A history of Haut Quercy and a visit to some of its villages
The ancient province of Haut Quercy, and its neighbouring area, has a rich history, medieval architecture and numerous villages to explore, set in a varied countryside. Many places, such as Rocamadour, are well known, and others are a delightful discovery.
The territory occupied by the gallic tribe of the Cadurques, centred on what became the gallo-roman town of Cahors, was later known as Quercy, controlled from the 3rd century by the powerful diocese of Cahors. The area suffered greatly during the Albigensian crusades, the Hundred Years War, and from outbreaks of the plague before, as part of Haute-Guyenne, it was finally made part of the kingdom of France in 1472.
The northern part of the province, from Cressensac and Bretenoux southwards, characterised by dry limestone countryside clad with small oaks and junipers, was known as Haut Quercy. The southern part extending to Montauban and Moissac, was known as Bas Quercy, with its white limestone outcrops sloping down in the south to a more fertile landscape of vines and fruit orchards.
Following the Revolution the department of Lot was created in 1790, corresponding almost perfectly to the ancient province of Quercy and centred on Cahors. The department at that time had 414,000 inhabitants.
In 1808, by a decision of Emperor Napoleon I, the Tarn and Garonne department was created to appease the people of Montauban. Almost half of the new territory was taken from the Lot department. This change meant that the Lot became, to all intents and purposes, synonymous with Haut Quercy, and nowadays the ancient name is more than ever in common usage.
The charm of the region owes much to its geology and ancient farming practices. The jurassic limestone provides the building materials for the houses. The farming practices of the 19th century, when hand-tilling of the land was replaced by mechanisation requiring the land to be cleared of stones, led to the building of walled enclosures, the multitude of small stone shelters which can still be seen today in fields and built into walls and ensembles of farm buildings.
The Parc naturel régional des Causses de Quercy (Regional natural park of the Causses of Quercy) was created in 1999 in the heart of Haut Quercy. The park's priorities are to protect and enhance the wealth of the natural environment of the area and its archaeological and built heritage, while supporting and promoting traditional livestock husbandry - typically the raising of goats and sheep suited to the terrain - and tourism.