The medieval town - Les Tours de Merle

The medieval town

The town of Merle is set in a landscape of forests and deep gorges. It is a spectacular feudal ensemble, with 7 towers built between the 11th and 15th centuries. Each tower belonged to a different lord. 

The medieval town of Tours de Merle is built on a rocky cliff above the river Maronne, in the hills and forests of Xaintrie: a natural fortress in an authentic Correzian territory, nestled between the river Dordogne and the Mounts of Cantal. 

  

A rich past

From the beginning, this legendary « rock » was given the name  Merle from the Latin word "Merula " , probably in reference to blackbirds (in French « merles ») that live here. It may also come from the word « merlon » which is the name given to a type of medieval crenation (architecture).

The lords chose this particular spot because of its dominating and spectacular position : upon a cliff, 30 metres high, 40 metres large and 200 metres long, the city of Merle developed in the meanders of the river Maronne. It was steep and easy to defend, leading to the development of a castrum which lasted until the 15th century.

The castrum, located between the duchy of Aquitania, the County of Auvergne, the County of Toulouse and 2 dioceses, was a toll. Several lords had rights over Merle. Among the local lords, the most distinguished ones were the lords of  Carbonnières.

 7 families of lords cohabited  or succeeded each other in Merle, making it a major co-seigneury site. Several sqaure towers were erected, to strengthen the families and keep them together (the lords of Merle, Veyrac, Pesteils, Carbonnières, Noailles, Saint Bauzile, d'Alboy... ).

In 1475when the Hundred Years War was over, peace reigned in the area for a long time, and contributed to an era of prosperity, for this “small, mighty town”. Unfortunately, religious wars broke out and caused great damage later on. The mutilated fortress was still used for shelter in 1574.

Ruins of the medieval village

In 1350,over 100 farmers and aristocrats lived in the castrum. There were about 30 houses. Some were adjoining, others had their own gardens and orchards.  In these modest homes, each social category was represented : lumberjacks, artisans, priests, lawyers, a solicitor… You can see the ruins of their houses on the slopes and at the foot of the boulder. 

In the late 17th century, the villagers could no longer count on the lords’ protection, since they had left Merle for a more comfortable place to live. The population moved away and the lordship slowly faded into oblivion. However, people continued to live at the foot of the boulder until the early 20th century.  

The castrum of Merle has been restored and brought back to life, and its heritage enhanced. 

The castrum of Merle

Merle was the administrative centre of a castellany, with its own grain weighing system… in a fortified site, with towers or hotels. It is not actually a castle because there are in fact several “castles” on the site. The castrum of Merle is characterized by its large number of co-lords, its own feudal organization between lords and townspeople with taxes and allegiances.

This site is a listed Historical Monument (1927).