This web page will tell some of the history of Mirepoix, and a little of what it has to offer to visitors.
It is a work in progress, so do please keep returning, to see what we have added.
Old postcards of Mirepoix and area.
The name of the town has evolved over the centuries from the ancient language known here as Occitan, which showed it as 'mira peis', broadly meaning a place where one can look at the fish. The original city was built on the banks of the River Hers, where ample opportunities would have existed to look at the fish, admire them and perhaps catch some for your dinner. The armorial bearings, which date from at least 1697, show a golden fish, probably a trout. The three golden stars would have had some significance, now lost with time, but perhaps a reference to the consuls of the city. The people of Mirepoix were, and are known today, as Mirapiciens.
The modern day city was newly constructed after a devastating flood that occurred in 1289, when a natural dam broke, near to Puivert, and which swept away the village of Camon and the old town of Mirepoix which was located on the land below the castle, on the other side of the River Hers. This region of France has been well known for its devastating floods, even to this day, caused by river surges. Over the centuries, measures have been taken to minimise flood damage, but not always very effectively.
The town planners for the new town used the typical 'bastide' design for the plan layout of - north, south, east, west - as is clearly seen on the more recent 1948 map below. There is now no evidence of the old, swept away, Mirepoix from the 13th century, other than perhaps the (mentioned in the 10th century) castle on the hill and known today as the Chateau de Terride.
Early Historical Background
In the 11th century, a village called Mirepoix used to lie at the foot of the hill where the feudal castle (known today as the Chateau de Terride) still stands, to the west of the River Hers. Before the crusade, that village was a place of paramount importance, as we know that the cathar deacon Guillabert de Castres visited several times. In 1206, a massive gathering of over 600 cathars was held in Mirepoix.
The Cathars (also known as Cathari from the Greek Katharoi for pure ones) were a dualist medieval religious sect of southern France which flourished in the 12th century and which challenged the authority of the Catholic Church. They were also known as Albigensians, from the town of Albi, which was a strong Cathar centre of belief. Cathar priests lived simply, had no possessions, imposed no taxes or penalties, and regarded men and women as equals; aspects of the faith which appealed to many at the time disillusioned with the Church.
Cathars rejected the teachings of the Catholic Church as immoral and most of the books of the Bible as inspired by Satan. They criticized the Church heavily for the hypocrisy, greed, and lechery of its clergy, and the Churchs acquisition of land and wealth. Not surprisingly, the Cathars were condemned as heretical by the Catholic Church and massacred in the Albigensian Crusade (1209-1229) which also devastated the towns, cities, and culture of southern France.
In the Autumn of 1209, a few months after the fourth crusade had begun, Simon de Montfort and his army besieged the castle, and he consequently granted his first lieutenant Gui de Lévis the fief of Mirepoix. The Lévis family held Mirepoix until the French Revolution in 1789.
Mirepoix took advantage of its strategic situation; being halfway between Foix and Carcassonne, it became a privileged trade centre, until the tragic flood of 1289. That flood was to destroy Mirepoix and several villages in the Hers valley. Guy III de Lévis then joined the great movement of town planning in France and had his new town built on the left bank, to the south of the river.
After the building of the new town, it suffered severely from the 'Hundred Years War', and the 'Great Companies' which were in the habit of plundering towns and villages across France. The heart of Mirepoix was then fortified in the late 14th century. The Hundred Years War was a long struggle between England and France over the question of succession to the French throne. It lasted from 1337 to 1453, a bit more than 100 years! The war started off with successes on England's part, with the English dominating France for decades. No more England, no more!
It is clear that the building materials of choice was wood (mostly oak), wattle and daub, with some ground floor buildings using local cob stone and some dressed limestone, to show off a bit. Wood was no doubt chosen because of its easy availability and, therefore, lower cost. Only the lower parts of the buildings are in oak, dating from this 13th century construction. The aim was to create a place for trade, where business was unaffected by the weather by the creation of covered spaces, les couvertures. At later dates, upper floors were added, using mostly pine, which perhaps explains why there is such a variety of contructional designs that we can now see.
Perhaps the most impressive of the new buildings is the house of the consuls, with its 100 carved images depicting all sorts of aspects of life in medieval times.
