need to worry about damage from dragging the suitcases up—quite the reverse. The front rustic but classic bedroom had a small balcony over-looking the street and, to the left, the 15th century Church. The bathroom had been modernized and was exquisite!
After an excellent breakfast finished with coffee overlooking the misty gorge, we continued our Circuit du Larzac.
This site was developed in the middle of the ancient north-south route connecting with the Mediterranean ports. Established for the cavalry and, most importantly, shelter for the horses; It became a commercial center supplying both accommodations and safety for travelers.
Within the original fortified walls with its enormous gate, 15th through 17th century houses were added. The structure was established by the Templars and completed by the Hospitallers. The large parking lot behind the compound conveniently has the information booth attached and offered site maps. We walked around the structure and entered by a side gate. On the inside, and attached to the front wall of the fortress, were the original 12th century single room houses. Practical people building their homes above the stables: cooler in the summer and warmer in the winter…if you could survive the barnyard odors. A large double gate at the end of the stables permitted multiple horses to both enter or exit simultaneously. Small groups of workmen were leveling the rough sod of the central plaza; covering the ground with handsome pavers and setting guidelines for sidewalks. (The tourists were coming!)
Most buildings were 2 floors including the first lower level basement where animals and farm equipment had been stored. We saw a few nicely finished structures with attractive small porches and single flight staircases. Some ground level places were setting up as stores or shops and one as a cafe..so far. Several of the rooms above were already inhabited.
Walking toward a garden area we saw a tiny 12th century church at the end. The front doors were open and several candles lit the alter with the only other light coming from a small barred window just above. A narrow control aisle and maybe room for 20 persons on the skinny wooden side benches. The atmosphere in here was conducive to silent prayer. No one was around.
It was wonderful to visit these sites before they had been converted for mass tourism…now I would like to revisit in a few years to see their progression.
After visiting La Cavalerie, we drove to the nearby area where the “Commanders” lived, now a small farm village inside the walled old fortress. The large parking lot had only one car in it although just beyond we saw a small herd of grazing sheep being shepherded by a young boy.
Heavy hoofs clacked against the graveled road of Covertoirade, passing throught the large gate and tromping through the plaza a man and his horse made their way to the Church. This town was a small holdout of the brotherhood but a holdout none the less. A Templar knight knew he could rely on this place for a nights rest and a meal. The large black stallion carrying an armored man strode up a hill to the ridge that held the fort like structure. Most major buildings of this town were built with the idea of defense in mind. The strong walls that surrounded and incorporated some of the towns buildings showed this place was one accustomed to battle.
It was dusk and torches surrounding the church doors were lit. The knight made his way to them and knocked. A man hooded man in a brown robe cracked the door and ask, “Who goes there?”
“I am brother Michel, of the Knights of Templar. I hail from Pairs originally but am returning from the latest Crusade of the Holy Land.”
“Ah, come in, come in brother. I have heard this third Crusade was bloody one, one that although failed to capture Jerusalem did pave way for an arrangement of access to the holy city for Christian followers.”
“That is correct, after a long brutal two year battle we managed to take the port-town of Acre and instill fear into the Muslim army- the reason they were willing to negotiate a peaceful avenue for Christian pilgrims. They knew if not this campaign the would be won after another till we had what we wanted: Jerusalem.” Responded Michel.
“Praise be to God. Now come in and follow me to the back, I will fetch you some food and drink and show to a room where you can rest the night. I will have some fetch your horse and bring it to the stable adjacent to the blacksmiths workshop.”
So the two men walked through the medieval church to a back door leading down a narrow hallway to small quarters underneath the church. And the weary traveler finally laid down his head after many days of travel. Though no Holy Grail was to be found on his previous adventure he now sought his own back home.