In the Middle Ages, Aquitaine had as many as 250 fortified bastide towns. These medieval counterparts of today’s new towns (nova bastida) have not all survived the passing years, but of the 315 known in France today, more than one third are in Aquitaine.
Present in all 5 départements of Aquitaine, these towns are the last expression of the huge movement of urban and rural expansion of medieval Europe.
They were built in the 13th and 14th centuries for a number of reasons:
- strong growth of the population,
- the will of their founders to bring scattered populations together in one place,
- a combination of the different economic, financial, political and military interests of the authorities that founded them.
In those days rich in rivalries, these fortified towns were founded by Counts of Toulouse, Dukes of Aquitaine, Kings of France and Kings of England.
While medieval towns and villages generally evolved gradually over the centuries, these fortified new towns were often built in one go, and to a perpendicular plan with streets laid out at right angles.
And unlike the towns of the earlier Middle Ages built around their church, the bastide towns were laid out around their central square. This was a space for business, where stalls were set up for fairs and markets, and for civil and municipal activities, with the house of the seneschal or governor taking pride of place. The church often stood on one corner of the square.
Seven hundred years later, the fortified towns of Aquitaine are still a hive of activity. Shows, festivals, fairs and night-time markets are held on the squares and under the arcades. People gather there to buy local produce, to meet up with friends or just to enjoy the ever-pleasant atmosphere.
Would you like to follow one of the four circuits around the fortified towns of Aquitaine?