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Montagne Noire

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Office de tourisme de Revel-Saint-Ferréol-Montagne Noire
  Montagne Noire
(Black Mountains)
The Montagne Noire could have been a small country, a bit like Luxemburg. It has its own history and takes up its own place in the Languedoc. Not much is known about this beautiful woodland mountain range. Here and there we stumble upon a small piece of text in French, which enables us to expand our collection of data. Yes, it's still possible to find a bit of pure nature, where historic remains are silent witnesses of a turbulent past, where time seems to stand still, or at least goes very slow. And better still, to walk around for hours without meeting anyone.
There are so many different walks, too much for one holiday only. A very good map is the IGN-map 2344E of the Série Bleu (Mazamet). It is important to carry a compass, water, some food and tissues, and wear good walking shoes, a hat or cap and perhaps even carry a good walking stick. This is rough nature. Lac Birotos in Pradelles-Cabardès
There are no McDonald's, or toilets or even benches. These walks go over ancient paths, perhaps even millennia old, because also in prehistory, men traveled on these paths through the mountains.

Apart from nature, also history is an important goal for many people's holiday. And apart from nature and history, the mountains also have several beautiful lakes offering refreshment on a hot day. One of these lakes is Lac Birotos in Pradelles-Cabardès, with a nice little beach and clear water.

The history of the Montagne Noire

The earliest traces of human presence in the Montagne Noire are from the Stone Age. The mountain range offered shelter in its many caves. Rivers and sources provided them with fresh water. The woods were full with animals and many pieces of land were fertile for later agriculture. Remains of the Celts are still omnipresent in the form of dolmens and menhirs. Dolmens are tombs, covered with a large stone. Menhirs are standing stones. These words are Celtic. Menhirs and obelisks mark important places, or were tools to read the position of the sun and the stars and also the seasons. They may have been used the same way as the Egyptians used their obelisks. Below you can see two skulls of prehistoric man.
Two skulls of prehistoric man.   The first one is from the early Stone Age, about 200.000 years ago (the Homo Sapiens Neanderthalensis) and the second skull is from the new Stone Age, about 40.000 years ago (Homo Sapiens Sapiens). The latter showed up seemingly from nowhere and introduced a whole different lifestyle and culture. Anthropologists are still speculating about their origin. In this period, the cult of the bear was popular.

People thought that the power of the bear would enter the person who was wearing the skin and a chain of teeth from the bear (usually the one who killed the bear). The leader of the group was often called The Bear. In Celtic this would be Arth Ur. It is obvious that this title would stick around for quite a while. Also a hero from the Languedoc was called Bera. The companion of Artemis was a bear and the two star systems Little Bear and Great Bear are named in this era (Ursus).

The history of Villeneuve Minervois

Villeneuve-Minervois lies at the foot of the mountains and is also called the Gate of the Montagne Noire. There are several restaurants, a bakery, a butcher's and a garage. There is also an ATM just in case you need to withdraw money. Near its chateau you can buy some great wines. Close to Villeneuve you find several Celtic remains. This little town is very old and there are a few known facts about its history. Prehistoric man lived on the silted terraces of the river Clamoux, just above the mill (Moulin) on the road to Cabrespine and in St. Andrieu. We are now 35.000 years back in time. The caves in the area are inhabited for many many centuries. Especially the ones in Cauna de Vegues revealed archeological remains dating from this period.

The Dolmens of
Villeneuve- Minervois
The Dolmens of Villeneuve- Minervois

From Villeneuve a narrow road leads to the at least 5000 year old dolmen "Palet de Roland". The town has created an access road on its own initiative, so that the ancient monuments can be accessible for all. In 1972, the monument was restored by a team of amateur archeologists. It was already very well preserved. Human remains have been found, along with pieces of flint stone. Close to the dolmen lies the Tombe de Roland, a strange, incomplete tomb with a deep trench. Recent investigations discovered a piece of marble from the 17th century. It was probably a tomb, used for more people throughout the ages, from the 3rd century onwards. The burial gifts found on this spot include bronze and copper armlets and earthenware, which belong to these type of monuments. The top of the tomb is lost, so you can only see it's entrance and the burial chamber. The megalith is dominated by the remains of the farm with the same name. It looks as if the tomb, which was built millennia ago, was not built to be a tomb. It may just have been the remains of a rock from which an obelisk was cut out. The name given to the dolmens originate from a legend. Roland, the cousin of Charlemagne (9th century) would have worked on a sunstone, which he put on top of another stone. It was his wish to be buried close to this place. There are two walks to the monuments and there are information boards at the parking place.

The Roman Era
An aerial photograph shows that Villeneuve and the Clamoux formed the northeastern and eastern border of the Roman province of Narbonensis, which was founded in 118 B.C. At a later date, the border of the Roman city of Carcasso (27 B.C.) was laid over the old one. Then, a Roman road was constructed between Bezièrs and Toulouse, which did not pass Carcassonne, it passed Villeneuve on its south end and crossed the Clamoux at Gadhoms. This road became known as the Chemin de Lestrade.

Remains of habitation, whether it was agriculture or trade, as well as old Roman bridges, can be found all over the Montagne Noire. At Gadhoms we find remains from the 1st century B.C., especially where the old castle once stood. At St. Andrieu and at La Vigne we find remains from the second half of the 1st century A.D. At Clapiès, near D'Escapat, we find a cemetery of a later date. At Villeneuve the Roman remains were integrated in the houses built during the reign of Charlemagne (9th century) and very difficult to recognize today.

