As a French barge cruise travelling down the Canal du Midi often stops off in the stunning historical town of Minerve, there are a few interesting features you might want to know concerning its history, culture and heritage.
About Minerve and its Periphery
Set in the Languedoc-Roussillon region of Southern France, the Minervois area is an underappreciated beauty. Its deep blue skies extend above impressive mountains, widespread vineyards and large olive trees, while charming villages and châteaux are nestled between these agricultural riches.
Minerve itself is a stereotypically French hilltop town, often considered to be one of the most beautiful in France. When wandering the streets, you will see locals enjoying friendly games of Boules and chatting over warm cups of coffee in the nearby cafés. The atmosphere is calm and relaxed, perfect for a revitalising stop-off when on a French barge cruise.
Having been inhabited since early Antiquity, Minerve has a long and complex history. In fact, the town took its name from the temple – built in the goddess Minerva’s honour – that was once erected on the same site.
In the late Middle Ages the town was occupied by the Cathars who were led by Guilhem, Viscount of Minerve. Back then, its strategic location on the top of a hill made it an imposing Cathar city. It was thought to be impenetrable thanks to its protective natural gorges and surrounding double curtain walls.
However, July 1209 saw the Catholic Simon de Montfort launch a military crusade against the Cathars whom he accused of heresy. Combining the powerful forces of armed men with four catapults, his crusaders successfully overwhelmed the town and attacked St Rustique’s well to cut off its water supply. They then penetrated the Castle, defeating the Viscount of Minerve’s 200 soldiers and forcing him to surrender. Many Cathars refused to give up their faith and convert though. As a result, close to 180 of them were burnt at the stake by the Catholica leaders.
When your French barge cruise passes through this area, keep your eyes out for the stèle. It serves as a reminder of the Siege of Minerve during this crusade, as well as Languedoc’s troubled history.
See the Dramatic Landscape
When they visit on a French barge cruise, any history lover should jump at the chance of seeing the dramatic landscape where the siege and ensuing battle took place.
Minerve really is one of the most spectacular sites in Languedoc. Over the centuries, the surrounding Brian and Cesse rivers have traced the geological history of Minerve. Working relentlessly, they have meticulously carved out the limestone of the plateau and formed many narrow canyons because of their changeable flows. They are also responsible for creating the rocky fortress, and, most strikingly, they have tunnelled through the rock and left a path of naturally-formed bridges. If your French barge cruise sets sail in the dry season, you will even have the opportunity to walk through the rocks and marvel at the immensity of these natural gorges.
If you’re passionate about history, stopping off in Minerve on your French barge cruise is the perfect opportunity to explore Languedoc-Roussillon’s lesser-known cultural heritage and turbulent past.
Paul Newman is the Marketing and E-Systems Executive for European Waterways, the UK's most respected provider of all-inclusive, luxury French barge cruise itineraries, as well as cruises to other great destinations in Europe. 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.