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Bastides are cities that are characterised by a main square with arcades. This one is in the City of Monpazier, in the Dordogne.

A bastide is a fortified town.[1] They were built mainly in the south of France in the Middle Ages. Most bastides were built between 1229 and 1373, between the Albigensian Crusade and the Hundred Years' War. Today, there are about 400 bastides. They all have a central square, and a rectangular street layout. On the market square, the houses have arcades. They were usually built in places that were easy to defend, such as the top of a hill or on a plain.

Well-known bastides today are Carcassonne and Andorra la Vella.

Overview[change | change source]

Bastides are medieval cities. There is an act of foundation (a law made to start them). There are often historic documents written about them. Some times they are planned cities and are usually only one architect (or one lord) designs it. They were often built where there was already a village, or at a place of historical importance. They were sometimes also built where people bought and sold things a lot (for example where trading routes crossed).

The Treaty of Paris (1229) is sometimes seen as the foundation act which made the construction of modern cities and bastides possible. The treaty itself ended the Albigensian Crusade. One of the first bastides built was Montauban. Montauban became a city in 1144. However some consider Mont-de-Marsan which was founded in 1133 to be a bastide.

Purpose[change | change source]

Most bastides were built in the countryside. They were basically to serve the needs of local trade (usually, agriculture). A few of them were built in places which were very easy to defend. Others were built where it was possible to defend them, but most bastides were simply built where they were needed. The time when they were built was a peaceful one in the region.

Builders of Bastides[change | change source]

Bastides were built by people who had a high social status, such as:[2]

Structural elements[change | change source]

A typical square at the top of a bastide.

Central square[change | change source]

The main feature of all bastides is a central, open place, or square. It was used for markets, but also used for political and social gatherings. A typical square, (which was probably a model for other bastides), can be found in Montauban.

Generally, there is just one square. Saint-Lys and Albias are different because they have two squares, one for the market, and one square for the church.

The square is also used to divide the city into quarters. Generally it lies outside the main street (the axis) which carried the traffic. There are three possible layouts:

  • completely closed: The square does not touch any street. These are very rare; there is one example at Tournay with a size of 70 metres (230 ft) by 72 m (236 ft)).
  • single-axis: These happen because of the single-axis design of the bastide. All roads run in one direction and are parallel. Here and there there are alleys cut between the roads. The square is placed between two roads. These squares are usually 50 m (164 ft) to 55 m (180 ft) on each side.
  • grid-layout; usually based on the square in Montauban.

Generally the flattest place in the bastide was used for the square.

Church[change | change source]

Except in very rare cases, the church was not on the central square. Usually it was at an angle, and faced the square diagonally. One of the rare exceptions is Villefranche-de-Rouergue.

Houses[change | change source]

There were clear rules how houses could be built in the bastide. The front of the houses - the façades - had to line up. Also there had to be a small space between the houses. The different housing lots were all alike, 8 m (26 ft) by 24 m (79 ft) was a common size. There were only a limited number of lots. This varied between 10, and several thousand (3,000 in Grenade-sur-Garonne)

Streets[change | change source]

The streets were usually 6 m (20 ft) – 10 m (33 ft) wide, so a chariot could pass through. They ran alongside the façades of the houses. Alleys run between streets, these are usually only 5 m (16 ft) – 6 m (20 ft) wide. Sometimes they are only 2 m (7 ft) – 2.5 m (8 ft) wide. In a bastide there were usually between one and eight streets.

City walls[change | change source]

When bastides were founded most had no city walls or fortifications. This was because it was a peaceful time in history. Such things were added later. This was done either through a special tax, or through a law that required that the people of the city helped build the walls. A good example is Libourne. Ten years after the city was founded, the people asked for money to build city walls. Once they had received the money, they spent it on making their city prettier, rather than building walls.

At the beginning of the Hundred Years' War, many bastides that had no city walls were destroyed. Some of the others quickly built stone walls, to protect the city.

Layout of a bastide[change | change source]

There are different base layouts for bastides. Often for each type of layout, there was a bastide that was an example for other bastides. The most common layout started from two perpendicular streets. New streets were made parallel to the two original streets. This led to a usually rectangular grid layout.

Unstructured bastide[change | change source]

There seems to have been no plan when these bastides were built. This may have been for the following reasons:

  • They were built in a place where there already was a hamlet or village and the bastide had to allow for the buildings.
  • There were very few people who lived in the bastide, (which means the reason for the bastide failed).
  • The lords who built them had little or no authority to put their ideas into practice.

An example of such a bastide is La Bastide-de-Bousignac.

Circular bastide[change | change source]

The circle layout for a bastide was very rare. The only surviving example is in Fourcès.

Enclosing type[change | change source]

Enclosing bastides were built around an existing small village or hamlet. There already was a church or a small group of houses. When new houses were built, they were added around the original buildings.

One axis design[change | change source]

There is one main street that links the two gates. This makes the axis around which the bastide was built. These are quite common, with about 30—40% of all bastides using this design. Very often they are found on flat land. The square is often made by making the main street bigger. Very often there are alleys which run perpendicular to the main street. This layout is very easy to change to fit in with the local landscape.

