Castres & The Way of St James, A Santiago Pilgrimage
Castres in France is a town that has plenty to offer, established originally in the 9th century on the banks of the River Agout it was a stopping point for the Arles pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostella. The 1000 year old pilgrimage to the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostela is known in English as the Way of St. James . Over 100,000 pilgrims travel to the city each year from points all over Europe and other parts of the world following traditional routes. There are 4 starting points in France of which Arles is the most southerly and Paris the furthest north.
Castres in the Tarn Department of the Midi- Pyrenees
Castres is situated in close proximity to the Montagne Noire and is only a stones throw from the Sidobre which is an expanse of granite rock that has been formed into some extraordinary shapes. So from Castres you can enjoy access to a range of rare landscapes including the Sidobre and the two massifs of the High Languedoc Natural Regional Park.
The town has some 45,000 inhabitants and is an ideal base for both 'Nature' and 'Cultural' expeditions. The Episcopal Palace, that now houses the town hall and the Goya museum was designed by Jules Hardouin-Mansart who was the principal architect for Louis XIV and responsible for much of the design and work carried out on the Palace of Versailles. His was not the only connection with Castres, the Bishop's Garden, an extension of the palace, was designed by Andre Le Notre who was a notable landscape gardener at Versailles.
As with all reasonably sized towns in France the food market is a weekly event and Castres is no exception. The market can be found in the 'Place Jean-Jaures every Tuesday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday morning. There is also a covered market that is open every day except Monday called the 'Albinique'.
Very fitting for Castres as it is right in the centre of a region famous for its culinary traditions and where eating both well and healthily are considered to be "de rigueur" (the rule). Just as well as it is also a centre of sporting activities, with a prominent rugby team and hiking through Sidobre only two of the sporting activities associated with the town. There are many more and the town also has the facilities to support them.
The modern day pilgrims that follow the route to the Santiago de Compostela are often doing it for non-religious reasons. They simply come to hike through gorgeous countryside and to remove themselves from the hustle and bustle of modern day life. Something we should all probably do once in a while.
The Architecture and Buildings of Castres
The Tarn Department is Known as the Prettiest of the Midi-Pyrenees Deaprtments.
The houses on the River Agout have played host over the years to weavers, dyers tanners, leather workers and parchment makers that worked with wool, leather and paper throughout the 17th century. Because of the construction of the houses skins could be soaked in the basements before being dried on the upper floors. Castres found wealth through its textile industry for quite a long period of its history.
The Municipal Theatre was built in the 'Art Nouveau' style around 1904 and has been listed as a Historic Monument since the turn of the millenium in the year 2000. The dome was painted by Jean-Paul Laurens and he also decorated the foyer with a work commemorating the famous composer Beethoven.
To bear witness to the wealth of the town there are several seventeenth century mansions dating from the period of the Chamber of the Edict. Castres was made the seat of the Chambre de l'Édit of the Parliament of Toulouse, this was a court of justice separated from the Parliament of Toulouse and in charge of dealing with any cases involving the Protestants of Languedoc. This was a measure of protection granted to them by the Edict of Nantes. This court attracted lots of business to Castre and proved to be a very lucrative period in the towns history, this all came to an end however, around 1670, when the Chambre de l'Edit was transferred to Castelnaudary.
The mansions remain of course and are located in the historic center of Castres in the form of the Hotel de Poncet, the Hotel de Vivies, the Hotel de Nayrac and the Hotel de Jean Leroy.
The bells of the Notre-Dame de La Plate church chime everyday in Castres thanks to the volunteer bell ringers who ring the bells for the 15 minutes running up to noon all through the summer season starting in May and finishing in October.
The Goya Museum is worth another mention because it is France's second most important holder of Spanish art after the Louvre. The display includes many of the Spanish masters dating from the fourteenth century up until present day. Goya of course has a large presence the most famous being 'Self Portrait with Spectacles', Portrait of Francisco del Mazo' and the 'Session of the Royal Company of the Philippinnes'. Other Spanish masters of note are Velazques, Pacheco, Miro and of course Picasso.
The National Centre and Jean Jaures Museum has on offer the life and works of Castres great orators. A son of Castres who was born in 1859. There are several temporary exhibitions organised here throughout the year.
The Archeopole is an archaeological research and study centre that is well worth a visit, it has a permanent display of archaeological finds made around the Castres region. This particular display is often being updated as new discoveries are made via ongoing archaeological digs.
All the Departments of the Midi-Pyrenees
Ariege - The Ariege has several of its own downhill ski resorts, the three largest being Ax-Bonascre, Les Monts D'Olmes and Guzet.
Aveyron - as are several of the Midi-Pyrenees departments, Aveyron is one of the original 83 departments created during the French Revolution on 4 March 1790.
Gers - The Gers is often referred to as amongst the least densely populated, or most rural, areas in all of Western Europe.
Haute Garonne - The department is crossed by the upper course of the Garonne River for nearly 200km and consequently this is the reason for its name.
Hautes-Pyrenees - The area is a nearly-permanent fixture on the Tour de France's itinerary, with legendary passes such as the Tourmalet, the Aubisque and the Soulor.
Lot - named after the River Lot is about the most northerly of the Midi- Pyrenees departments with Cahors as its principal city.
Tarn - It was formed in 1790 of the three dioceses of Albi, Castres and Lavaur, belonging to the province of Languedoc and named after the River Tarn.
Tarn-et-Garonne - The department was created on November 4, 1808 during the First French Empire by a decision of Napoleon I. It is traversed by both the Rivers Tarn and Garonne.
The Beauty of France in the South
A diversity of culture and interests that will appeal to almost everyone
Even the slightly off the beaten track towns and cities in the South of France have an appeal that is hard to resist. Sometimes the fact that these places are not always overrun by tourists and are kept a little secret by the locals makes them even more appealing.