Looking around today, most of the wood has stood the test of time. Mirepoix once had a stone-built perimeter wall, for protection against attack. However, other than the Porte d'Aval on the west side, very little of that defensive structure has survived. In order to prevent towns rising up against the state, many had their defensive walls removed around the time of the French Revolution from 1789. Luckily, Mirepoix was allowed to keep some sections of it, perhaps a matter of money changing hands.
The Porte d'Aval as shown below in modern times, shows evidence of a portcullis (herse) and drawbridge, which would have meant that there would have been a defensive ditch, or dry moat, around the wall. The tower that can be seen is what is left of a staircase that would have served a large house, since lost.
There is a fascinating structure in the centre that is, in part, previously occupied by the Grain de Sel restaurant. Its vaulted interior suggests its use as a stronghold and for food storage. Here is a picture of it from the Rue Porte d'Amonte.
The interior of the restaurant with its vaulted ceilings (closed in 2022, re-opened 2023).
Mirepoix was once a city, as is proudly displayed on signs, as you enter the old area. With the coming of the French Revolution, big changes were brought about and part of these changes was that Mirepoix lost its status as a city, its cathedral became a church and its bishop was stood down.
Mirepoix was one of the Gallican Church archbishoprics of France, in the Province of Toulouse, a suffragen see, before and at the time of the French Revolution in 1789. It was one of several in the Ariège, alongside Toulouse, Lavaur, Lombez, Montauban, Pamiers, Rieux, Saint-Papoul. All but Toulouse and Montauban were suppressed (lost their bishopric status) in 1801, although Pamiers' was re-established in 1817.
Then and Now.
Here, we show you some 'carte postales', post cards dated from 1901 (when they were first introduced) to around 1950.
We have added more recent photographs of the same locations, for comparison purposes, to most of the postcard images.
Portique-Entree de la Cathedrale St-Maurice.
The main entrance door into the church. An incredible building that looks older than it is, in parts.
The picture to the right shows the former bishop's palace, which is to the right of the view above.
Porte d'Aval et Remparts.
Porte d'Aval, to the west of the town.
To the right of the main door of the church, as shown to the left, is the former bishop's palace, which was built onto the then cathedral, at the request of Philippe de Lévis's. Before its construction, our bishops lived at nearby Mazerettes, but this bishop wanted to be closer. The carved mullions of the palace window can still be seen from the outside, but entry inside is no longer possible.
The private chapel of the bishop, Saint Agatha's chapel, has an ornate floor from the 16th century which, at its centre, has a painted labyrinth, around 60cm x 60cm, perhaps inspired by the Renaissance interest in ancient mythology. You can see details of this within the church, but no access is possible for the general public.
Monuments aux Morts pour la Patrie.
A relocation of the First World War memorial, was made at some time. It commemorates 'Les Enfants de Mirepoix, morts pour La France'. A secular remembrance ceremony is held each 11th November.
Le Pont sur l'Hers et le Chateau de Terride.
Trop d'arbres ! Too many trees today to get a comparative photograph.
The seven arched, 206 metre long bridge that spans the River Hers is the work of architect Jean-Rodolphe Perronet (17081794). It was constructed between 1776 and 1791. Among his other achievements are the Pont de la Concorde in Paris (constructed 17871791) and the bridge of Nantes.
Note the Chateau de Terride in the background of the postcard image.
Vue Prise de la Gare
Mirepoix once had a railway system, now all gone, apart from most of the railway buildings, which have survived but have been converted for a different use. Thankfully we have these old pictures to show us how things once were. When was the station closed? Does anybody know?
Les Grands Couverts
Mirepoix has one of the finest surviving arcaded market squares in France. The square is surrounded by buildings that date from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries.
Vue de Clocher
A view of the cathedral bell tower. A modern day comparative photograph is not possible, due to trees.
Mirepoix Cathedral (Cathédrale Saint-Maurice de Mirepoix), is a former Roman Catholic cathedral and is now a national monument of France. It was the seat of the bishopric of Mirepoix, until it suppression in 1801. It is now simply (officially) a church, once again.
