and General Area
Auvillar is situated in south-west France, in the department
(county) of Tarn et Garonne, which itself is part of the Midi-Pyrenees
region of France. Auvillar is between the large cities of
Toulouse (80 kms) and
Bordeaux (140 kms), by
the southern (left) bank of the River Garonne, on its long
passage from the Spanish Pyrenees to its wide mouth above
Bordeaux. By the time the river reaches Auvillar, it has already
travelled over 300 kms and it about 100 metres wide. It has
a further 150 kms to flow before it meets the Atlantic Ocean.
In the past, the valley of the Garonne has flooded, leaving
it very fertile and allowing good cultivation for a variety
of crops on the alluvial plain. Auvillar is close to the towns
of Valence d’Agen (5kms) and Moissac (15 kms), but these
are both on the northern side of the river. The river, after
Moissac, turns sharply west and this is one of 2 large curves
in which the land between is known as the Gascon Plain. Auvillar
itself is a hilltop village, but with a separate quarter of
a port nestling under the village adjoining the river.
See the monuments in english
It is known that Auvillar was the site of an ancient community
and was possibly rebuilt in Roman times. If it were possible
to excavate beneath the site of the old castle (which belonged
to the Earls of Armagnac), one could possibly find the original
village, the remains of a Gallic “Oppidum”. It
is known that this old site had been a monument of the Gallo-Roman
period and the Middle Ages. We know that Auvillar existed
during the period when the Romans were masters of Gaul. A
roman road, probably one that connected Toulouse to Agen,
passes by Auvillar. Fragments of mosaics have been found locally
and old engravings uncovered.
Under the auspices of the local nobility in the Middle Ages
the village of Auvillar played a more important part than
in earlier times. Proof of this is found in debris from civil
construction and in religious buildings. Towers and bastions
strengthened the walls of the village. One of these towers
was knocked down by the order of the Revolutionaries in 1794
and the last bastion was demolished in 1839.
Auvillar has always been a magnet to artists. During the 12th
century, Macabrun, a poet and a musician, was born and lived
in Auvillar. Most of the well-known troubadors at that time
were noblemen, but Macabrun was not an aristocrat. Nevertheless,
many people admired his humour and strived to imitate the
literary techniques and the art of this famous Gascon. More
recently, when the “Felibres” were active and
well known, a number of Occitan poets lived in Auvillar, for
instance, the blacksmith who hoped to provide his readers
with “Lou pau d’or qu’ey dins la pensado”
(Elie Pimpeterre 1872-1945). Until the beginning of the 20th
century the “Macabrun School” participated in
Occitan intellectual life.
More recently, the elaborately decorated ceramics of Auvillar
were another important part of a long tradition. The very
attractive artefacts and artistic objects were still being
produced during the 19th century. A remarkable collection
of ceramics made in Auvillar during the 18th and 19th centuries
is to be found in the Auvillar Museum
of Art. Today, Auvillar is still a very attractive village
for artists looking for inspiration. Painters like to spend
awhile quietly appreciating the calm and serenity of the village.
Nowadays, during the summer months in particular, the village
sees the pilgrims on their way to Santiago de Compestella
in Northern Spain, to pay their homage to Saint Jacques. The
route of these pilgrims is lengthy (starting from many places
in Europe) and many people return each year to walk a further
length of the route, until they eventually complete. Most
pilgrims walk, but some ride horses, some with mules, even
one with a camel. There is a ‘gite’ available
for the pilgrims in the village and a surprising amount of
pilgrims return to the village later in order to enjoy the
ambience of Auvillar for another time.
Currently the village of Auvillar has a creative, acclaimed
and well-respected potter in residence, with some work normally
on display most days. There is also a large gallery housing
a syndicate of 7 different artists, mainly painters, but including
sculptors, in the centre of the village. In the quarter of
Le Port there is a workshop and gallery of the Moulin
a Nef, which is used now by artists sponsored by the Virginia
Centre for the Creative Arts (VCCA)
in USA. In addition, there are many artists from other countries
often in residence. These artists are often invited to stay
in accommodation provided by the village. During the summer
you could encounter French artists, German musicians and singers
or American painters, sculptors and musicians all staying
By no means least, mention needs also be made of our resident
calligrapher and letter-engraver whose work in stone, as well
as other materials, is recognised as outstanding : Bruno
Peindre Auvillar” (Come to paint
Auvillar) is the name of an important artistic event that
takes place over a weekend at the end of July. The event,
now over 10 years old, continues to grow and has become an
International Festival of painting. It is a competition open
to both professional and amateur painters.
year cultural exchange programmes occur between Auvillar and
other French towns, and also with foreign countries; mainly
Germany and the USA.
