"Montreal du Gers" Montréal by mke1963
Montréal Travel Guide: 6 reviews and 9 photos
Montreal du Gers is an ancient bastide town, 14km west of Condom, was founded by Alphonse of Poitiers, Comte de Toulouse to protect the inhabitants from the marauding troops and armies that swarmed over Gascony in medieval times. Like most local towns, Montreal is built high up on a bluff, overooking the surrounding countryside. Montreal was always particularly important because it was the last town before the traveller came to the huge dark woods of the Landes, still one of the largest forests in Europe.
The surrounding countryside is rolling hills, very little flat ground anywhere, and where it is flat it seems to be lake or river. The Auzoue river ran below the town for millennia before the bastide was finished on the 30th March 1255, the first of the great Gascon bastides. The hilltop is known to have held an earlier settlement, possibly belonging to the local Sotiates tribe who were a constant thorn in the side for Julius Ceasar.
The area around Montreal, originally called the Agenais (because it is around the city of Agen) was first held by the English, then by the French, then again by the English and the French again. Life probably went on much as normal (whatever constituted normal in a time when bands of unpaid soldiers and mercenaries regularly looted farms and villages). In 1351, the town and its surroundings were donated to Jean I, Comte d'Armagnac. Much of the northern Gers is better known today as the land of Armagnac, although this part of Armagnac is locally called the Tenareze after the ancient route that camed down from the Pyrenees and crossed to the Atlantic coast through the Landes forest. Through the late 14th Century, the disputes between the English and the French continued, right up until 1445 when Jean IV of Armagnac reclaimed his ancestral lands. Even then, peace was not assured: in 1569, the Comte Montgomery, the head of protestant forces, passed through town vengefully, leaving Montreal in ruins.
Relative peace descended and Montreal slipped into obscurity, with civil rather than military construction becoming the priority in the town, as elsewhere. In 1873, a public water supply was created, and the streets were paved two years later By 1927, the town was hooked up to electricity.
Sadly, like a large part of rural France, depopulation has continued since the First World War ended in 1918: it is difficult finding good jobs in rural areas. At the beginning of the 19th Century, there has been 2,670 inhabitants in Montreal du Gers, and still 1,955 in 1911. Now there are 1,270. Montreal is an attractive town though, and increasing numbers of people are coming to live in the town again, suggesting that its population may rise in the future.
There has been a Tuesday market in Montreal since 1255, and also two big markets each year, one on the eve of St Orens (30th April) and one on the eve of St Martin (30th November) - both these bigger markets can go on for days, or until the wine runs out and are good times to be in town.
Over the last five hundred years, agriculture has changed more in the area than local farmers and tourist officials might have you believe: back in the old days, farming was predominantly beef cattle, but with the vineyards still very important. The lack of transportation meant that more vegetables were grown locally, and Montreal was known for its peas and lentils. Today this has changed a lot, with wheat, maize and soya the main crops alternating with sunflowers; vines are still found on the tops of the hills and along the ridges.
The annual town festival is held on the second Sunday in August, when the whole town and surrounding villages turn out to eat roast pig, sing, drink and make merry. This "fete patronale" helps break up the big gap between the fairs of St Orens and St Martin!
Montreal du Gers is a beautiful little town, although never as lively as Mezin, the next (smaller) town to the north just across the departementale border in Lot-et-Garonne. However, it does have most services including a bank and a post office, as well as several small supermarkets and some good restaurants.
Montreal's position as an ancient place was further reinforced by to stunning archaeological finds. One was the discovery of a the Roman villas at Seviac,a farm just outside town, and the other is the less-well known discovery, in 1992, of some of the oldest mammal fossils ever found in Europe. These were discovered at the farm of Beon (just off the road to Bretagne d'Armagnac), with the most important being the skull of a 17 million year old Paleomeryx. The bones of hippopotami and giraffes were also found.
The Roman remains found - and on display - at Seviac is just one of the many Roman villas known in the area; others are at Genens and Pomiro. Many of the relics are on display in the museum at Lectoure, although one of France's great Roman discoveries - and now with a fabulous museum - is at Eauze just to the south of Montreal.
Georeference: 0.200377, 43.949773,
The remains at Seviac are open to the public, and although the guide books are in French, you can borrow an English... more travel advice
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