Built in what is known as the southern gothic style, it became a scheduled ancient monument a century ago. It has a single span nave, with no supporting columns between, of 22 metres; the widest in France, and the second widest in Europe.
The foundation stone was laid in 1298, and the church was stablished as a cathedral in the 14th century. Bishop Philippe de Lévis carried out major works done in the 16th century which included the building of the bell-tower (clocher) and steeple. The building as we see it today was completed in the late 19th century.
La Porte d'Aval
The Porte d'Aval (tail-gate in English) is the only remains that are visible of the 14th century fortified walls that enclosed the city to defend it from outside attacks. Above the gate, three stones can be seen which, so we are told, bear marks of the French Revolution in 1789 which erased the original armorial bearings of the Lévis family, of the town and of the chapter, in 1790. The gate dates from 1372.
The railway station with a steam train and carriages passing through. Many people lined up along the line.
The House of Consuls. Les Couverts. Dating from around 1500 it has a massive single span lintel of 12 metres in length, and equally impressive supporting columns. The building once housed the town magistrates, with the present day Town Hall (la mairie) building only dating from the 17th century. This has to be the largest and most impressive house in the square. Its carved decorations are a joy to behold, comprising 103 intricately carved heads, characters, animals, birds and beasts, obscene bodies, sad faces, etc, all typical medieval images.
Eglise et Cours St-Maurice
Note the location of the war memorial, since moved to another location.
Vue d'ensemble des Belles Ruines du Chateau de Lagarde (XIII Siècle)
This is the castle ruins of Lagarde, even more collapsed now than they were in the postcard image.
Not Mirepoix, but not far away.
Porte d'Aval (XIX siècle)
La Grande Place des Couverts
The plan for the new town was that of the 'bastides', a large central square, making social and economic life easier (especially for fairs and markets), and the streets laid out in a chessboard pattern. Shopping stalls could then be held on the ground floor in the houses around the square, sheltered by a covered gallery set on massive oak pillars, as you see it today.
La Maison Historique sur la Grande Place.
The two stone benches are still there, still much used. The massive 18 metre oak lintel and its equally massive supporting columns of Consul House in clear view.
Avenue de Pont.
The Chene Vert much different now, by comparison.
The holm oak is listed as an ancient monument. Perhaps the last surviving tree of the Plene Fages forest. After the floor in 1289 that destroyed the old city, trees from that forest were used to build the houses of the new town of Mirepoix, so many oak pillars in evidence today, holding up Les Couverts. Let us hope it thrives for many more years to come.
Cours de la Poste
To the left of the modern day photogrpah is what was known as Malroc's House, a beautiful 18th century town-house that once belonged to Guilaume Malroc de Lafage, who was a consul of the city and then its mayor in 1791. Today it is known as Le Relais and is one of the town's best restaurants and hotels.
Cours Colonel Petipied.
This road was named in honour of Colonel Jules Petitpied, 1815-1874, a military hero, born in this road in Mirepoix. He is remembered for his impressive military career as colonel of an artillery regiment and for saving the colours (the flag) from falling into Prussian hands. Those colours were hidden by the colonel under difficult conditions and later rescued by the colonel's wife. It is an interesting story of valour and service. A true 'enfant de Mirepoix'.
Avenue du Pont
Détails de la Maison Historique.
Details of some of the carved faces and assorted subjects that adorn the building known today as the Consul building in the old market square.
Chateau de Terride
Modern day comparative photograph, not possible. Too many trees! However, it stands out clearly on the hill from many viewing points.
The first mention that we know of for the ancient Château de Terride was in 960. It was captured (together with Mirepoix) by Simon de Montfort in 1209. What it was known as, at that time, is not known, but we know that it was 'Terride' in the 16th century.
One of many views of this beautiful building.
A general view from high ground to the south of the town, with the railway line in the middle ground, the cathedral with its spire, and the Chateau de Terride in the distance, on the right of the picture. The modern day view is very different, with trees blocking the view of the town.
Place du Rumat - Avenue de Limoux
We couldn't get an exact position to take this modern day photograph, as a bridge had been built in the intervening years. This is the best that we could get. Behind us in this picture is the river. In front of us was where the livestock markets were held. Keeping the city centre clear (outside the walls) of the livestock would have been a good move (imagine the smell), whilst also providing nearby drinking water for the animals.
