Sunday, 21 July 2013

Mirepoix, department of Ariege

We stopped off here on our way back from Minerve, to discover another small town, so beautiful and steeped in history! The name Mirepoix in Occitan (Oc) the local language, is supposedly Mire Peis, which means " see the fish". 

An 18th century local lord, the Duke of Levis-Mirepoix has been described as an "incompetent individual" (!) but as an Army field-marshal and friend of King Louis XV, he  gained some fame by giving his name to the culinary concoction Mirepoix- chopped celery, onions and carrots (there are apparently endless variants - I'm not going there!), which is used as  a flavour base for many dishes like soups and sauces.
Enough of the culinary anecdotes, the delight of this fortified town of about 3,000 inhabitants derives mostly from its stunning buildings!

Our old friend (!) Simon de Montfort took the castle during the Albigensian Crusade (see last blog for more) after a siege in 1209, dispossessed the Cathar-supporting owners, and gave the town to his loyal lieutenant, Guy de Levis.

Depending on which website you consult, the original town was destroyed in  either 1279 or 1289 (town website says the latter)  after a barrage on the river Hers gave way, and the water flooded the town. Reconstruction, by Jean de Levis (son of Guy), started on the opposite bank of the river in the following year (probably 1290, then!), the streets being laid out in a medieval grid pattern. which remains unchanged to this day!

The shots above and below are of the town centre-piece, the market square or Place de Couverts, built at this time. The design of the facades allowed private habitable spaces to be extended over the public areas, providing more living space and forming sheltering arcades underneath.

These arcades  provide  shading and seating areas for the shops and businesses, including several cafes and restaurants, operating in the buildings behind. It is a delightful spot to stop for a while and have some refreshment!

Once rebuilt, the town recovered its prosperity during the 14th century, but was subjected to raids by armed bands, who sacked the town and set parts ablaze. Thus further defences, including four big stone town entrance gateways, were constructed.

These individually carved decorative gargoyles on joist ends (I saw a note somewhere to say there are 150 of them, but that sounds far too few) are fascinating! Many have been badly damaged by the elements; the most surviving are faces with a variety of facial expressions, ranging from surprise to anguish, and can be studied for some time! And see the owl too! You can just imagine those woodworkers of old sitting carving in that square!

The cathedral of Saint-Maurice de Mirepoix today. Originally built in 1298 by Jean de Levis as a church, it was enlarged over the centuries. It has a 22 metre (70 feet) wide nave, said to be the  widest in Europe  apart from Girona cathedral in Spain! Once the now-abolished seat of the Bishop of Mirepoix, the cathedral is quite rightly a listed monument.

There is also a covered wrought iron market hall adjacent to the square, built in 1885 and undoubtedly replacing, a nearby sign says, an enclosed stone and timber building which was demolished at some previous time. This hall comprises a lantern light roof standing on a wrought iron industrial style structure with 16 columns, a design popular from the 1850's. The roof profile provided enhanced lighting and ventilation beneath it.

See to the left of the above photo.  For some obscure reason I did not take a full photo of it!



 Nigel trying to count the number of gargoyles!!

Just to think these ancient oak columns and beams are still standing today - although one can see the evidence of "running repairs" carried out over the centuries!

One of the streets leading into the square.

Markets are still held each week on the large grassy island in the centre of the square.

Due to its proximity to Carcassonne airport and the budget UK airlines which fly there, the Ariege area has become very Anglicised, with café signs advertising food in English and English newspapers having become quite common. Otherwise, it's still remarkably unspoilt!!!

An amazing (I think!) panoramic view of the square and whole town can be seen HERE  and is  well worth a visit. It also shows clearly the covered market.  
Other sites worth viewing are HERE and HERE

My thanks once again go to Nigel for all his research and writings.


see my daily photo diary  HERE

and also - My Life Before Charente Updated 12/07/2013 

72 comments:

  1. Love that architectural design and the carved gargoyles.

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    1. Gaelyn, I took so many photos of those gargoyles, they fascinated me. Hope all well over there, very hot here! Take care Diane

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  2. Another wonderful post with lots of interesting info, such as your story of the Duke of Levis-Mirepoix. Great photos of a very beautiful area, thank you :)

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    1. Thanks Denise, pleased that you are enjoying these historical posts. Keep well Diane

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  3. i just love those gargoyles! you see the most interesting places.

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    1. Jaz I think we are very lucky to live here, there is just so many beautiful places and so much history. Have a good week. Diane

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  4. Most interesting! Of course, if you love history, and travel, these can make fascinating research pieces as you travel along. I enjoy all these tid-bits more than ever as I have become a rocking-chair travel lately.

