Aude (11300) Population: 10,169 Altitude: 172 m
Limoux is a large town on the Aude river, about 20 km south of Carcassonne. The beautiful, forested valley from Limoux south is called the "Haute Vallée", where the Aude flows down from the hills of the eastern Pyrénées.
The Beyond town of Limoux is centered around the Place de la République, a large, open square bordered on three sides by covered arcades, and with a large fountain. The buildings surrounding the square date from the 15th to the 18th century. When we were there, one of the nicest of the old corner buildings was actually for sale [Photo 4].
You can wander up and down the long streets of the old town and discover ancient houses, town-houses (hotels particuliers), churches, centuries-old arches and doorways and churches. In addition to the really ancient sites, we liked the numerous old wall-advertisements slowly fading with the passage of time [photo 13].
Leaving the Place de la République to the east, it's only a short walk along the Rue du Pont Neuf, across the very old New Bridge to the Eglise St Jacques. The Piano Museum that now fills this large 19th-century church (enlarged from the original 14th-century monastery) is really amazing.
Walking along the Rue Blanquerie, not far from the Piano Museum, we discovered an amazing interior through the open door-passage at number 59 [photo 14].
A walk along the river makes a relaxing change from the bustle of the town, with shady trees along the right bank and a nice view of Limoux center and its bridges: the new Old and the old New. We strolled along here one cloudy day in August, and there were several painters working at scenes of the river and the town.
Carnaval de Limoux
Limoux has a famous and colorful annual carnival between January and April, the fête las fécos. The fete takes place every weekend for a period of about three months, making it the world's longest carnival, and certainly one of the most unique and interesting. All the players, the fécos, are costumed and masked, usually with variants of the pierrot.
Late morning, the bands play their own compositions and dance through the town.
A second sortie occurs at the end of the afternoon, with the groups visiting the local cafés, drinking only through straws since they aren't allowed to remove the masks. During this masked drinking time, a fécos will try to identify a masked counterpart, tapping them and announcing they are recognized.
A third outing takes place around 22h, with torch light, slow music and incantations.
On our travels we met a man on the east bank of the Aude while photographing an ancient portail [Photo 4]. After offering us advice on other sites to explore, he gave us the low-down on the recent history and the ancient history of this part of Limoux.
The portail, now named by us the Spanish Gate, is the end of a long passage that cuts through the row of large town houses that line this part of the river, just north of the Pont Vieux and fronting on the Rue Blanquerie.
On this river side, high fences guard the back gardens and terrace balconies of obviously luxurious houses. Our local historian gave us his firsthand observations of when each of these houses was purchased, their renovation, the class of furniture moved into them, and the coming and goings of the proprietors and their guests — and the nationalities of each of them.
For an earlier time, our historian explained that the riverside here was fortified around the 14th century, the French were installed in the town across the river, and the Spanish Arabs (Moors?) were behind these walls. In order for the Spanish to move up and down the river without emerging from the walls and getting shot at by the French, they built a tunnel that passed along the back of the wall.
This tunnel, then, traversed across the Spanish Gate, just behind the protective doors. The tunnel was not only observed by our historian, but used by him when he was much younger.
None of the standard history of Limoux makes reference to the Spanish or Arabs being at war with the French here about the 14th century. Then we did find a couple of obscure references to the Spanish being here, in the 14th and 16th centuries.
In 1340, Spanish bands from Capcir ravaged the region [of the Pays de Sault, the area of the Aude southwest of Limoux].
During a war with Spain in the 16th century, François I was captured and held prisonner by the Spanish. The same reference states that the Spanish invaded Roquefortez between 1525 and 1526: Roquefortez was a collection of the four hamlets Le Bousquet, Roquefort, Buillac et Kounozouls, 15 km south of Quillan and 35 km south of Limoux.
History of Limoux
Prehistoric: A few signs of Neolithic habitation have been found in the general area. The only significant is the menhir called "la Pierre Droite", located between Arques and Rennes-le-Chateau (in the commune of Peyrolles), 15 km to the southeast.
Medieval: Origin. The first primitive village was founded on the hilltop of Colline de Flassian (there's a "Flassian" 1.5 km north of the current town center and a hill 2 km northeast of the center). The inhabitants of Flacianum moved down to the river to join Limosus in the 8th century, founding the town of Limoux.
Catharism. By the 13th century, Limoux was a fortified town, but not fortified enough to withstand Simon IV de Montfort. Simon attacked Limoux during the Albigeois Crusade at the beginning of the 13th century. The fortifications were destroyed and the town was given as a fief to his lieutenant Lambert de Turry. The town didn't remain fidel to him so he left it to Raimond-Roger, the Count of Foix, and Limoux reverted to Catharism again.
The Limoux War (guerre de Limoux) started in 1226, against the troops of Louis VIII, the Lion. The town was annexed by the kingdom of France between 1296 and 1376.
Limoux remained open to Catharism until the 14th century, although several inhabitants were hung for heresy in 1249.
During the 14th century the right (east) bank of the Aude was the center of a large tanning industry called "Blanquerie", bringing prosperity to the town. During this time though, Limoux was devastated in 1348 by the plague. In 1355, the Black Prince (the Prince of Galles) pillaged and burnt the town.
Religion raised its ugly head here again in the 16th century, with 30 years of civil war initiated between the Catholics and the Calvinists, pretty much killing off the industrial prosperity. Jean de Lévis led the Catholics to lay waste to the town in 1562.
The plague returned in the 17th century to do its bit of damage, with 30,000 deaths.
The Bourbon King Louis XIII established royal control of Limoux in 1642, and by the 18th century industrial prosperity had returned, including commerce with Spain.
Prosperity, satisfied citizens and a decent municipal legal system helped Limoux slide through the French Revolution without violence.