Intérieur de l'Eglise. The interior of the church.
The cathedral of St-Maurice has the second widest Gothic arch in Europe (after Girona in Catalonia). The foundation stone was laid by Jean de Lévis on the 6th May 1298. Construction continued, with many interruptions, over the next six centuries. The cathedral was restored in 1858 and 1859 by Prosper Mérimée and Eugène Viollet-le-Duc.
Vestiges des Remparts et le Boulevard.
Trop d'arbres !
Cathédrale du XIII siécle.
The central square is situated in the heart of the town and is surrounded by covered galleries resting on wooden pillars. It remains the administration and business centre of the town, as well as being a place for dining 'al fresco', socialising and entertainment.
The area used to be twice as large when the town was constructed, but it was reduced to its present size in the 15th century when the 'couverts du Midy' (the southern galleries) were built.
Many events and entertainment activities take place here, all year round, with the traditional weekly market being held on Monday mornings.
The tourist office will provide you with up to date information about events that are happening.
Our oldest postcard, dated 1901. Indeed, the sender remarks on the fact. Picture postcards like this were introduced around this time due to their lower cost of postage and ease of use. The fact that the facteur knew your business, was a secondary concern.
Maison historique du XVI siecle.
The medieval 'Maison des Consuls' (house of the council) has its ceiling beams carved with around 100 images of animals, monsters, objects and caricatures of medieval personalities, professions and social groups. What looks to be one of the king, has a corresponding vulgar carving of a backside/bottom/bum to the rear. A medieval carver's little joke perhaps, or done at the behest of the consul? We will never know. Sadly the external carvings have suffered from the effects of the weather over the centuries. The internal ones not so much.
The building has many other interesting features, including a fine example of a barred window, from a time when glass was expensive and windows took a different form.
33 (see also 57)
The cattle market at Rumat. An incredible sight (and smell, no doubt). Would this have been a normal market day? The nearby river would have served to water the beasts. Today, the area gives no clue to its earlier use, the wide section presumably designed that way, on purpose, for livestock market use.
Rue Colonel Petitpied.
Looking East. Full of hustle and bustle 100 years ago. Full of cars today.
With the colonel's place of birth pictured below.
Les couverts et vieilles maisons.
'Les couverts' are much used today for restaurant tables and displays. Originally they would have afforded undercover space for the market traders, during times of wet weather. The stone seats that we see regularly in the old postcards are still in use today, relics of a bygone age.
Cours Pons, Tande
Marie-Louise Escholier (18761956, née Marie-Louise Pons-Tandy), was born in Mirepoix and became a writer. She was the co-author, with her husband Raymond Escholier, of the novel Cantegril. She and her husband are buried in the town's cemetery.
Rue Porte d'Amont
Looking west, this is where one of the main entrances to the fortified city once stood, sadly now all gone. Presumably it was constructed in a similar style to the Porte d'Aval on the opposite side of the town. Now a busy thoroughfare giving access to the medieval centre.
Halle aux grains et l'Eglise.
The market hall was built in the 19th century, in the 'Baltard' style, a 19th century name of the French architect who was famous for using cast iron in his designs. It's main function would have been for the trade in wheat and barley, and other grain types. The hall is often used today for the many festival activities that Mirepoix is renowned for, particularly for its music performance stages.
Two of the 17th to 18th century grain measures can be seen outside the tourist office at the town hall (Le Mairie). They used to be sited in the old market hall that was removed to make way for this new hall. The measure had a capacity of 20 litres (double décalitre), and was designed with a sloping base to enable the grain to flow. The exact measure was closely controlled to ensure fair trade between buyer and seller.
Allée de la Place et maison historique.
Boulevard des Remparts
Was this where the sheep market used to be?
Single back card, so dating from around 1901. Unused.
A recent postcard, compared with others here, unused, perhaps 1960s.
The last surviving medieval gateway, from inside the city. Close inspection of the gate shows the slots above and to the sides, where the 'portcullis' would have been used. Also evidence of hinge points for the doors.
