A brief history of the village
Human colonization of the Corbières Minervois region dates back to ancient times. Of the prehistoric era, there are but few traces, aside from the dolmens (Massac) or collective types of settlements like the oppidum of Ornaisons (Mourrel).
The Romans began to occupy the Narbonensian province from 118 BC onward, a period in time during which they started to structure, govern and exploit the area. On the Lézignan plain, situated on the Via Aquitania, a huge number of pieces of pottery, tegulae, parts of funeral steles, lamps, etc have been unearthed by farmers as they worked their land. These relics tell the tale of the region’s past when it was structured as part of a “villa” environment, which is the etymological basis for our own ‘village’.
Every village you will visit during your stay has its own tale to tell. For the most part, the oldest historical traces discovered in the region date back to the 11th and 12th Centuries. This is the era when the settlements were created which led to the foundation of the sites you are exploring right now.
The fortified village (village castral) was the favourite type of construction in this region. This type of village was built on a rocky hill (Cucugnan, Laroque-de-Fa), a promontory (Albières, sentry of the Orbieu valley), a hillside (Soulatgé, overlooking the Verdouble valley) or a hillock (Conilhac-Corbières is built on a knoll, just like Tourouzelle).
It was judiciously built close to a river or a confluence (Padern is situated above the gorges of the Torgan and the Verdouble), on a primary crossroads and, preferably, facing south.
At the top of the hill, the seigneurial castle was situated, surrounded by houses inhabited by farmers looking for a safe dwelling. The houses were built in descending circular layers around the castle, thus becoming ramparts in their own right.
If you are out looking for these ancient castles these days, you will only find remnants of fortifications or, in some cases, the former fortified church which belonged to the castle and, over the ages, became the village church (Cruscades, Montgaillard, Cascastel).
In Fabrezan, the seigneurial tower is still proudly present. In Lanet, the poet Max Savy transformed the impressive castle into his own favourite residence. In Argens-Minervois, the imposing body of the castle is reflected in the green water of the Canal du Midi. In Durban, the stately remains of the castle tower majestically over the village. And if you would like to travel back in time, why don’t you pay a visit to the “quartier de l’escargot” (snail-like part of the village) in Saint Laurent-de-la-Cabrerisse, the centre of the former fortified village as it was in the 17th Century.
Other villages have more religiously-based origins. Instead of building around a castle, houses were constructed around the local church. This is the case of Lézignan-Corbières, Mouthoumet, Duilhac-sous-Peyrepertuse, Saint-André-de-Roquelongue, Quintillan, and Tuchan.
The fact that these villages originated in the vicinity of a church or a priory (Saint-Martin-des-Puits) did not prevent them from keeping a fortified structure similar to the one usually found in a seigneurial “castrum”. This is the case of Mouthoumet and Tuchan, both proud owners of a « fortress » which corresponds to the primitive core of the village.
There are also a number of peculiar cases in the Corbières Minervois region. The village of Lagrasse was built as a sort of mirror image of the abbey on the opposite river bank. In Villerouge-Termenès, the village was built around the seigneurial castle. But in this particular case of “seigneurial castrum”, the seigneur (lord) was the archbishop of Narbonne. This important man, both on a political and a religious level, also showed his secular powers by way of this castle with its four impressive towers.
Finally, in Termes, the castrum of Olivier de Termes was destroyed by the King of France and its entire population was moved to the site where the village is currently situated. Room needed to be made for the construction of the military fortress that can be visited today.
In the same vein, the former fortified settlement of Peyrepertuse was ravaged and the population moved to Duilhac, so that the rocky spur of the castle could be devoted entirely to military purposes.
All these villages are settlements that have “managed” to stand the test of time. In the heart of the different garrigues and maquis, the names of the places and the archeology can sometimes reveal the former presence of settlements, deserted at various moments in history: either when the sites were put to use as settlements during the Middle Ages (Davejean, Montjoi) or, later on, from the 16th Century onward to be precise (village and château de la Bouisse in Montséret, Castelmaure in the village of Embres-et-Castelmaure, Luc-sur-Orbieu).
While strolling through the small streets of the villages in the Corbières and Minervois regions, the sudden presence of the impressive body of a castle, a fortified gate or a church in the middle of an ancient network of streets is no longer likely to surprise you. Still, you will soon come to understand that, even though these villages are of medieval origin, they have also managed to extend and evolve over the centuries. Very often, the medieval dwelling places were destroyed or abandoned as the barris or faubourgs (suburbs) gained in popularity. In the course of the 19th Century, the cartography of our villages evolved under the influence of modern necessities on the one hand and the development of the wine-growing industry on the other.
The ancient moats were replaced by wide avenues lined with plane trees ... obsolete fortifications disappeared, villages opened up and expanded, organizing themselves around the public school or the town hall ... even the dead were moved on occasion.
In certain villages, the wine-growing culture caused a new and significant demographic expansion and brought about the creation of new neighbourhoods by the neatly designed avenues, to the glory of luxurious Maisons de maître, wine-grower’s houses and wine cellars (Moux, Canet, Boutenac). A new way of life in society came about and you will be able to enjoy many aspects of it while visiting.