French bastides

How Best to Describe French Bastides?

French Bastides are often translated in English as fortified medieval towns.  This is probably inaccurate.  In fact, most bastides were founded in peacetime without walls.  Only later, when war returned, did some walls appear.

To call French bastides medieval market towns gets closer to the purpose intended by their founders, characterised by the open square and covered arcades at their centre.  It is here that you still find some of the most beautiful food markets of France.

The foundation of bastides started towards the end of the Albigensian Crusades in the early thirteenth century. The first founder of bastides was Raymond VII, Count of Toulouse.  When he conceded defeat to the French Crown and signed the Treaty of Paris In 1229, he agreed to certain terms in their construction.  Specifically, the term about no fortifications.  The treaty similarly forced his daughter, Joan, into marriage with Alphonse, Count of Poitiers, the brother of the new king, Louis IX, who was still a child.  Upon Raymond’s death, Alphonse would succeed him and quadruple the development of the bastides.  The construction programme continued for a good century and a half.

French Bastides in the Gironde
French Bastides in the Dordogne

Why Conserve Bastides for the Future?

The Bastides of South West France were the new towns of the Middle Ages.  For this reason, they came to represent the resettlement of displaced people at the end of the crusades.  It was also the nobility’s attempt to generate more revenue from their estates.  A kind of medieval social experiment.  The new residents of the bastide would feel freed from the clutches of landowners and safer from the robbers and gangs that roamed the countryside.  The nobility would feel better served by the tax collection system as more residents gained autonomy to cultivate and trade their own produce in and around where they lived.

Nowadays, bastides attract particular interest from geographers, architects and town planners due to their classic grid layout but above all, they hold the thread of history in their neat, compact structure and tell the story of life lived in a special type of market town in South West France across several centuries.

Market Towns of south west france

Medieval Social Experiment