The people of Auvillar (‘Auvillarais’) are well
known for their hospitality. They like to welcome tourists
and any visitors. There are now more than 20 official organisations,
each dedicated to the promotion of a special festivity or
a particular leisure pastime. To obtain a list of these organisations
contact: Office du Tourisme, Place de
la Halle, 82340 Auvillar, tel. 05 63 39 89 82, or through
this web-site. Alternatively, contact; Intersociete Auvillaraise,
Le Senat, 82340 Auvillar, tel. 05 63 29 20 06.
In particular, the following organisations have become well
known well beyond the bounds of Auvillar and deserve a special
Friends of Old Auvillar. (Les Amis du Vieil Auvillar) are
responsible for a number of excellent artistic and cultural
events. A special page is dedicated to the subject: Auvillar,
City of the Arts. (Find this at the end of this article.)
Brulhois Dancers. (Les Danseuses du Brulhois) comprise of
about 30 amateurs. Their aim is to keep alive not only the
folklore traditions of music, songs and dances, but also the
Occitan language and culture. They perform throughout France,
other European countries and abroad. In recent times they
have given performances in Ireland, Canada and the USA. Their
contact is; Les Danseuses du Brulhois, Cave Co-operative du
Canton d’Auvillar, 82340 Donzac.
Auvillar is within the wine growing area of the Cotes du Brulhois.
Brulhois is well known for its red and rose wines, with an
ever growing and deserved good reputation. Try them and you
may be pleasantly surprised. You can taste the wines at the
Cave and at the local independent growers. Contact; Cotes
du Brulhois, Cave de Donzac, 82340 Donzac, or www.brulhois.com
Until the middle of the 19th century the River Garonne was
navigable from Bordeaux and was used to transport salt from
the sea, and wine and grain to the sea. It also provided the
means of personal transport. It is thought that the original
harbour of the Port at Auvillar was tolled as it is known
that tolls were collected there in 1204. By the year 1789
there were still 49 sailors’ families living in Auvillar.
These mariners were professionals operating the barges or
boats (batellerie) on the river. They were known to be energetic
and daring, with an excellent knowledge of the often difficult
river and they were justifiably proud of the prestige bestowed
upon them. A motto commonly attributed to them was: “Although
a villain on the land, on the water I am a Lord”. They
spent 12 to 16 hours at work on the water, and then retired
to a tavern for the night. Le Port at Auvillar was well supported
by the mariners, as it was a compulsory stop because of the
THE CHAPEL OF SAINT CATHERINE AT LE PORT
mariners were also religious people, having their own church
or chapel in almost every harbour. Almost all of these were
dedicated to Saint Catherine who was regarded as the patron
saint of the river people, as well as philosophers. In Le
Port, you can still find the chapel of Saint Catherine, although
unfortunately it is in a state of disrepair.
The mariners would offer gifts to thank their patron saint.
They bought or made themselves these gifts called “ex-votos”.
A lot of these have been found in the chapel; many of them
are warships. The museum in Auvillar carefully keeps some
on display. Also on display, after being found in the chapel
in Le Port, is painting of Saint Catherine of Alexandria.
The chapel was probably first built in the “Carolingian”
period. Today, it is just possible to make out, above the
main entrance of the chapel, a monogram of Christ dating from
the IX century. This chrism is a major symbol of Christendom
in ancient times. It shows in particular the Greek letters
‘alpha’ and ‘omega’ (the beginning
and the end) and the first 2 letters of the Christians, in
Greek, the X and P.
Unfortunately there is little left of this monogram whose
symbolism is so ancient. To ensure preservation of this chapel
for the future, the village has an active association dedicated
to this end.
The pottery of Auvillar first appeared at the end of the 17th
century. At the time Louis XIVth was engaged in disastrous
wars, which necessitated his demanding from the nobility,
the clergy and the middle classes their crockery made of gold,
silver and silver gilt. This was smelted to provide funds
for the King.
The same citizens were invited to develop and pay for the
manufacture of earthenware pottery similar to that which already
existed in Rouen, Never, etc., decorated in blue. Polychrome
(the use of more than one colour) came afterwards (in the
The basic soil (clay and chalk) was extracted from quarries
around Auvillar. It was then purified, kneaded, washed and
sifted before storing for 5-6 months.
The earthenware pieces were fashioned by moulding, then turning
on a wheel before being fired for the first time at 1000?
Celsius, which gives a biscuit finish. The biscuit finished
objects are steeped in a solution with a base of oxide of
lead and oxide of pewter which gives them the glaze.
After some hours, when the glaze was dry, the artist decorated
the piece. These were produced in 3 ways:
1. By hand and inspired by the artist.
2. “Le pencif”: The design is traced on a board
pierced by small holes on which one rubs the back with charcoal,
which is printed to guide the decorator.
3. The stencil: which is achieved by painting with a brush
through a pre-cut card. One needs a different stencil for
painters used a base of oxidised metals:
1. Copper for the green.
2. Antimony or iron for the yellow.
3. Cobalt for the blue.
4. Magnesium for the violet or brown.
The red and orange were made by using the red earth from Thiviers
(a village in the Dordogne).
the decoration was finished, the piece was fired a second
time. The castings were stacked in fireproof cylinders called
“gazettes” and separated by wedges called “pernettes”.
