Medieval fortified villages, still meticulously restored, are scattered throughout Europe. One of the most characteristic is certainly La Couvertoirade, in the Larzac region, in the extreme South of France.
Authored by Baron De La Vandal Via History Books and Travel
La Couvertoirade is a commune in the Aveyron department in southern France located on the Larzac plateau. This well-preserved fortified town was owned by the Knights Templar, under orders from the Commandery of Sainte-Eulalie, from the 12th century. It is listed as one of the “most beautiful villages of France” and offers visitors a glimpse into the medieval history and culture of the region. The town is surrounded by fortified walls and narrow streets that lead to picturesque houses and landmarks, such as the Saint-Christophe church and the Knights Templar’s castle. Visitors can enjoy guided tours, explore local shops and restaurants, and take in the stunning views of the surrounding countryside.
There are five important sites of Templar knights in Aveyron, fortified villages strategically positioned in the Causse du Larzac to allow for the production of foodstuffs, which were then shipped through the nearby port of Montpellier to provide supplies for the Templars and later for the Hospitaller Knights. La Couvertoirade was particularly important for agriculture and sheep farming, including horses, sheep (for wool, milk, and meat), and wheat. The Templar Knights were large landowners whose wealth came in part from their ability to protect and support their vassals. A religious military order that went from the role of protector of pilgrims on the road to the Holy Land to the role of protectors of the land itself.
Although the Templars were “international,” their wealth and power in France grew to the point that at the beginning of the 14th century, King Philip IV of France, but not only him, was concerned that his own supremacy would be undermined. On Friday the 13th of July 1307, all the Templars in France were arrested and charged with heresy, treason, and other crimes. Many confessed under torture and the properties of the Templar order were seized and confiscated, some of which were donated to the Hospitaller Knights, rivals of the Templars.
Needless to say, a legend has grown around the date of Friday the 13th.
The order of the Knights Templar was definitively abolished in 1312 and Jacques de Molay, the Grand Master, and two other leaders of the order were burned alive at the stake in Paris on March 18, 1314.
From the stake on which he was tied, the legend tells that Jaques cursed the King and the Pope “from this your atrocious judgment you will be judged by the living and true God, who is in heaven,” warning them that within a year and a day, both would be called to answer to the judgment of God. Indeed, both of his two executioners died within a year of his execution, King Philip in a hunting accident and Pope Clement after a long illness. A recent discovery of the Chinon parchment shows that the papal trials had acquitted the Knights before their execution. Not only that. When Louis XIX, the Sun King, was beheaded during the French Revolution of 1789, someone in the crowd shouted out loud: “De Molay is avenged!”
La Couvertoirade was originally a village, just behind the hill where the Templars later built their castle, to facilitate the protection of the village inhabitants and to position the houses near water. The scarcity of water in the region led to the construction of large “water tanks” in the houses that stored rainwater collected from the roofs. And even on the roads, one can notice an intricate drainage system capable of collecting water to feed the animals.
Throughout the Middle Ages, La Couvertoirade continued to prosper, extending the fortifications aimed at protecting the village during the Hundred Years’ War, and it was only with the French Revolution that the property was returned to the farmers of the area. Like many rural communities throughout Europe, the population of La Couvertoirade rapidly decreased during the 19th century, but what remains is a small community where the buildings have remained unchanged, frozen in time. The village still hosts about two hundred people.
The five Templar sites in Aveyron are La Cavalerie, La Couvertoirade, Sainte-Eulalie de Cernon, Le Vialade Pas de Jaux, and St Jean d’Alcas.
Although the original infrastructure of La Couvertoirade was the work of the Templars, subsequent developments such as the construction of the Church were the work of the Knights Hospitallers, who took over the control of the fortified village and other Templar possessions, as already mentioned.
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