Using the term ‘bastide’ in parts of south west France won’t get you reprimanded for bad language. That’s because it’s the name given to nearly 300 fortified towns in the area that date from the 13th and 14th centuries.
They were built between 1220 and 1370 by both the French and the English who were battling for supremacy in the Aquitaine region.
Unlike most villages, which evolve naturally and irregularly, these were laid out to a set plan. They are characterised by straight roads and a central square.
The square became the commercial and administrative centre of the villages. In the centre of the square there was a market hall, and sometimes the council offices were sited on its upper floor. Many of the bastide towns still hold markets in these squares today.
Each has an arcade-style walkway around the square, with living quarters above.
Wide thoroughfares – known as charretières – were built for carts to bring goods to the central square. Traversières were smaller streets and carreyrous were alleyways behind the houses designed to stop fires from spreading. Servants also used them.
Some of the most beautiful examples of bastide towns include Monpazier in Dordogne and Monflanquin in Lot-et-Garonne. Pictured is one of my personal favourites, Villeréal in Lot-et-Garonne.