Situated on a high ridge in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of southern France, the village of Minerve commands a sweeping view across the junction of the Cesse and Briant rivers. With the Canal du Midi winding through the south of Languedoc-Roussillon, Minerve is a perfect day trip during any French canal holiday. |
As you look out at the surrounding countryside from the Pont Grand, it’s easy to forget that this region once saw drastic turmoil and upheaval. Today a charming village and a frequent stop for French canal holidays in the region, Minerve was once the site of violence and destruction.
An Ancient Town
Minerve’s roots stretch back as far as Roman antiquity, as evidenced by its name – a reference to the Roman goddess Minerva. A temple dedicated to the goddess once occupied this site. The Languedoc-Roussillon region is peppered with such traces of ancient Roman civilisation – features that draw visitors from all over the world
During the Middle Ages, the region was rocked by the Crusades. In 1209, Pope Innocent III initiated a military campaign that was to last 20 years: the Albigensian Crusade – also called the Cathar Crusade.
The Cathars & The Siege of Minerve
The Albigensian Crusade was launched in order to quash Catharism, a Christian dualist movement that was gaining momentum in southern France during the 13th century.
In 1210, after a devastating massacre in the nearby town of Béziers, a group of Cathars fled to Minerve for safety. But that safety was not to last long. The village was besieged by Simon de Montfort, a French warlord who was one of the most prominent leaders of the Albigensian Crusade. For six weeks, de Montfort and his army assaulted the fortified village with trebuchets. Despite Minerve’s excellent defensive position, the town surrendered.
However, 140 of the Cathars at Minerve refused to renounce their faith in the face of defeat. As punishment, the French army burned the Cathars at the stake in Minerve on 22 July.
If you visit Minerve today as part of your French canal holiday, you can see the remains of the medieval fortifications that held back Simon de Montfort’s army, as well as several monuments to the Cathar victims. As you climb the narrow streets and gaze out over the red tiles roofs and surrounding verdant countryside, it’s easy to see why Minerve has been selected as one of Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (“The Most Beautiful Villages of France”).
And with traffic restricted to allow only the cars of residents, Minerve is a quiet and pedestrian-friendly place to explore. If your visit to Minerve is part of a French canal holiday or longer journey, this village is the perfect place to stop for a bite to eat and a glass of local wine before continuing on your way.
Paul Newman is the Marketing and E-Systems Executive for European Waterways, the UK's most respected provider of all-inclusive, luxury French canal holiday itineraries. Part of a team of experienced barging aficionados, Paul is first in line to endorse the perks of a slow-paced barge cruise to anyone looking for a unique holiday experience.
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