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    1. rosaria I just love my arm chair travels around the world, so many virtual visits I feel as if I have really been there. Glad that you enjoy my posts. Keep well Diane

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  5. Why oh why do they do that ?? English signs for food , English newspapers ,, you are in France .. but I was pleased to read that apart from these, it has remained untouched ,what a relief that is ...looks wonderful ,, love squares like this ,,

    As for the Mirepoix ,, I use this too , make my own , but until now I did not know the French used it , so mine in Italian ,, Soffritto which is used the same way :-) xox Take care Anne

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    1. Anne if it attracts tourists....... This though is a really pretty place. It is unspoilt as such, just a couple of things which is the norm to attract customers! I agree though, in France do as the French do. Never the less I am glad that there are quite a few who do speak French although I generally can get by:)) Have a good week, Diane oxo

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  6. DEAR DIANE, WHAT A BEAUTIFUL PLACE YOU FOUND, I HAD ONLY HEARD OF THE MIREPOIX VEGETABLE MIX, BUT THIS IS WAY MORE INTERESTING. THE GARGOYLES CARVED IN OAK ARE UNBELIEVABLE. BIG HUGS

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    1. Pamela I also never realised that there was a town as well as a recipe! I agree this is more interesting. I loved the gargoyles and took so many photos :-) Hope the next week is a good one for you, Diane

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  7. You do have a way of finding the most interesting villages Diane. This one looks especially lovely and I could quite happily spend some time there. Thanks for the tour - much appreciated!

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    1. Thanks Craig this place is quite special but so are many of the others! We were lucky to have friends who know the area well. Have a good week, Diane

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  8. I have no idea why I have never been there. My niece lives not very far from Mirepoix (in the next "departement"). Last time, we visited Foix again since I like it so much and wanted my son to see the castle. All those "departements" along the Pyrenees are very nice and the local food very good. The treat is to be so close to Spain too!

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    1. Nadege if you go over there again and see your niece you must take a trip here. It really is a lovely little place. Thanks for the comment, have a good week Diane

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  9. Hi, I'm a new follower. I love your blog, such beautiful pictures. I would love to visit the Pays d'Oc one day. I've read the book by Kate Mosse "Labyrinth", which is set in this part of France. I'm interested in the history and the culture of this part of France. Thank you so much for the wonderful info.
    Have a great day.

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    1. Hi Eilis, thanks for the visit, comment and following. Labyrinth was an excellent book, also one of the reasons we wanted to see the area. Normally I =my posts are about the Charente but this was a holiday trip and from here we move onto Barcelona. Keep well and have a good week Diane

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  10. What a charming town. I love the colourful shutters and could see myself spending time in the bistros at the city square.

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    1. Joyful I just love these historic places. They just ooze history at every pore :-) Have a good week, hope you are getting things sorted out for your Mum. Diane

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  11. Amazing old buildings - thanks for the tour Diane ... it must be quite a task to research all the history in this area ...

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    1. Graham I do help Nigel a bit with websites to look at, but he is much better than I am at writing it up. I would end up with a whole book that nobody would be interested in!! The buildings were fantastic. Keep well Diane

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  12. What beautiful buildings and thanks to you both for the photos and history x

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    1. Thanks Kerry from us both, it is a town worth visiting as are so many others in this area. Have a good week, Diane xx

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  13. This town is so amazing. The fortified buildings are so beautiful.
    Thanks for the pics.

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    1. Rick there are so many places like this in France but this is one of the best that I have seen I must say. This area though seems to a great place for a holiday. Thanks for the comment Diane

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  14. The villages in France are so full of unspoilt beauty, and this was most definitely one of them. Have a good week.

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    1. Vera you are so right, I think we need to spend more time looking around the country but you have difficulty finding time I know. Have a good week, Diane

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  15. The number of tourists will increase after you advertising this so well.
    What a great place!
    Thanks for sharing.

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    1. Thanks Gunn it really is a lovely place, Hope your week is a good one. Diane

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  16. I love the carved wooden gargoyles even though some have been ravaged by the elements and the passage of time.

    It looks like an interesting town and area to visit. It would be a great stop off en route for the Pyrenees.

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    1. Gaynor if you have not been to this area, as we had not, I highly recommend it. There are so many small towns that are oozing with history. Have a wonderful week and take care Diane

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  17. I love the style of architecture, it's so different from where I live. Thanks for the tour!

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    1. Sara very different from around here as well. It is a lovely place to visit. Take care Diane

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    1. Leon and Sue this place is a definite if you have not been there yet. We loved it. Have a good week Diane

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  19. This is like nothing I've ever seen in France, so I'm sure well worth a visit. I think I'd be nervous about walking in that covered area though. I'd be afraid the buildings were going to collapse after the oak columns have stood for centuries holding the up. I have a French meme on Mondays called "Dreaming of France" and I'd love it if you'd play along. I also have a giveaway this month of a $20 Amazon gift card and a copy of my novel The Summer of France. So come over and enter the giveaway. Here’s my Dreaming of France meme

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    1. Paulita this is a beautiful town and I am sure those buildings have been standing for so long that they will survive for a lot longer yet with a bit of care. Thanks for the comment, visit and the kind words. Will have a look for your book on Amazon. Best of luck with it Diane

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  20. Thanks you for those super photographs and the accompanying research...you make a great team.

