Belves is a lovely and lively medieval town, it stands on a rocky spur above the Nauze valley on the skirts of the Bessede forest with a typical bastide layout and centre, and a preserved 15th century covered market hall. The town is well worth a visit.
Two hundred and fifty years BC it was inhabited by a celtic tribe the Bellovaques, who gave the city its name. The 11th century AD made it a fortified city because of its strategic position. In its most ancient part you find the castrum (fortified village) with its old keep (the “Tour de l’Auditeur”, 11th century), the Hôtel Bontemps (12th century, with its renaissance front), the ramparts, which used to encircle the city with a fortified gate and a tower later to be raised into a belfry (15th century). It towers above the Place d’Armes, nowadays used as a market-place every Saturday morning, with its five hundred years old 23 pillars and the pillori-irons to which the prisoners used to be chained.
In the hollow of the medieval ditch you can see the entrance to the troglodytic caves, once inhabited (from the 13th to the 18th centuries; guided visits all the year round, upon prior reservation). Strolling along the streets and alleys with their poetical names the “rue du Bout du Monde” (end of the world), the “Rue de l’Oiseau qui Chante (the singing bird), you will meet some more architectural treasures, the castle, the former Couvent des Frères Prêcheurs (monastery of the preaching priest)
In the centre of the town you can visit some troglodyte dwellings that date from around the 13th century. In the town you can also see the medieval belfry and walls, a 14th century castle, and the city hall. Belves is famous as being the ‘town of seven bell towers’. You will enjoy a pleasant afternoon wandering the streets and alleys of Belves – note that it is listed as ‘one of the most beautiful villages in France’.
The main sights
The old town, called Le Castrum, originates from the 11/12th century and was originally surrounded by ramparts. These were 15 metres high under the hospital! Some of the ramparts are still visible – wander down the rue du Petit Sol and the rue de l’oiseau qui chante (street of the bird that sings!).
The Belfry was built in the 11th century and was originally a defensive tower overhanging a deep moat in which people lived in caves. At the bottom of the moat the troglodytes grew their vegetables. The visit to the “Habitations troglodytiques” is very interesting.
The entrance to the troglodyte dwelling is by the fortified gate in the corner of the square. In the 11th century this had a drawbridge and was the only entrance to the Castrum.
Also from the 11th century is the ‘Tourd de l’Auditeur’. The entrance is high up as guards used to enter by ladder and then pull this up to prevent intruders.
The other main building of the middle ages is ‘La Tour du Guet’, the watch tower which is out of town on the corner of the rue du Bout du Monde (End of the World Street ) and the Pelevade street (named after a menhir which once stood here). The watch tower overlooks the valley and so could warn when the enemy approached.
Moving into the 13th century there is the monastery of the ‘Freres Precheurs’, now the townhall of Belves, and the church of Moncuq whose choir and chapels are 13th century though much of the rest is 15th century.
The chateau on the edge of town was started in the 14th century and altered during the Renaissance and afterwards.
In the 15th and 16th century the covered market was built. Note the pilori chain on one of the pillars. This was put round the neck of wrong-doers and they were held there for two or three days.
The Maison des Consuls which houses the tourist office is also 15th century and was for meetings of the consellors. The ground floor was a guard-room.
One of the highlights of Belves is its position on a rock outcrop, overhanging the valley of the river Nauze, and the views across open countryside from the town. Don’t ignore the surrounding countryside wnen you visit Belves – there is a great deal to explore in the surrounding small villages.
OFFICE DE TOURISME DU PAYS DE BELVES
1, Rue des Filhols
TEL/FAX : 33-553-29-10-20
PLACES TO STAY :
B&B Ferme de Tayac is just 25 min. drive from the center of Belves