The Middle Ages

During the reign of the Visigoths, the Montagne Noire was the borderland between the Visigoth territories and the land of the Franks. The Montagne Noire is dotted with ruins and small villages which date back to Visigoth times, such as Hautpoul. This borderland was heavily protected. The earliest name of Villeneuve was St. Mamet. In 890 and 942, it was an annex of the abbey of St. Hilaire le Grand of Potiers. During the reigns of Pepin I and II (8th century), Villeneuve was situated at the very border of the kingdom of Aquitaine, of which Potiers was the Capital. Queen Radegonde brought back relics of Saint Mamet on her way back from Turkey, which she gave to Potiers. This explains the name of St. Mamet.

  In 1103 the small settlement called Villenouvette (Villata) with the churches St. Etienne de Clamos and St. Andre du Villar, belonged to the abbey of St. Chinian. The settlement was probably founded by the relatively unknown abbey of St. Estève de Cabardès from Mas-Cabardès. The church, which was built on the remains of the old monastery, undoubtedly received the relics of the patron saint of the abbey, St. Etienne.

The Cathars

During the Albigenzian Crusade, a knight was taken prisoner at Villeneuve by Simon de Montfort's men. This violent act resulted in a town's meeting where it was agreed upon that the town of Villeneuve would be given to Isarn d'Aragon, canon and bisshop of Carcassonne, abbot of Montolieu and prior of Alaigne. This would ensure protection against future violence. To be able to defend the town, a fortress was built in 1212. Parts of which are still to be seen in the present castle. The Romanesque additions are of a later date. In the following period, Villeneuvois (the town and its surroundings) were accused three times of heresy. The name of the town appears in the records of the Inquisition of the Dominican Order at Carcassonne. The priest of Villeneuve and his cousin were looking for a compromise. Another accusation was the cause of a trial in Rome. It is well known that many Cathars fled to the Montagne Noire.

  Seneschal's House Château de Cabrespine

High above the road at Cabrespine in the Montagne Noire, lie the remains of a castle. Not much is left of the building and visiting it is at one's own risk, but we do know that during the Albigenzian crusade it was the subject of a trial between Simon de Montfort and Guillaume, the abbot of Lagrasse. The leader of the crusade had gained possession of the town and castle of Cabrespine, just as he gained possession of all the other towns and castles he had conquered. Judge Thédise, however, returned the town and its castle to the abbot and compensated de Montfort in a different manner in 1215.

It may have been due to the importance of the castles of Lastours, but Cabrespine hardly leaves us any other facts. It's own history, important or not, may have been forgotten in time.
Jacobins' Gate


The community of Villeneuve enriched itself by making new purchases. Especially the lands of the Cathar people who had fled their properties or found death on the stake, were now readily available. The population grew. The Lord of Villeneuve made several agreements with the inhabitants.

s   The 100 year war and the plague epidemic have left little of the old castle, although the boulevards in Villeneuve still show its borders. The small hamlets of Le Viala and St. Mamet were eventually abandoned. Between 1450 and 1560, prosperity returned. The castle was extended with a northern part with spiral stairs. The large tower was given several pieces of artillery in 1550.

The 100 year war and the plague epidemic have left little of the old castle, although the boulevards in Villeneuve still show its borders. The small hamlets of Le Viala and St. Mamet were eventually abandoned. Between 1450 and 1560, prosperity returned. The castle was extended with a northern part with spiral stairs. The large tower was given several pieces of artillery in 1550. During the Religious Wars, the village and castle were taken by the Huguenots under the command of captain Fournier, who remained here for several months.

The development of the vine culture

When peace returned to Villeneuve-Minervois, its inhabitants took to agriculture (grain, olives) and sheep farming. In this period there was little vine culture. The end of the reign of Louis XIV and the beginning of the reign of Louis XV was a difficult period for the area. Many people left. This resulted in the opening up of large pieces of land for vine culture. This new market became important for the development of transport and the roads were much improved.

From 1750, vine culture around Villeneuve became more and more important. The prosperity of the town was largely due to the wine. In the beginning the crop was used for distillation (strong liquor). While most of the Languedoc suffered from the devastation of the crops by the Xilophera lice, the area around Villeneuve was only damaged lightly. As wine was extra expensive in this period, Villeneuve became a wealthy town. The worst year was 1907. This resulted in the foundation of the Cooperative Cave, to aid the small wine farmer. Slowly but surely all farmers joined the Coop. Today, many wine estates carry the name "Appellation Minervois" (AOC). Important parts of the area have been replanted to ensure the ‘appellation'. There is also a fusion between the Coops of Villeneuve and Laure-Minervois.

The Second World War

After the invasion of the until that moment free parts of southern France, a resistance group arose, called the Maquis. They worked first from La Plaine in Bagnoles and then in the cave at Trassanel. Finally, they went to the Montredon farm in Fournes. After the German parachutes landed at St. Martin, the Battle of Trassanel took place. The Germans won the battle and marched on to Les Ilhes, Roquefere and Pradelles. About 42 members of the Maquis were killed in their attempt to defend their homeland and their families, among who were also 16 year old boys. WWII has left deep wounds in the hearts of the people of the Montagne Noire. Monuments remind us of the tragic events of 1944.



After the Second World War, the people of the Montagne Noire picked up the pieces and tried to start a new life. Tourism discovered its beauty and history and during the hot summer months, people go up into the mountains for its pure fresh air and spend their weekends or holidays at one of the lakes, which ensure wonderful refreshment...

Copyright Anneke Koremans (!
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