John Reps Bastides Collection
Known as Villeneuve-d'Agenais until 1789, this bastide was renamed when the Sénéchaussée was eliminated. It was then more than 500 years old, having its origins in a cession of land in 1253 to Alphonse de Poitiers by the religious order that owned the site. This place was on the right bank of the Lot at the ferry landing of Gajac. The rectilinear plan of the bastide was the work of a monk from the abbey of Eysses that had provided the land, a representative of Alphonse de Poitiers, and a notary from Agen, one Pons Maynard.
Ten years after they had established the town boundaries and surveyed its streets, a second bastide was planted on the opposite side of the river. This was jointly sponsored by Alphonse de Poitiers, the seigneur of the castle of Pujols and the Eysses abbey. It included the village of l'Albrespic, and its plan, while consisting mainly of straight streets, differed substantially from its orderly twin town across the river.
The twin bastides, linked only by the ferry, existed as separate communities for a time, but they were firmly connected by a bridge whose construction began in 1282 at a time when Edward I was king-duke of Aquitaine. Completed in 1289, this graceful structure, as rebuilt following flood destruction in 1599, still serves the modern city and stands as one of the major engineering achievement of its era.
It was Edward II who authorized the construction of the first town walls, work not completed until 1345 by which time the bastide was under French jurisdiction. Although the walls were demolished after the middle of the eighteenth century, two tall brick and stone gate towers of the fourteenth century remain. The Tower of Paris (earlier known as the Monflanquin Tower) marks the original northern entrance to the bastide. On the south bank, the Tower of Pujols is its southern counterpart. There was once a third tower, located at the southern entrance to the bridge that served as the toll gate.
Although Villeneuve-sur-Lot is now a thriving and expanding city, its old marketplace still retains its arcades. Now called la Place Lafayette, its center is occupied by a large fountain built on the site where the halle once stood. Several older half-timbered buildings of the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries can be found on or near the marketplace, and others exist here and there on nearby streets. Rising above these buildings from its site off the northeast corner of the marketplace is the octagonal tower of the church of Sainte-Catherine, a building begun in the thirteenth century but rebuilt or replaced from time to time.
Perhaps the most picturesque view of the town is from the south bank near the upstream side of the old bridge. From this vantage point one sees a solid line of buildings rising several stories from the water. Next to the northern end of the bridge and thrusting out over the river is the chapel of Notre-Dame du Bout du Pont, built in 1641. This became an important pilgrimage stop where travelers on the road to Santiago de Compostella could ask for a blessing of safe travel on the way to the shrine or could give thanks for a successful journey on their return.