Ah, with style; the French do it with such style.
I live in a new town. Built since the 1950’s, to accommodate Londoners after the war, it was designed as a little Utopia, a place where communities thronged around small community centres filled with shops and leisure spaces. It has moments of futuristic flare; but many of the ideas used in the creating of the new town have proved more wishful than practical. The town is fading, its leadership weak and wobbly; half the centre has been closed for demolision pending a regeneration which has been trying ineffectually to happen for the last two decades. There is no date set for anything to be built in its place.
It is a bit of a damp squib.
Another set or new towns was built once. And now they are very, very old towns.
It was in the days when England was ruled by the Angevins. And whole swathes of the south east of France could just as well be ruled by a French as an English king.
Well, in those days, that part of France was a frontier. A wilderness, a barren waiting land. And France took one look at its ragged edges and the English aquisitorial streak, and she said to herself: that land needs colonising properly.
Properly being the operative word. It was no use letting people trickle into the wildreness and build speculative little farmsteads because the English would have those as soon as look at them. To colonise Gascony, and Languedoc, and Aquitaine, they needed structured towns which could defend themselves.
So Raymond VII of Toulouse got permission under the 1229 Treaty of Paris to build. He was not allowed to fortify, but just to create organised towns.
And build he did. They were called Bastides; exquisite eye candy for the mediaeval historian. Built on a grid system, with a central square, some say they were influenced by the port the crusaders used to leave from – Aigues Mortes – and some cite the Islamic tradition of having a central square.
Whatever the source, they are stunning. Incredible. And one day I shall trail along and visit a goodly number of the 5-700 new towns which have survived some seven hundred years.
It is said that the Gascons have a propensity to brag. So much so that their swanking tirades have become an etymological joke in France and England.
They call a good, hearty brag a gasconade.
But had I a place like that, with its climate and a land colonised by new towns which have lasted many centuries: why, I would be bragging too.
Written in response to Side View’s challenge, Gasconnade, which you can find here