An example of a one axis bastide is Gimont. Gimont is 1,000 metres (1,094 yd) long, and only 300 m (328 yd) wide. Sometimes, there is another street which runs parallel to the main axis. The city square is made between the two streets.

Two axis design[change | change source]

There are two main streets, axes, which are perpendicular (make a right angle). All other streets are at a right angle, or parallel to one of the two main streets. The city square is very often in the centre, or very near the centre. The whole city is either rectangular, square, hexagonal or oval shaped. This layout was the plan used at the height of the bastide movement.

Making a bastide[change | change source]

A few steps are necessary to make a new bastide, these are:

  • Choosing a place where the baside can be built.
  • Choosing a name for it; there are different options:
    1. Telling about the privileges of citizenship: Villefranche, La Bastide.
    2. Telling about the site where it is built; Monségur or Montastruc tell about the fact the place was easy to defend or a pleasant one to live in.
    3. The name tells about foreign cities the lord has visited when he went abroad, like for a crusade or for a war: Pavie, Fleurance (for Florence), Grenade, Cordes (for Cordoba), Tournay (for Tournai in Flanders ), but also Bruges (Bruges, also in Flanders) and Gan (Ghent, in Belgium).
    4. Name of the founding nobleman, for example Libourne is named after Leyburn.
    5. The authority of a king: Montréal (means: mountain of the king).
  • A contract is made between the noblemen who owned the land, and who (co-)founded the city.
  • A plan of what the city should look like is drawn.

Once all this steps are done, the bastide is not yet founded. The next step is to attract people to come live in the new city. This is done by making a Charta of customs. This Charta does not tell so much about customs, but rather about the privileges those that live there (the citizens) get. These privileges can be of different kinds:

  • Based on taxes: Those that live in the city have to pay less taxes.
  • Based on a given legal status.
  • Based on honorifics.

Bastides wanted to attract people who should come to live there. They therefore offered equality to those who came to live there. They made it look like citizens had equal rights, and were free.

Legal foundations for bastides[change | change source]

The social system was very fixed and unchanging during the Middle Ages. The system of laws of the Middle Ages was built on the fact that society did not change. Everyone had their place in the system and they stayed there. The lords who built the bastide did not want to change the social system. All they wanted was small local improvements. Usually, the land where the bastide was built was not developed. The lords that owned the land were not making much money from it. They built the bastide because they hoped they would get more profits from the land.

For these reasons, people who already had a social status, (serfs, noblemen and priests) could not settle in the bastide. A few poor noblemen gave their land to the city and started a career as a trader, because that way they could earn more money than before.

The people who lived in the city looked free, but this freedom had limits:

  • When they came to the city, they had equal chances of being able to live there, and being made a citizen (Not all people who lived in the bastide were citizens).
  • On paper, all citizens had equal rights and duties.

Men and women did not have equal rights. Women are often mentioned in the Charter, and have some rights:

  • In most of the bastides, husbands did not have the right to beat their wives.
  • There are special rules regarding dowry. Sometimes even men have to pay it.

Lepers were usually not welcome in the city. Certain bastides had special places which would treat them, but they were generally excluded from social life. They had to wear special badges to show they were ill, and they could not come close to normal people.

Another group of people that was generally not welcome were the Jews. In the beginning there was no problem, but later Jews were persecuted. Philip IV of France did not allow any Jews to live in France, in 1306. He confiscated their belongings and sold them.

Charter[change | change source]

Later developments[change | change source]

A number of bastides were successful and still exist today. Many others have failed, and most of their population left them.

The bastides had three stages of development or change:

  1. Many bastides failed to take off, and disappeared, as new people did not come to live there. Those that are left see an economic growth that changes the way south-eastern France is organised.
  2. During the Hundred Years' War the bastides that are left, are forced to build city walls to defend themselves. Those that do not disappear from the map during the war. After the end of the war, there is prosperity again. The position of the bourgeoisie is strengthened. Long-distance roads are built and the bastides along these roads profit enormously.
  3. In the 19th and 20th centuries people left the countryside to move to the cities. During this time bastides are tested again, and some disappear.

Images[change | change source]

Related pages[change | change source]

References[change | change source]

  1. Bastide emphasises the "built" nature of the enterprise; in spite of the fortified connotations of Bastille, most of the present town walls were not built initially, though their strategic location was a consideration from the start, in part through contractual promises of future military support from the new occupants. (Adrian Randolph, "The Bastides of southwest France" The Art Bulletin 77.2 (June 1995, pp. 290-307) pp 291 note 11 and 303.
  2. Jacques Dubourg, Histoire des bastides, éditions Sud-Ouest, 2002,ISBN 2-87901-492-1, pages 55 to 70
  3. Jacques Dubourg, Histoire des bastides, éditions Sud-Ouest, 2002, pages 126 - 134, ISBN 2-87901-492-1

Reading material[change | change source]