John Reps Bastides Collection
Founded in 1222 by Raymond VII in the first year of his reign as count of Toulouse, Cordes is now included among the bastides although Raymond's charter did not use this word nor was it so referred to in any other documents of the period. Nor does Cordes have the regular grid plan that is so commonplace among the bastides. Its spectacular site atop and along the slopes of an elongated mountain made such a plan impossible.
Instead, Cordes has a single main street, one with several bends and turns, that follows the irregular incline of the mountain's ridge line. Two minor streets on either side of this irregular axis lead along lower contours, curving toward the main street and entry gates at the ends of the pointed oval perimeter. A few short and narrow cross streets and lanes provide connections at seemingly random intervals.
Like the later bastides, Cordes was provided with a marketplace near the most elevated part of the site. This extends from the main street to the next street on the north. One of the earliest bastide halles, this structure which is supported by twenty-four octagonal stone pillars was erected in 1353. A short distance down the main street another smaller open space opens to the north and the mainly fourteenth century parish church of Saint Michael. Its western front faces a small parvis.
From the beginning Cordes was regarded as a military strong point, and walls and gates were soon built to enclose the hilltop and its upper slopes. Successive lines of walls on lower elevations testify to the growth of Cordes as it became an important center of leather and cloth fabrication. Although large sections of the walls no longer exist, several massive gates still stand. These are impressive reminders of Raymond's determination to guard the northern approaches to the County of Toulouse. This domain that he inherited in 1222 had been devastated by the Albigensian Crusade, and Cordes was intended to make it clear that he intended to rebuild the land over which he now ruled.
Several elaborate houses in Cordes provide evidence of its prosperity as it grew to a population of some 6,000. The house of the great falconer (maison du Grand Fauconnier) and the house of the hunter (maison du Grand Veneur) are elegant three and four dressed stone buildings. Each has handsome groups of pointed arch windows whose stone tracery and moldings equal the best that France has to offer of Gothic craftsmanship. Each house is decorated with carvings that have provided their names: falcons and other birds in one case and wild animals and hunting scenes in the other. The house of the huntsman (maison du Grand Ecuyer) takes its name from the carved head of a horse and others of mythological beasts.
In the last half century Cordes has changed from a half-deserted town that few outsiders seemed to know or care about to a busy center of arts and crafts and a major tourist attraction. Except for residents, automobile traffic is now discouraged, a shuttle bus brings tourists part way up the hill to just inside one of the town gates, and a commercial area now extends along the highway that leads around the base of the mountain. Other bastides in the vicinity, including Castelnau-de-Lévis and, especially, Najac, also attract tourists in large numbers, and Cordes is now becoming something of a medieval theme park.