Cordes sur ciel
Listed as Great Site of Midi-Pyrenees
Visitor's Rating: (2 out of 4/Number of Votes:1)
Cordes sur ciel was named until 1993 just Cordes. The change of name, to reflect the town's unusual location on the top of a 100 meters (330ft) high rocky outcrop, "cordes sur ciel" translates as "rope in the sky", was required by its inhabitants and decided by a local referendum.
In 2014 this 800 years old community was declared "village préféré des Français" or "favorite French village".
Cordes sur ciel was built between 1222 and 1229 on the order of Raimond VII, Count of Toulouse, in full swing of the Albigensian Crusade, during the period of occitane offensive that followed the death in 1218 of Simon of Montfort.
The main purpose of this "bastide" or "new town" was to give a home to those who have lost theirs during the Crusade. The location chosen - on the top of an almost perfectly conic hill - was also a strategic one, given the town was built during times of unrest.
In its founding charter the town is identified as "Cordoa" a name that follows the fashion of the time of giving new settlements names of big Spanish cities - in this case Cordoba!
In 1271 at the death of Jeanne de Toulouse, daughter and heiress of Raymond VII and wife of Alphonse, brother of the French king Louis IX, the County of Toulouse, and thus Cordes, became a part of the Kingdom of France.
Between the end of the 13th century and the middle of the 14th century Cordes knows what we would call now an economic boom, driven by the production and commerce of fabrics and ropes, boom that causes population increase and the need for the enlargement of the town's surface, a process that takes place 5 distinctive times with surrounding fortified walls being erected 5(!) times as well.
It is during this period that many magnificent Italian-Gothic style houses, that can be still admired after more than 700 years, were built for the aristocratic families and the wealthy merchants. They bear up to this day the appellations of their first owners: "Maison du Grand Fauconnier", "Maison du Grand Ecuyer" , "Maison du Grand Veneur".
Starting from the second half of the fourteenth century, successive plague epidemics all but wiped out Cordes' population and at the end of the seventeenth century, the construction of the Canal du Midi changed the major trade routes and led to the town's economical collapse.
Yet the town will know two rebirths. First the economic one, in 1870, when the mechanical embroidery industry is brought here from St. Gallen, Switzerland, by Albert Gorsse, a resident of Cordes, and then the artistic one with the relocation to Cordes of the painter Yves Brayer (1907-1990) followed by a group of other artists during World War II.
Nowadays Cordes sur ciel is a true open sky medieval museum and a jewel of Gothic architecture. Albert Camus, who loved Cordes, described it the best: «On voyage pendant des années sans trop savoir ce que l'on cherche, on erre dans le bruit, empêtré de désirs ou de repentirs et l'on parvient soudain dans l'un de ces deux ou trois lieux qui attendent chacun de nous en ce monde. Le voyageur qui, de la terrasse de Cordes, regarde la nuit d'été sait ainsi qu'il n'a pas besoin d'aller plus loin et que, s'il veut, la beauté ici, jour après jour, l'enlèvera à toute solitude.»*
When visiting Cordes sur ciel a must-see is the "Sugar and Chocolate Art" museum created in 1989 by Yves Thuriès "Meilleur Ouvrier de France" (the museum is open from March 15 to December 31 from 10am to 7pm every day). As its name indicates the museum displays art work made from …sugar and chocolate!
The "Jardin du Paradis" ("The garden of Paradise") of Cordes is another place not to be missed. This garden bears the label "Jardin remarquable" ("Remarkable garden of France") and organizes each beginning of August during one weekend the feast of …laziness! (The garden is open from the 1st of May until the first weekend of October).
Two things to keep in mind when visiting Cordes sur ciel:
- - the little streets of the medieval town are steep and not adapted to people with mobility problems
- - the town is a very popular tourist spot and short on parking places, so a good idea is to try to arrive there as early in the moring as possible
*"We travel for years without knowing what one seeks, we wander in noise, tangled with desires or regrets and suddenly get into one of those two or three places that await each of us in this world. The traveler who, from the terrace of Cordes, looks at the summer night knows he does not need to go further and, if he wishes, the beauty of the place, day after day, will remove any solitude."
Corde is nice but the streets are very steep. To get to the top you need to climb the hill