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Cordes sur Ciel, a voyage in time !

A Voyage in Time

« One travels over the years without quite knowing what one is searching for, wandering amid the clatter, caught up with desires or regrets, and one arrives unexpectedly in one from those two or three places which await each one of us in this world. The traveller who, from the terraces of Cordes, looks at the summer night sky, knows that he needs to travel no further, because the beauty here, day after day, will remove any loneliness. » (Albert Camus)

Cordes sur Ciel fascinates all those who discover it because it is initially like a mirage: that of a city launching itself into the sky.

It is a living piece of history and art, holding alive in its stones the memory of all those who have passed through it since its creation in 1222 by the Count of Toulouse.

Its exceptional site, its remarkable architectural heritage, make it one of the most significant medieval cities of France, and one of the key sites of European heritage. It has been classified in the Grands Sites Midi-Pyrénées!

Its authentic lifestyle has attracted and retained many who find their inspiration there. Sheltering behind solid timber doors, with the magnificent carved frontages of Gothic art one can still find the sumptuous residences of earlier times.
They say that the creation of the city was overseen by the stars, and that the site was chosen by destiny

By walking through the streets, and crossing the thresholds, one seems to journey through the centuries, leafing through a fabulous book of art!

a Jewel of Gothic Art

A Jewel of Gothic Art

The « gothic » houses that line the main road, the Grand Rue Raimond VII, constitute an exceptional architectural feature.

Merchants, who became wealthy through trade in leather and cloth, built sumptuous houses from the late 13th century, with ostentatious facades demonstrating the wealth of the owners.

All stages of the evolution of gothic architecture are represented in Cordes : « primitive » gothic of the 13th century, the « radiant » one of the 14th century, and finally the « flamboyant » gothic of the 15th century.

The Gothic facades

As you walk the streets, looking at the facades, you can admire the complexity and sophistication of the architecture that has evolved over the centuries.
They say the Gothic facades of Cordes are books of stone… in front of your eyes, they present a magnificent story of history and architecture.

Of all the Gothic houses of Cordes, there are three particularly outstandingly decorated facades: La Maison du Grand Fauconnier, Maison du Grand Ecuyer and the Maison du Grand Veneur. The last of these owes its popularity to the hunting scene carved in high relief on the second level.

Uncommon sculptures

The sculptures that adorn the magnificent Gothic facades are a catalogue of medieval images: Dragons, monsters, hybrid animals, grotesque figures, beautiful faces, etc.

Looking at them closely, they seem to have the shape of gargoyles, but they are not.

Indeed, if this were the case, they would have had spouts for water. Moreover, they are not located under the roof, but are spread in a line midway along the facades.

Flora and fauna, carved in abundance on the capitals and arches of the bays, are examples of the golden age of the Gothic architecture in our region.

Construction in the Middle Ages

The facades were built of large stone blocks which were carefully cut and assembled using a grey, tan or even purple sandstone mined in the village of Salles on the Cérou, 15 km from Cordes.

In the Middle Ages, this sandstone was a noble but expensive construction material, and therefore only used in exceptional buildings.

The upper floors were reserved for the property owners. The arcades of the ground floor had a functional role. One gave access to the upper floors, others led to shops, warehouses and workshops.

Recent restoration

Recent restorations have removed the traces of ruthless modernization undertaken in the 8th and 9th centuries on the lovely residences of Cordes.

Today the impression of architectural unity that emerges from all these buildings is the result of long work undertaken at the initiative of the Société des Amis du Vieux Cordes (Friends of Old Cordes Society), and, in particular its founder, Charles Portal, archivist of the Tarn and historian of Cordes. This association has been allowed to purchase a number of monuments to save them from ruin by restoring them.

Moreover the artists and craftsmen who settled in Cordes since 1950 have greatly contributed to this revival.

The Story of Cordes

The story of Cordes

Situated over a hundred meters above the valley of the Cérou and its tributary the Aurosse, a rocky peak rises to the sky, stretching from east to west: the puech of Mordagne, crowned with white limestone cliffs.

The construction of the city of Cordes by Count Raymond VII of Toulouse, is linked to the Albigensian Crusade which was launched in the early thirteenth century against the Cathars.
Cordes was the first and largest of the “bastides” (walled new towns), founded to house the populations hardest hit by the war and to reclaim the territory.

It grew very rapidly, and soon outgrew the original walls, so new protective surrounding walls were built ( five in total). At the end of the thirteenth century, three generations later, it had grown to a city of more than 5500 inhabitants. It owed its prosperity to industry, commerce and finance.

During the heyday of the city (1280-1350) sumptuous Gothic houses, for which Cordes is now famous,, were built by noble families and wealthy merchants.
From 1562 to 1625, wars of religion caused ongoing disturbances.

The walled city, regarded as the stronghold of the Albigensians, became a favourite of the Huguenots.

The, epidemics of plague in the fourteenth century reduced the population of the city and by the end of the seventeenth century, the construction of the Canal du Midi reduced trade and commerce, and the population fell to 2,500 inhabitants.

However the city experienced two revivals. Firstly, an economic revival when,, in 1870, Cordais businessman Albert Gorsse introduced the machine embroidery industry from Saint Gallen, Switzerland, then an artisitic revival with the painter Yves Brayer, who moved to Cordes,during the second world war and was soon followed by a group of artists.

The origins of the names “Cordes” and “Cordes sur Ciel”

In the foundation charter, the city is named “Cordoa”.
It is possible that the Count of Toulouse named the city with reference to Cordoba, Spain, famous then for its leather craft. But also, more generally, it was common to give cities new names alluding to the cities of Christian Europe of that time (Valence, Grenade, Pampelonne derive from their Spanish namesakes).

In the twentieth century many artists, painters, sculptors, and celebrated writers (Albert Camus, Hector Malot, Philippe Heriat …) have been attracted to Cordes. Among them, the writer and poet Jeanne Ramel Cals enjoyed the name “Cordes sur Ciel”.

Indeed, early in the morning, especially in autumn, intense fog covers the Cérou valley in a diaphanous veil. Only the top of the medieval city emerges from the sea of clouds. Glowing from the light of the rising sun, the silhouette of the cite appears to float skywards, beyond the clouds. This is the origin of Cordes sur Ciel – Cordes in the sky.

The name “Cordes sur Ciel” was formalised in 1993 by a decision of the Minister of Interior, who was at that time… Paul Quiles, the current mayor of Cordes sur Ciel.

A City Of Art


« Art is the joy of free men » Aristote

In the exceptional location of Cordes, with its remarkable architectural heritage, artists and craftspeople have found authenticity and a climate providing inspiration for creativity.

It is they who directly or indirectly, were responsible for the rebirth of Cordes in the 1950s.

During World War II, a group of artists retreated to Cordes around the painter Yves Brayer awoke the city and provoked its artistic revival. Year after year, their creations and talent enabled the city to take off again.

Artists’ studios, art galleries, museums, exhibitions, Cordes therefore embraces art and culture in all its forms!

You will find, in your wanderings around Cordes, a profusion of shops and quality galleries.

For more information about the artists and art craftsmen of the city and its surroundings, please visit the « Discover > Art & Crafts » section.