The first three centuries of the second millennium CE were marked in the Western Europe by a demographical explosion due to a long period of peace – the wars of the time were taking place mainly in the Holy Land (with the exception of the Albigensian Crusade) – and the evolution of farming techniques that were increasing the crop yields. This population growth together with the development of crafts that triggered the increase of commercial exchanges, and the fact that the big chunks of land were inhabited and therefore of difficult to establish ownership, prompted the decision of the rulers of the time – the south west of France was at the time shared between the French and English crowns – to start building new towns: the so called “bastides”.
According to some historians the word bastide comes from the Italian “bastia” that means fort or from the Provençal “bastido” that mean new building site.
The first bastide to be built was Cordes founded in 1222 and the last one was “La Bastide d’Anjou” built in 1372, both of them situated in the nowadays Tarn department.
The founding of a bastide was starting with an understanding between a suzerain – the founder – that was offering his protection and a local landlord that was giving the land. Big bastide founders in the south west of France include Raymond VII Count of Toulouse set out to replace towns destroyed by the Albigesian crusade, Alphonse de Poitiers brother of Saint Louis and heir of Raymond through his wife, King Edward I of England and King Henry III of England.
The next step was the elaboration of the custom charter that was establishing the amount of taxes – paid by the inhabitants to the founder -, the dates of the market and the system of justices. The charter was stipulating also that the founder was freeing up the new residents of the bastide from their status of serfs.
We can say that the creation of the bastide was among the factors that triggered the unraveling of the medieval society and the transition to a new social order.
The bastides were administered by a group of ,usually 6, consuls elected by the population; the other two notables of the new town being the bailiff who was representing the founder and the notary in charge of law enforcement.
The bastide was built primarily for commercial exchange purposes. Therefore it features a central -usually rectangular – square that is the heart of the town, where markets are taking place. The rest of its territory is organized around this open place with streets intersecting at right angles and defining regular residential plots.
Each new comer to the bastide was given two plots of land – of equal size for all – to built their house – plot called “ayral”- and to start a garden – the “casal”. There ware also farming plots equally handed out outside the bastide. The houses were separated by narrow spaces of around 30cm (around 12 inches) wide that were used as drains for sewage and rain water as well as firewalls.
The center square comprises usually a covered hall and is bordered on at least some sides by archways were traders and craftsmen were exposing their wares.
Many bastides are still surrounded by defensive stone walls but these were usually added later after their founding mainly during the Hundred Years Wars (1337-1453).
There were around 300 bastide built during 150 years in the South west of France.
Hi, I am Carla. I am living and working in the beautiful city of Toulouse, France.
I like history, travel and... the southwest of France and try to share through this blog information about events that might be of interest to the travelers to this part of the world!