What is a circulade village?
You’ve probably come across the term ‘circulade village’ in Aude Property listings. And you’ve probably wondered “what is a circulade village?”
France Magazine has a good article about circulade villages. From the article –
It was in the early 1990s that Polish academic Krzysztof Pawlowski first noticed some unusual circular villages in the Montpellier-Béziers-Carcassonne triangle. He coined the word circulade to describe them and discovered around 70 of them.
Circulades were created to provide the community with some basic defence. In the centre was a castle or church, often built on a natural mound, and each circle of inward facing houses acted as a rudimentary rampart to stop or delay attackers. Beyond the outer ring of houses would have been defensive ditches or sometimes a wall. Remains of these can be seen from the air.
All circulades date from the same epoch and are around 1,000 years old. As such they are the first examples of urban planning in Europe, pre-dating the grid-patterned bastides by about 200 years.
And they’ve put together a driving tour some of the circulade vilages near Carcassonne and Limoux in the Aude –
Route through the circulades of the Aude département
One of the easiest ways to explore circulades is in the country to the south and west of Carcassonne. Start at Alairac to the south-west of Carcassonne where you can park your car inside the circulade – if you can find your way in. Built on a hillock, Alairac has a beautiful old church with an octagonal belfry. When Simon de Montfort was cleansing the area of its Cathars in 1210 he besieged Alairac for 11 days, but the villagers crept from a back door in the dead of night and escaped.
From Alairac, climb your way up to the Bois de las Mounjos then down the snaking D43 to Montclar – another village that was seized by de Montfort – he gave it to one of his lieutenants, Philippe de Golan. Eight centuries later it still has its three concentric circles of houses. Take a short detour to nearby Preixan – a rugby ball-shaped circulade with a mass of houses separated by tiny ruelles in between.
Then head south past Limoux to la Digne-d’Aval a circulade with two rings of houses separated by a wide space between as though a whole circle of buildings has disappeared. Nearby Loupia on the D626 has a similar wide space between the houses which has been planted with trees – it gives the village a completely different feel to almost all other circulades.
Take the back road that heads from the north side of Loupia to Donazac where you will find a small circulade that looks like a giant letter ‘C’ from the air. The central area is completely open as if the original church or castle has been razed to the ground. The large circular place makes a great space for village fêtes.
To the north is Alaigne nestled below the Pic des Trois Seigneurs. Here you will find a remarkably well-preserved circle of houses. The village dates back to the 9th century when there was a small convent on the site. Look out for la Porte de Pépy and don’t miss the 14th-century church.
Just to the west along some twisting roads with fine panoramic views is Bellegarde-du-Razès. This hilltop village was once surrounded by defensive ditches – in those days there were only two entrances – one to the east, the other to the west. Parts of the ramparts remain but only a few traces of the original feudal castle can be seen. Bellegarde was another of the fortified villages that was besieged and captured by the infamous Simon de Montfort.
Continue north through Mazerolles-du-Razès to the circulades of Cailhau, Cailhavel and Villeneuve-lès-Montréal. Cailhau had four or five concentric circles of houses and the ancient hedgerows and lanes follow the circular pattern indicating that the village was once considerably larger. Cailhavel has kept its circular form but many of the houses have disappeared over the years.
All that remains of Villeneuve-lès-Montréal’s circulade is the tiny central circle of houses. But further north, Bram is perhaps the finest example of any circulade with three rings of concentric streets around the central church.
Now a much-expanded village, the original circular nest of houses remains remarkably intact. There are half a dozen parking spaces alongside the church in the centre, but reaching them is like driving through a labyrinth.