Bill and I go to the open air market each Saturday not just to get the week’s supply of fresh fruit and vegetables but because it’s a lively social event and one that’s observed in thousands of towns all over France. We’ve even picked up supplies at neighborhood markets in Paris when we’ve been there on vacation and rented apartments with kitchens. It’s such a popular event that it was on our list of must-haves when we were searching for a place to live and there’s a website (link below) devoted to market days and locations. It was there that we looked for the information to decide on which day to make a visit to Rodez while we were staying in Toulouse and could make easy one-train day trips from there.
In the centuries following the founding of Rodez by the Celts in the 5th century BC, it was occupied by Romans, Visigoths, Francs, Moors, the Dukes of Aquitaine, the Counts of Toulouse and during the 100 Years War, the English. Witness to many of the armies, the Cathedral Notre Dame has existed since at least 516 with the current structure dating from 1277 and even served as part of the town walls. That was clearly visible to us by the presence of the slit windows (photo to the right) used for defensive arrows in the lower portion of the wall below the rose window.
Also on that long list of occupants of the city was a name that we recognized: the Counts of Armagnac. Their family name is one that we associate with a type of brandy, in fact the oldest distilled brandy in the world beginning in 1310, that predates its well-known cousin Cognac by at least 200 years. To our surprise, while fascinating to look at, the Maison d’Armagnac has nothing to do with the beverage since it’s a 16th century mansion built where the castle of the Counts once stood. It’s apparently the most-photographed building in town (see gallery below) so it was still worth stopping by to see.
Across from the cathedral is the Episcopal Palace that was part of the defensive complex designed to protect the city from even more invaders. The tourist office map suggested that the courtyard here was the best place to admire both the cathedral’s 87 meter (285 feet) bell tower and the rampart’s tower, Tour de Courbières, built in 1443. The guide went on to suggest strolling the nearby streets to see wealthy merchants’ homes including Maison Guitard from the 14th century and the 15th century Maison de Benoit.
While brick was the dominant building material in Montauban, which I wrote about last time, in Rodez it’s sandstone. Although having a similar pink tint, this rock doesn’t appear to have the durability of its human-made colleague with the next building that we saw illustrating the point. The Church of St. Amans first welcomed worshipers in the 1100s but had to be reconstructed in 1758 because the building was crumbling. Sandstone was again used, including some stones from the original construction, so perhaps it’s sturdier than I suspected.
Given that we had chosen to visit Rodez on market day, we certainly couldn’t complete the trip without wandering around Place du Bourg (photo at top) where more than 50 stalls were set up with fruits, vegetables, cheese, and meats. We were there on a Wednesday but it seems that Saturday’s version is twice as large with more variety including live poultry. We were happy, however, to return to the train station for the trip back to Toulouse carrying only snacks and a bottle of wine.
Tips if you go: It’s a 30-minute uphill walk from the train station to the cathedral in the center of Rodez. Bus D takes 7 minutes along the same route and costs 1 euro. The only public toilet that we could locate is 2 minutes up rue St. Cyrice from the overlook park at Square Bonnefe.
Market days and locations: https://www.jours-de-marche.fr/