What is a bastide?
A ville bastide in the Tarn region is a purpose-built fortified town, intended to provide a safe home for people who had been displaced as a result of the Albigensian Crusade. At that time there was a religious movement known as Catharism, centred on Albi, but which was widespread throughout the southern part of France. Pope Innocent III considered the Cathars to be heretics and his desire to be rid of them led to major conflict between the nobles of the north and the south of France; their battles destroyed many of the region’s farms and villages, leaving their inhabitants homeless and in poverty.
A bastide is normally situated on top of a steep hill, with stone walls and gateways just wide enough to allow a cart to pass through, which can be closed as necessary, ensuring the security of the people within. Although many bastides have been altered over the succeeding centuries, perhaps by the addition of further sets of walls as the population increased, their original structures mainly stand intact and clearly demonstrate the effectiveness of their plan and style.
Bastides are arranged around a central market square and usually conform to a grid pattern, although the individual town's precise layout may be influenced by the shape of the hill on which it is built. The marketplace was the hub of trade and the focal point for residents and visitors alike. Settlers in the new towns started businesses of all kinds, such as leather goods and cloth, and often became very prosperous, building magnificent houses to show off their wealth. Local farmers benefited from the protection afforded within the bastide walls in troubled times as well as from the demand for their produce in the town market.