Wednesday, November 4, 2009


Martel is a gorgeous little town lying a little north of the Dordogne river in the Lot department. It was the former capital of the Viscount of Turenne and much remains of its medieval past.

One if its more remarkable features is its seven towers giving it a distinctive silhouette. It is known locally as the town of the seven towers.

Wandering round Martel every street offers something different. Lots of imposing doorways, beautiful arches, half-timber houses, wooden shutters and, of course, towers.

The town, unusually for these parts, didn't begin as a religious centre or a castrum (military defensive site). It began due to its position at a crossroads for Paris-Toulouse trade and an east-west route carrying salt and wine. It is also close to Rocamadour and so became an important stopping place for pilgrimages to Rocamadour.

The original town, with a merchant quarter in the west, a religious quarter in the east and a fortified quarter in the centre, was surrounded by a defensive wall. The 13th century was a time of economic wealth for the town and many merchants houses were built. As the town grew the poorer people of the town occupied the growing 'barris' or suburbs outside of the wall.

The Hundred Years War led to the building of a second wall to protect the barris. After the Hundred Years War the town recovered relatively quickly and another period of prosperity followed in the 15th century. Goverment servants, lawyers and others arrived and built nice houses with mullioned windows, spiral staircases and ornate doorways. These can still be seen as you amble round.

There are many interesting sights to see, amongst them are:

The Palais de la Raymondi. This impressive building is home to the tourist office where you can pick up a tourist map indicating the main sights of the town. The Palais de la Raymondi was built between 1280 and 1330 and started by the town's tax collector Bernard Raimondi. Its tower, originally a status symbol, became a belfry.

Place de la Halle - the town's beautiful halle with a very detailed wooden roof sits in the middle of the town's main square surrounded by the Palais de la Raymondi and many other beautiful buildings including the Tour des Penitents, another of the seven towers.

The Maison Fabri, where Henry " ShortCoat", eldest son of Henry II of England (Richard the Lionheart and King John being the other two more famous brothers) died after pillaging many of the churches in the region, including Rocamadour.

La Tour Tournemire (square tower) - this imposing tower once served as the town's prison.

The Mirandol house with a high, square staircase tower.

Saint Maur's church, a defensive church with a tall belfry which was used as part of the town's defences.

The Cordeliers tower, this is the only remaining part of a Fransiscan Monastery which was built in Martel in 1230. This particular order, the mendicant order only established its monasteries in wealthy towns.

Remparts of the 12th and 14th century.

Market days in Martel are Wednesday and Saturday mornings. In December and January there is a Truffle market.

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