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    1. Fly Nigel has a lot more patience than I do looking things up. He is also much better at making a long story short! Hope all well with you. Diane

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  21. I have always heard that Mirepoix is a beautiful village. Well known for its culinary connections, two of my friends opened a French bistro they called Mirepoix. Thanks for sharing your pictures. Have a great week.

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    1. Michel if you are in this direction this is a must see place as was my last post. They are not that far from each other either. Hope your week is a good one. Diane

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  22. this looks like a lovely little town on my list now :-) love your tours

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    1. Rebecca if you can visit this area I highly recommend it, so much to see and so much history. Keep well Diane

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  23. I love the bastide towns. I've spent many happy hours in the shade of arcades in old towns like this. Although I've never visited Mirepoix, despite the fact that I knew someone who lived there years ago. I'm getting all nostalgic, now, so I'm off for a refreshing glass of something before I start to wallow completely in nostalgia.

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    1. Cheers Phil :-) Think it is time you visited this area and not just be nostalgic. Have a good week Diane

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  24. Grâce à toi, je découvre à chaque fois un peu des régions de France.
    Merci pour ces belles promenades.
    A bientôt

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    1. Nadji c'est un plaisir et je suis heureux que tu les aimes.
      A bientôt. Diane

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  25. It is hard to imagine to imagine anything being constructed in the year 1290-especially for Americans (laugh). This town is pretty amazing.
    The combination of onions, celery, carrots...etc is also called the holy trinity in New Orleans Cooking whose culture is most certainly influenced by the French.

    Thanks for sharing this great post.

    Velva

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    1. Velva, yes our history here goes back a very long way! It is very beautiful and pretty much unspoilt. Glad you enjoyed. Take care Diane

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  26. Another fascinating village. Those supports don't look that strong but I guess if they have survived for so many centuries they must be okay. The under cover shopping reminds me of Bern, where it is a similar architecture except in stone.

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    1. diane I did not even think about those supports when we were there. I know how even the old ones look in our own home !! I hope this finds you well, sorry so much going on in the garden and other things that I am not visiting as much as I should be! Diane

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  27. So the Duke is credited for mirepoix. I don't believe he was incompetent at all. What would be do without our mirepoix?
    Sam

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    1. Ha ha Sam you are right what would like be without mirepoix :-) Keep well and take care Diane

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  28. I have enjoyed catching up with your holiday travels to a wonderful part of France. It has been many years since I was in this area. Karen

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    1. Thanks Karen it is very rewarding getting such nice comments. I hope this finds you well Diane

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  29. What gorgeous old façades! Fabulous buildings.

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    1. JM they are very special. Have a good week, Diane

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  30. I usually associate those timbered buildings with English architecture. It's very interesting to see an entire town built in the same style.

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    1. Marjie there are plenty of them in places here as well. Oak was used a lot. Have a good week. Diane

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  31. That's a fabulous village that I don't know yet but that I should quickly discover !

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    1. Hélène it is certainly worth a visit, a really lovely place. Bonne journée, Diane

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  32. Such a neat little village. The cathedral is stunning & I love those little gargoyles.

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    1. Thanks Pam, we just loved this place and would love to return. Take care Diane

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  33. You mention Louis XV, what a character, I'm reading a book about Marie Antionette now. The gargoyles are something else, quite a few and it seems like when we saw Notre Dame they said there were a few thousand there! It's amazing how much has stayed the same in towns there and so different here with structures that come and go so quickly.

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    1. Pam it is so great that the very old buildings are appreciated, and restored to as original as possible. It is fantastic that we can walk around in these historical places here and feel like we have gone back in time. Take care and keep well Diane

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  34. What a fabulous town I've never heard of. I wonder why it has this unique architecture with the overhanging building technique (and all those fabulous gargoyles!). Thanks for the tour. How do you find these places?

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    1. Deanna we love these places as they are pretty much unspoilt and the French are always so friendly and welcoming. These particular places we were lucky to find as our friends live nearby. Have a good week Diane

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  35. Hi Diane .. just beautiful - I love the lantern, the whole village with all its medieval history - amazing ... and then the gargoyles - and still going after all these years .. tells us something about wood ...

    You were right about Nigel's site - brilliant to look at ...

    I'm not surprised you were delighted with this find ... I hope the tourists don't flock in and it retains its ambience ..

    Why on earth is it called Mire Poix (see the fish)???

    Cheers - Hilary

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    1. Hilary this is the most amazing town and yes I hope it does not get spoilt as well Diane

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  36. Madame, vous avez un beau blog qui était un plaisir à découvrir.

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    1. Art by Colugnatti, merci pour votre gentil commentaire, bon week-end. Diane

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