Fortified villages – Larressingle

Most Francophiles have heard of Carcassonne, the incredible fortified city in Languedoc-Roussillon. Incredible for two reasons – the size and quality of the medieval fortifications, and the knowledge that in the 19th century it was scheduled for demolition, and was only saved at the last minute by the newly appointed ‘Inspector of Historic Monuments’.

But head to the west, and in Gascony (now Gers) you will find a ‘baby version’ of Carcassonne which is also a fascinating place to visit.

Larressingle is a very well preserved fortified village, with the defensive walls surrounding a church and a small cluster of medieval houses.

It won’t take long to explore and discover the highlights – there are only a handful of streets within the walls – but it is well worth the effort because it is one of the most fascinating and attractive villages in the region. A small museum inside the fortifications explains the history of the village,which dates from the 13th century.

One curious historic feature in Larressingle is the statue in the church. Intended to be a likeness of Saint-Sigismond, there was some kind of mix-up in the sculptors workshop and the statue actually features Vercingatorix. Vercingatorix is an important historical character in France – he was the great leader of the Gauls in their battles against the invading Romans, who was finally defeated by Julius Caesar.

The town was fortified because it stood near the frontier between the French and English territories, but never was invaded. Having escaped damage during the Hundred Years War, Larressingle slowly fell into disrepair over the following centuries, and was sometimes used as a source of stone for nearby buildings.

More recently, Larressingle has undergone very extensive renovations during the 20th century. Happily these have been carried out carefully and tastefully and the village doesn’t feel over-renovated. Cars are not permitted in the village – when you visit you will appreciate why, since such a small place could not support large numbers of vehicles.

Just below Larressingle there is a popular attraction (small entrance charge payable) where various weapons and artefacts from the middle ages have been recreated, and will give both children and adults a better feel for the history of the town, medieval warfare, and a general insight into life here 700 years ago.

Visit: highly recommended!