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Review: St Lizier

City/Town/Region/Island

Ariege, France

An attractive small town with a lot of history?

  • By SilverTraveller ESW

    2378 reviews

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  • May 2013
  • Husband

82 people found this review helpful

We had passed St Lizier on the way to Montferrier and had been attracted by the view of the town across the river from D 117 with the Cathedral and Bishops Palace set high above the town with the remains of town walls tumbling down below it.

This had been a Roman settlement and an episcopal see in the 5thC. Bishop Glycerius (who was of Spanish or Portuguese origin) died here in 540AD. He was reputed to have defended the city against the Visigoths and Vandals and was canonised as St Lizier.

In the 11thC there were two separate cities, each with its own cathedral. Notre-Dame de Sède was in the old walled town at the top of the hill, and St Giron’s Cathedral in the lower town. The Bishopric combined in 1655 and St Giron’s lost its status. A new Bishop’s Palace was built for Notre-Dame de Sède, which served as a cathedral until 1801, when bishopric abolished.

The town was a stop on the secondary pilgrim route to Santiago de Compostela.

Built on a hill above the River Salat, this is one of the Most Beautiful Villages of France and an architectural high spot of the area. Cobbled streets lined with timber frame or render covered houses line the narrow and winding cobbled lanes which still follow the line of the walls.

Tourist information have a very good guided walk leaflet in English. We parked in the square below St Giron’s Cathedral, which had been the site of the bishop’s vineyard, and set off to explore the town.

The walk begins from the Cathedral of St Girons, with its splendid Baroque reredos and 11-14thC frescoes, and takes you up through rue des Nobles, lined with tall 18thc plaster covered houses. Passage de l’Evêque is a narrow winding alleyway with cobbled steps which leads off rue des Nobles up to the Bishop’s Palacae. Rue de l’Horloge with the former presbytery, leads to Tour de l’Horloge. This has a very tall clock tower and a narrow gateway through the Gallo-Roman ramparts into the upper city. Next to it is the house of Poulitou, the carillonier.

The ramparts circle the upper city and are best seen to the north east of ND de Sede where they stand to their full height and still have the remains of the wall towers. Inside the ramparts are narrow cobbled streets lined with many timber frame houses. Carre de Bourasson with the half timber house of Jules the Tailor is a delight with some well tended flower gardens. This leads into rue Maubec with some nice stone houses. This joins Carré d’Uhalf by a gateway through the Roman ramparts. The road continues round the outside of the ramparts to the upper car park for the Bishop’s Palace. The easier and more sensible route to this car park is along the road from the Cathedral of St Girons.

Rue Notre Dame leads to the Palais des Evêques (Bishop’s Palace) which is built along the line of the ramparts and is a massive four storey stone building with round towers at the corner with a red pantiles roof. Part is now a restaurant, the rest is the Prefectural Museum of Ariège. Adjacent to it is Notre-Dame de Sède, which can only be accessed by the museum. Even though the leaflet from Tourist Information gave opening hours 10.30-7, this is only July-16th September. Otherwise it is 2-6. We were disappointed by the museum which had little content.

It is worth coming up here for the good views of the lower town and across to the snow covered peaks of the Pyrenees to the south.

We liked St Lizier. It well repaid the time spent here.

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