History of Uzerche
The Roman Times
Uzerche is a town in the Corrèze department of the Nouvelle-Aquitane region of France which includes the Limousin. The town is perched on a rocky outcrop above the Vézère River. Uzerche dates back to the Roman times, and it was the last place the Gauls fought Julius Caesar.
The 5th – 8th Centuries
Situated at the crossroads of two trade routes, Uzerche developed into an important administrative, religious and political center between the 5th an 8th centuries.
With its fortified town wall, small fortress, and defensible location, Uzerche was able to fend off several attacks though it did fall under siege to Saracen forces in the 8th century.
The siege lasted seven years, and it is said that in a final desperate action its starving inhabitants fattened up their last two cows and sent them out to the besiegers. Seeing the conditions of the bulls, the Saracen forces concluded Uzerche was too well provisioned and gave up trying to starve them out. To date, these bulls are still on the city crest.
The 10th – 12th Centuries
By the 10th century, with the approval of the pope and king, Uzerche added a monastery. All 100 resident monks were vassals to the abbot. As such, the Benedictine Abbey grew to be very prosperous during the 12th and 13th centuries.
Today, only the church of Saint-Pierre remains. Its crypt holds relics of two bishops who were pilgrims of the famed Saint Jacques de Compestelle route to Spain. They are revered as Saint Leonard and Saint Coronat.
From the 15th Century to Present Day
Uzerche continued to grow and gain popularity among kings who built additional fortresses with many towers and turrets. Its spectacular location and architecture prompted English writer Arthur Young to describe Uzerche as “the pearl of the Limousin” in 1787. Another common description of the town is “He who owns a house in Uzerche, has a castle in the Limousin.”
Today, Uzerche is listed on the plus beaux detour, a list of small villages that the French association believes is worth taking a detour to visit. In addition, it has been awarded village étape status. A village étape is generally a town with a population of less than 5,000 that includes a complete set of services such as hotels, restaurants, and historic attractions, for travelers.
How to Get There
Uzerche is located only 15 minutes away from the farm stay I completed at Jollity Farm in Lagraulière, so I spent a morning exploring the village. Coming into Uzerche from the south, I passed through the “newer” section of the town and found some parking indicated by a white “P” with a blue background. The lot is tucked behind a residential building, so I felt like I misunderstood the sign at first, but I did not. Before leaving the lot, check out the view!
From the lot, walk down hill, veer toward the left and follow the signs to the tourism office. This road leads visitors through the Porte Bécherie, the last of the nine 14th century gateways. The old town of Uzerche may be explored in two ways, up close and from a distance.
I first wandered through the village, stopping in the church, exploring the crypt and taking in the lovely views from the rocky outcrop. Afterward, I walked portions of the lower trail dotted with wildflowers. The path followed the river and provided a variety of views of the above village.
Uzerche only took a few leisurely hours to explore, and it was a nice way to start my visit in the Corrèze region of the French countryside.
Side Trip to Cascade Bialet
After exploring Uzerche, I took a short drive to Cascade Bialet. Two picnic tables sit under trees at the top of the trailhead making it a perfect place for a tranquil lunch spot.
A picturesque path descends to views of a waterfall that tumbles below the Gour Noir viaduct, the longest one stoned-arch bridge in Europe. I recommend following the very short trail counter-clockwise as it is easier to climb up the ladder and wooden ramp that can be slick after a recent rain. What a lovely place! ETB