"Mouchan" Mouchan by mke1963
Mouchan Travel Guide: 2 reviews and 4 photos
The small village of Mouchan is unusual in this part of the world for being down in the valley by a river - the Osse. Most villages are old and are therefore built up on the ridges and hilltops. Fourcès is another exception, but probably also, like Mouchan, a more recent village. "Recent" here means that it was built after the Dark Ages around the 10th Century. Building on higher ground was not just a defensive decision; the rivers were prone to flood badly and regularly. The Osse and the Gélise remain particularly prone to flooding, and Mouchan is still at risk. Those keen to paddle in the warm rivers of the Osse should be aware that upstream reservoirs can occasionally discharge water and the water level can rise quickly. As the rivers here do not rise in the Pyrenees, there are no hydro-electric schemes upstream, so these rivers in northern Gers are not at risk of significant discharges, it would be wise to be careful with small children.
Mouchan is best known for its Romanesque church, which is the earliest known church with Gothic features, so is well-known in the architectural world.
However, Mouchan is more than just one church. It has the traces of an ancient water-mill, the remains of the old fosse, and other interesting little vignettes of rural French architecture. It's also a pleasant village and starting pointing for great walks up and down the Osse valley and into the vineyards on the ridges around Cassaigne to the south.
The origins of the name are unknown, although there are local theories that it is derived from the Latin personal name Muscius. Given its location in the valley, this seems unlikely although Mouchan is on a Roman road. The remains of a Roman villa have been found nearby, but then what self-respecting Tenareze village doesn't have its crop of substantial Roman remains? In particular the area around Gelleneuve (south of Mouchan, alongside the Osse) has provided rich Roman relics. Others have suggested that the name started as Muysano ("more clean"), then Meysano, Moissan and finally Mouchan. However, earlier it was known as Valaque (and note that the hamlet nearby is still called Balagué.
In the 10th Century, the Benedictine order built a priory which, from 1264 onwards came under the protection of the church of Saint-Orens in Auch. This parish was the very furthest northern limit of the land of the archbishop of Auch. As often happened, the village first started from a clustering of houses and farms around the church, which was dedicated to Saint-Austrégésile (as is the church in the village of Vopillon across and down the valley a little). This saint, who died in 624, is a Gascon favourite, having already become the patron saint of Auch and Nogaro. Staint-Austrégésile was before his canonisation, the bishop of Bourges. In 1062, his relics were brought to Nogaro for the consecration of the basilica.
The development of the Chemin de Saint-Jacques de Compostelle led to Mouchan's priory becoming a deanery in 1080, with its adoption by the Order of Cluny, and the number of monks grew steadily. Over time, a pallisade and probably later stone walls were erected with a fosse to protect the settlement.
The fighting in the Hundred Years Wars made the area unsafe. In 1368, the Prince of Wales destroyed the church, and even afterwards, for many centuries, this was still really a frontier area subject to marauding groups. By the 16th Century, the population might have expected more stability, but in 1589 Montgomery's Protestant troops badly damaged the little church and destroyed the priory. Two generations later, the Black Death killed most of the population. The vilage cemetary wasn't big enough for all the bodies, and many had to buried at la Bourdette, well away from the village to the west. In 1708, the Comte de Mouchan died in the Battle of Tortosa in eastern Spain while fighting for the Duc d'Anjou, grand-son of Louis XIV. He was not Mouchan's first noble son though; Cardinal Jean III de Bilhelm Lagraulas, Archbishop of Lombez was an ambassador for Louis XI and Charles VI.
Little changed over the centuries until mayor Joseph-Bernard Faget started building in the 19th Century: a school, a cemetery, the mairie, and, intriguingly, the long avenue lined by lime trees between the church and the mairie. However, this last village enhancement caused a furore as it would cut right through the curate's garden. After some wonderful protests, typical of French local politics, the curate stormed out of the village, never to return.
The end of the 19th Century and early 20th Century brought the same sadnesses and tragedies to Mouchan as to almost every other rural community in southern France: devastation of the vines by disease, two World Wars, the amalgamation and mechanisation of farms leading to job losses, and then the inevitable outward migration. It took Spanish, Italian and latterly northern French and Belgian immigration to stem the flow. Before the First World War, there were a number of shops and a Post Office: now there are none. The effect continues today: in 1988, there were 33 farms, now only 16; then there were 454 head of cattle, now (2000) just 75.
Condom is just 8km to the east, and Larressingle 3km north. To the east is Gondrin, which can be reached across the valley on foot.
Don't miss the hamlet of Vopillon which is across the valley to the north-west.
- Pros:Tranquility; the church; the river
- Cons:No shops or places to have a drink
- In a nutshell:Mouchan is peaceful, but so are most of the villages in this tranquil part of the world.
This fabulous church is one of the wonders of Gascony. Built in the 11th Century, with stone from quarry at Ramounet... more travel advice
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