The Middle Ages left their indelible mark on history, especially on the fortified towns, and the 13th century new towns, i.e. Gimont, St Sauvy, Villefranche d’Astarac, and Aurimont, not forgetting the Protected towns such as Simorre. These attractive villages, full of character and charm have retained all their original features of perpendicular narrow streets authentic timber frame houses aligning them, and central squares for the market place and stallholders.
The Middle Ages saw the rise of fortified towns, as well as those labelled as Protected and Ecclesiastical. In the main these have retained a lot of their original features i.e. walls, ditches, tower-doors and castles.
The fortified town of Gimont dates from 1265, and was built by the Cistercian monks of Planselve. The centre is dominated by the 14th Century Gothic Church and its construction date of 1331 is visible on the portal; the octagonal bell tower is similar to that of St Sernin in Toulouse. Particular attention should be given to Gimont's main road, which crosses the 13th century covered market place (further works were carried out on it in the 18th and 19th centuries), also the Capucins building of Planselve Abbey within the old fortress, and the significant chapel of Cahuzac, important to pilgrims.
A fortified town is a new build Medieval village, built between the 13th and 14th centuries; these originated from an agreement between the King and the local Lord. A fortified town can be pinpointed by a geometric map, and identified by its main square or its central covered square.
Simorre was the capital of Astarac until its destruction by fire; it was rebuilt in 1141. The village was constructed around the original Abbey dating from 820 AD; it was fortified in the 12th century. This fortified church, built in the Toulousian style of red and pink brick, became the epi-centre around which the village houses were grouped in a semi-planned way. Even today the church is central to the village, where its strategic position continues to dominate the village.
A project to renew the church has been created. You can participate to save this monument : more information (in French) or donation online on this website, or by filling in the documents available in the church or in Simorre. With this subscription, you can support this conservation operation and development of this precious heritage.
The village of Saramon was built and named after the Abbey of that name, probably at the beginning of the 12th Century, and was enlarged over a period of time during the Middle Ages. Of all the rest of Gascony's urban developments, this small town is probably the most closely identifiable with the regions historical past.
Aubiet is full of Archaeological finds, not least of them being a funerary statue dating from the Gallo-Roman period. The architecture of the private dwellings, close to the church, are most interesting. The church tower is very different to those of neighbouring villages, easily pin-pointing it in the landscape.
Planselve Abbey is the remnant of a Cistercian Monastery, which was influential in the foundation of Gimont. However all that remains of the brick Abbey, is a section of the stone construction, plus seven grain silos, the castle, the water-mill, two important dovecots and the long wall built in 1500 measuring 1.5 high; the wall surrounds the grounds and shows the extent of the estate. The monastery was built in 1142 at the height of monastic constructions; it was positioned next to the river Gimone on land given to Albert, Abbot of Berdoues Abbey; it flourished and expanded through the appropriation of Cahuzac lands.
The Abbey of Sainte Marie de Boulaur was founded in 114, and signs of all its various reconstructions are still visible. The past has taken its toll on the Abbey, as well as the lives of the Closed Order of Fontevraud Nuns living there. The Abbey was burnt down during the Religious Wars and the French Revolution, and in 1904 the Anticlerical Laws eventually forced the order into exile. However the situation is now reverted and the nuns have returned to the Abbey, and twenty sisters presently live t the Abbey, each allocated a specific task, and one of them conducts guided tours, explaining the origins of the first Closed Order of Fontevraud, and the Cistercian Order which followed. They eke out a living through their handicraft and farming, selling their jam, cheese and pate. The 'Salle du Chapitre' once the old dining room, is now a reading room where the principles of their monastic life are maintained.
Small chapels dot and enliven the scenery, and are an integral part of our historical heritage. Some are positioned within the little villages, some are on high remote hills, whilst others form part of a castle.
Gers is a 'land of castles' which were frequently altered and refurbished throughout the centuries, displaying a diversity of style; they appear evenly spread throughout the countryside, and are quite often hidden away in large parks, scarcely visible from the tree-lined paths. Usually within the complex of these estates are agricultural outbuildings, dovecotes and chapels.
The 'Chemin d’Arles', also known as the 'Via Tolosana' starts on the plateau of Larzac. It ascends the Natural Regional Park of Haut Languedoc, and follows the Canal du Midi till it reaches Toulouse. It traverses the Gers Department, the necessary crossroad for thousands of pilgrims. As it progresses, this road reveals architectural and artistic treasures such as Auch Cathedral, and Marciac; the latter is the final stop in the Gers, where can be seen remnants of buildings once dedicated to pilgrims, i.e. churches, hospitals, bridges and boundary marks. Nowadays the old pilgrim's road partly converges with the Hiking Trail GR653.
The Maquis de Meilhan, lies between Simorre and Masseube. Here during WW2 a hundred members of the Resistance were gathered under the leadership of Doctor Raynaud from Lombez; their whereabouts denounced, they were consequently surrounded and attacked by a battalion of the Wehrmacht on July 7th 1944. A munitions truck exploded and fierce fighting ensued, resulting in the death of 76 of the fighters - 16 only of them escaping the slaughter. In 1948 a memorial was built in their memory. The site is fronted by a large and imposing mural sculpture, and within it remain the ruins of the farm buildings and the shell of the burnt out truck, along with the cemetery and the headstones. On July 7th, of each year a Remembrance Service is held in the grounds, fronted by local and relevant dignitaries.
There are several small interesting museums to explore :
The life of Gascony peasants at the beginning of the 20th Century :
The region's interesting past, its paleontology and prehistory, the Gallo-Roman period and life in the Medieval Ages :
Past historical tradition explained through tours and published itineraries