John Reps Bastides Collection
Mirepoix was one of the centers of Catharism, and in 1212 a crusading force from the north led by Guy de Levis occupied the town. After the peace of 1229 that formally ended the conflict between the French crown and the Count of Toulouse, the town gradually resumed its place as a religious and market center.
However, in 1279 a great flood on the Hers River caused a dam to break, and the rampaging waters wiped out the town’s buildings on the right bank of the river. Ten years later the consuls of the town obtained a charter from Guy III de Lévis, the local seigneur, decided to rebuild on another site, and thus Mirepoix began a new existence on a new and more elevated location.
Although it had all the physical characteristics of a bastide, it was never referred to by this word in the Middle Ages. Doubtless this is because the officials of the old town took the initiative in its founding. In all other respects, however, Mirepoix displays all the characteristics found in so many of the bastides. Its straight streets intersecting at right angles originally divided the site into twenty eight blocks. Extensive damage during the Wars of Religion when much of the town was burned led to its rebuilding on a smaller scale consisting of nine blocks including the centrally located marketplace.
The block in the middle of the south tier was chosen as the site for the cathedral, and two new and much smaller blocks were laid out in the marketplace, one on each side of the halle. This space is lined on three sides by half-timbered houses whose upper floors extend over ground-level arcades. These are of timber construction, and many of the wooden posts and beams display carved figures of persons and animals.
The former consuls house, now a hotel, is among these buildings facing the marketplace. Unfortunately, its reconstruction after a fire in 1644 was carried out by two families, each of whom followed a separate plan of restoration. The building is noteworthy for the carved heads that decorate the ends of the beams supporting the second floor. These are part of the structure erected in the fourteenth century, the period when the oldest houses of the town were built.
The marketplace of Mirepoix is an exceptionally handsome urban space with its arcades and market building and its unbroken frame of varied half-timbered houses and shops. Another line of arcades extends south from the marketplace along the block whose western side faces the cathedral apse. In the middle of one side is the market building, one built of cast iron with a wooden roof.
The cathedral is noted for the width of its nave -- nearly 75 feet -- the widest in all France. Begun in 1343, this massive structure with its lofty spire and gabled clerestory windows above the apse was finally completed in 1506. Additional blocks were surveyed around the central nine, possibly following those laid out in the original plan. Four very wide streets separate the old from the new, marking the location of the ditch and palisade that provided protection from intruders.