Mirepoix by Paul PalauA small town of 3100 permanent inhabitants, Mirepoix is situated halfway between Carcassonne and Foix. The earliest mention of the place dates to the 10th century.

On the large central square you can admire the half-timbered houses supported on wood pillars, creating a magnificent covered arcade. The ends of the joists of the richest houses are sculpted, and the most beautiful sculptures are on the Maison des Consuls, showing women's faces, bearded heads, a tortoise and other fantastical images.

During the crusade against Cathares in 1209, Simon de Montfort took the feudal château and the family, who had strong links to catharism, was dispossessed. He gave it to his loyal lieutenant Guy de Levis who became Maréchal of Mirepoix.

During this era the town extended from the foot of the château on the right bank of the Hers and was flourishing, with nearly 2000 inhabitants and many shops and industries.

In 1279, the barrage at Puivert ruptured and caused massive flooding that destroyed the whole village, sparing only the château.

In 1289, Guy de Lévis decided to rebuild the town on the left bank of the river Hers. The town was reconstructed in the form of a bastide, with a large central square and streets following two perpedicular axes.

After a great fire in 1362 that destroyed the southern part of the town, the centre was refortified with a strong encircling wall and four large gates to protect it. Today, all that remains of this fortification is the Porte d'Aval.

The little church of St Maurice built in 1298 was transformed over time into a cathedral. Today the cathedral of St Maurice has a single nave 48 m long, 24 m high, 22 m wide, a gothic gate and an elegant 60 m high pointed bell-tower. Of the cathedrals of Europe only that of Gerona in Spain has a wider nave. Inside, vandalism and demolitions destroyed many treasures but you can still admire a tabernacle, a Christ on the cross from the 14th century and seven paintings by Larivière-Vesontius.

Near Mirepoix you'll also want to visit:

- the church at Vals
- the Château de Lagarde, built in the 14th century by the heirs of Guy de Lévis. At the apogee of its splendour it was nicknamed the "Le petit Versailles du Languedoc". Its majestic ruins hint at its glorious past.
- Camon, a small fortified village constructed around a Benedectine abbey that was founded by Charlemagne in 778.

Many thanks to these photographers

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