The cylinders were then placed in an oven fired with wood,
and heated to 900? for 30 to 36 hours. After cooling for 24
hours, the pottery could be inspected to verify the process.
process produced thousands of dishes, plates and other pieces
in Auvillar from 1750 to 1905 (1,300,000 in 1848 alone) in
small companies called “fabriques”.
mass production of pottery (Limoges particularly) was the
reason for the decline of small potteries and the last one
in Auvillar closed in 1905.
you for your visit.
MUSEUM OF ART AND POPULAR TRADITIONS
in this room are objects which, for the most part, have been
donated by the people of Auvillar to preserve the memory of
items mostly show the traditional crafts, woodworking, wine
coopers (barrel makers), etc.
You will also find models made by the journeymen, in particular
the model of the old bell of the church in Auvillar.
addition you will find the ancient musical instruments used
for the ancient fanfare, known as the “ Lyre Auvillaraise”.
Even with these inanimate objects you will begin to discover
the soul of the village.
THE PORT AND THE TRADITIONS OF THE RIVER GARONNE
history of Auvillar and its social and economic existence
is clearly linked to the river Garonne. For centuries, the
Garonne was the link between the different regions of Aquitaine
and the Languedoc. A vast commercial network developed with
a privileged system of taxes and tolls.
the 12th century, Auvillar became an important centre for
tolls. By the 17th century the central office for taxes in
the Lomagne area was situated here.
traditional occupations linked to transportation by water
developed along the river banks and benefited the local economy.
main river activity was the transportation of goods (pottery,
goose feathers, wine, wheat, the woad of Lauragais, textiles,
wood, etc.) being the produce of Auvillar and other adjacent
1836, the Port had 1214 inhabitants. In 1837, 2256 boats made
the journey between Agen and Auvillar. In 1841, 150,000 tonnes
of merchandise transited through the Port of Auvillar.
river flows towards Bordeaux, but the current of the Garonne
can be very strong and called for great skill by the boat
crews to avoid being shipwrecked.
journey upriver from Bordeaux towards Toulouse was much more
difficult. It was achieved by towing “la Tire”.
Men were attached to a harness with ropes to pull the boat.
Later oxen or horses replaced the men.
additional obstacle to the navigation came from the “Moulins
à Nef”, flour mills, which were put on two boats
tied together with a paddle-wheel between the two. This produced
a classic system of milling. These mills moored in the current
of the river considerably hindered the navigation to such
an extent that they were forbidden from 1840.
powerful river men called the “Maîtres des Bateaux”
directed the economic life of the river.
is an old chapel in the Port of Auvillar, the foundations
of which were begun in the reign of Charlemagne during the
8th century. This chapel is dedicated to Saint Catherine of
Alexandria, patron saint of the sailors of the region. Many
sailors offered their thanks there on returning from the water
to the countryside.
construction of the Canal du Midi, built to the side of the
Garonne, commenced during the Industrial Revolution in the
19th century. The opening of the section from Bordeaux to
Toulouse in 1855 mirrored the beginning of the end of the
river traffic on the Garonne.
there is no longer a working port in Auvillar, merely memories
and the calm of the banks of the Garonne.
Pilgrims of Saint Jacques of Compostella
Auvillar is an important halt on the route taken by the
Saint Jacques of Compostella. A hostel (which is managed
by both the office
of the Mayor of Auvillar and the Tourist office) welcomes
Auvillar has all the normal commercial facilities; restaurants,
supermarket, newsagent, hairdresser, chemist, butcher, baker,
doctor, dentist and a police station. Auvillar is happy
to welcome all
pilgrims, walkers, those on bicycles and on horseback
Starting from 'Le Puy en Velais', or possibly further away
than that, or
perhaps closer, you should leave the beautiful Roman city
of Moissac in the
lower Quercy to pass into our beautiful Garonne countryside
and place your
feet on Gascony soil as you cross the river bridge. High
on a rocky spur
above the river sits our ancient village of 'Alta-Villar'
and it offers you
a calm stay in its well-appointed 'gite', which also offers
magnificent view over the Garonne river valley.
Auvillar is a classified site with a number of historic
museums and additionally is one of the identified prettiest
You will be charmed and amazed by our Corn Market, situated
circular centre of the village. The centre is surrounded
You can visit our 11th century Church, dedicated to Saint
you will find, visible in a bell-chamber, the bells, which
beautiful. In addition, there is a wonderful chancel and
steles with a
crypt containing old relics. Since 25 July 2003, you may
meditate in front
of a statue of Saint Jacques the senior, carved from black
wood (dating from
the 18th or 19th century, donated by the present Bishop).
At the entrance to the church, a presentation has been mounted
photographs of the Crosses of Calvary you will see at different
the route of Saint Jacques, from Le Puy en Valais to Compostella.
of these halts are indicated on the small panels on ropes.