Another single back card, so dating from around 1901. Unused.
Ensemble de la Grand Place
La Place et les Couverts
Parterre de la Gare.
A garden at the railway station, no doubt created by the station master during the time that he had spare between train arrivals. All now gone, of course. The postcard is post marked December 1915.
Ancien Eveche de Mirepoix
A part of the Bishop's Palace. Behind the door is a small courtyard which leads to a beautiful chapel. The postcard is post marked 1917.
Route de Limoux Entrée de la Ville
The trees have all gone now, and a new bridge added. The tower to the right is still there, partially hidden by trees.
The Church of St Maurice. This postcard was sent in April 1952. Note the ugly telegraph posts that are to be seen in other postcards here. Note the absence of motor cars too.
Avenue du Pont
Le Monument aux Morts de la Grande Guerre
The war memorial, presumably a short time after it had been re-located. A very different view of it is seen today with a large hedge and housing behind the monument and, of course, more inscriptions from later conflicts.
A view, probably from the Chateau Terride, looking down on the town and with the snow-capped mountains in the distance. The card was posted in 1926.
55 see 51
Jour de Foire
Place du Rumat un jour de foire
Place Soldiers (one a ballet
dancer?) lined up for the photograph.
97 61 Baraquements
du Camp (ecrit Mirepoix
le 12 Septembre 1917, Bien mon frere....) Military barracks in 1917,
somewhere in Mirepoix. Were these stables for the horses?
High windows and strange looking angled walls for the animal
64 77 62 Gare - Un
Convoi pour le front. The Railway Station, showing
at least four sets of tracks and many soldiers, railway
carriages and a locomotive. Is that the sun on the
75 L'Hopital. 64 see 61
74 (The Post Office.)
72 73 see 62, 74 see 67, 75 see
76 77 see 61
78 Place des Couverts.
79 Quartier du Beal et Canal. (The Beal canal.)
80 Vue Generale du Mamelon et du Chateau
de Terride. (General view of the
81 Le Clocher Watch this
Soldiers (one a ballet dancer?) lined up for the photograph.
Baraquements du Camp (ecrit Mirepoix le 12 Septembre 1917, Bien mon frere....)
Military barracks in 1917, somewhere in Mirepoix. Were these stables for the horses? High windows and strange looking angled walls for the animal feed?
Gare - Un Convoi pour le front.
The Railway Station, showing at least four sets of tracks and many soldiers, railway carriages and a locomotive. Is that the sun on the horizon?
64 see 61
(The Post Office.)
73 see 62, 74 see 67, 75 see 63
77 see 61
Place des Couverts.
Quartier du Beal et Canal.
(The Beal canal.)
Vue Generale du Mamelon et du Chateau de Terride.
(General view of the castle.)
Watch this space.
The town hall (la mairie) used to be established under the 'grand couvert' (the largest covered gallery) but was moved to the present building which was once the property of a tax collector named François Rabinel de Calzan. It is a later building, compared with others.
We have mentioned a few notable sons and daughters of Mirepoix. Here are some more:
(c. 1280 1342) was Bishop of Mirepoix from 1326, and became Pope in 1334, taking the name Benedict XII. He was the third Avignon Pope.
(16091680) was the engineer responsible for the construction of the Canal du Midi. He lived in Mirepoix from 1634 to 1646.
Marie de Calages
(16301661), born in Mirepoix, was a poet. She was crowned many times by lAcadémie des Jeux Floraux.
(17471819) was an astronomer, particularly noted for his study of the planet Mercury.
(17721842) was a marshall of France.
(18001847), novelist, dramatist, critic and journalist. Born in Foix. Soulié lived in Mirepoix as a young boy.
(18951974), the novelist, playwright and film maker, taught at the École Supérieure in Mirepoix.
(19182015) was an artist. He lived in Mirepoix from 1998 until his death.
Here are a few images of Mirepoix and life therein.
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25 26 27 28 29 30 31 32 33 34 35 36 37 38 39 40 41 42 43 44 45 46 47 48 49
....and here are few random old postcard images that have appeared here and there.
Background image created by James Atkins
Page Created 16th May 2020
Updated 19th July 2023