Montferrand is almost midway between Villefranche de Lauragais and Castelnaudary, just a short distance from the Seuil de Naurrouze, which is called the separation of the water and the change in climate, which is quite marked at this point (partage des eaux) of the Mediterranean and the Atlantic of the Canal du Midi.
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The village stands on a rocky outcrop that rises from the flat plain that extends from Castelnaudary to Revel, in the area called Le Lauragais. Montferrand was an Oppidum Celtic and even inhabited during the Neolithic period.
In 75BC the name was ELUSIODUNUM and the Roman governor at the time, extracted a toll of 6 deniers per amphora of wine transported through the region on its way to Gaul, this was cited by Cicero, who pleaded at the trial.
Indeed the region was a hive of activity with wine and salt being transported along the ancient Roman Via Aquitania as far as BaziÃ¨ge and Toulouse, the ancient country of the Ruthenes, from the ancient region of Gothie, populated by the Goths.
The Romans inhabited the region from 118BC and built the Via Aquitania in stone and remained one of the only routes through the Lauragais for centuries and was called, locally, “le Cami Ferrat” during the middle ages, which means as hard as iron.
The Via Aquitania is roughly where the D113 runs today.
At the foot of the village stands the church of Saint Pierre Alzonne, which was the site of an ancient salt market, a paleo-Christian church, Roman Baths and an early cemetery dating from the 4th century.
With the Pax Romana and the period of relative calm that ensued, the Oppidum, became little used and the village, ELUSIO, stretched down to the plain, subsequently, the village was later destroyed in the 5th century during the invasions of the Goths, Vandals, Huns and Visigoths.
In the 11th century a feudal castle was constructed on the hill and it was not until the 12th century that the name Montferrand came into being.
What to see
On the hill, there is the church of Notre Dame, which is abandoned today, and which doesn’t possess the remarkable architecture of the triangular “Mur Clocher” or Wall bell towers of the Roman style built into a flat wall that is so distinctive of the Lauragais.
The church was cited in the “Bulle papal” of 1317 during the creation of the diocese of St Papoul, prior to this, Montferrand was a part of the diocese of Toulouse, proven by documentary evidence dating back to 1202.
The church was probably built on the foundations of an earlier priory built by the Benedictine monks of St Papoul, created during the epoch of the Caroligian empire evidently built within a fortified village calles a Castrum, where the entrance to the ancient village was situated below the church and not where it is seen today.
The place of worship was situated on the plain in the church of St Pierre d’Alzonne, but the movement of the population from the plain to the Castrum in the 11th century, meant that a new place of worship had to be built.
The old village was burnt to the ground by The Black Prince at the head of the Anglo-Gascon troops in 1355, who ravaged the region from Toulouse to Narbonne.
The village also suffered during the religious wars of the 16th and 17th century – during attacks the villagers sought refuge behind the walls of the fort in the “Barris” at the foot of the eastern rampartsThe village and the fort are mentioned in the fiscal register “Le Compois” of the 18th century.
By 1882, the village was sparsely populated and a presbytery was built next to the ancient church on the plain and both St Pierre D’Alzonne and Notre Dame were abandoned.
Moving on up the hill to the ancient city gate, which was part of the fort built in the 14th century to defend the inhabitants from the armed bandits that roamed the region.
The feudal chÃ¢teau, as discussed earlier was built in the 11th and 12th century.
The chÃ¢teau came under siege in March 1211 by Simon de Montfort and 14,000 crusaders during the bloody crusade against the Cathares – it was defended by 14 armed knights commanded by Beaudouin, the brother of the Count of Toulouse, Raymond VI.
Beaudouin preferred to negotiate his surrender, changed sides and joined the crusaders, with whom he remained until he met his end at the end of a rope.
Subsequently, Simon de Montfort turned his attention to Avignonet Lauragais, which fell after only a few days of siege.
The count of Toulouse, Raymond VI retook the chÃ¢teau at Monferrand, in September 1211 but was forced to give it up permanently in 1212.
Later Montferrand became part of The Domaine Royale and became a consulate, the consuls swearing allegiance to Alphonse of Poitiers in 1249.
In the 18th century, there were 36 habitations behind the walls and a fortified gate, which is still intact today, 4.4 meters wide and 2.27 meters thick.
On the ramparts surrounding the castle and village are arrow slits in the shape of crosses and two others carved in the 16th century for firing crossbows.
The remains of the more ancient fortification can still be discerned just to the north of the abandoned Notre Dame church.
If you look at the wall just about 20 meters from the gate and about 10 meters up, you will be able to see a spherical stone in the stonework, which is probably the signature of the builder of the fortified walls.
Montferrand still has the old Aeropostale lighthouse or beacon on the ramparts, which was part of the line guiding airplanes in the 1920’s and 1930’s from Paris-Bordeaux-Toulouse-Narbonne-Perpignan and on to Africa – the lighthouses all emitted a different letter in morse, Montferrand being “R”, Dot-dash-dot.
This is one of two surviving beacons in the Lauragais, the other being at BaziÃ¨ge, of the 132 that were in service by 1932.
There is also an orientation table on the ramparts where there is an excellent view of The Seuil de Naurrouze, the canal du Midi and the Pyrenees (during clear days).