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Moussac Castle – Nîmes

History of the house

Appealing medieval castle for hire, “persistant witness” of the important historic events which shook the south of France

Some age-old residences are astonishingly well preserved, but not many have been as intimately involved in so many key episodes of French history as Moussac castle. This fortified mansion, dating from the end of the 13th century, has been restored in keeping with traditional building techniques. The overall design is inspired by the Renaissance style in which, thankfully, several modern day amenities have been incorporated.

A Religious Fortification

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© Château de Moussac

If Moussac castle has played such a pre-eminent role in Languedoc history, this is because it was a church property, since its concession to the Bishop of Uzès by King Philippe-Auguste (1211). The context is important: we are at the end of the Albigensian crusades (against the Cathars) and the fief, until that time the property of the Count of Toulouse, has just been conquered by the royal armies. The site lies at a strategic point, half way between Alès and Nîmes, on the Gard(on) River leading to the Rhone and the Mediterranean Sea. The bishop has a tower built to assert his rank as a temporal lord and the victory of the Church over the heretics.

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© Château de Moussac

The power of the clergy is however challenged at the end of the 13th century by King Philippe IV le Bel, in conflict with the Papacy on the subject of the submission of bishops to his power and the church’s financial contribution to the royal coffers. Following the trial and execution of the Templars, their two principal opponents, Guillaume de Nogaret (instigator of the aggression which ultimately cost the pope his life) and Guillaume de Plaisians, received from the king extensive lands right in front of Moussac castle. Faced with the rise in secular power and the hostility of these influential representatives of the crown, the bishop had his castle reinforced. The powerful tower dates from this period as does the part of the bishop’s palace which still exists, with its beautiful vaulted Gothic ceiling, fresque and wall paintings.

A highly symbolic fresque

The bishop meted out justice in the Great Hall of the castle (7 metres high), adorned with a beautiful decor of flowers and painted stones. The fresque on the south wall (14th century) is worth a visit to Moussac in itself. It depicts the trial of Jesus before King Herod Antipas, in the company of Jewish elders who poke their tongues at him in contempt. The choice of this biblical theme is of course no accident. It is clearly the Church in chains, unjustly condemned by the king (counselled by a devil in the form of a winged dog), which is symbolised here. However, as Christ ultimately manifests his power by his victory over death, so faith is glorified by the Virgin and Child fresque which towers above King Herod.

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14th century fresco, depicting the trial of Jesus before King Herod Antipas © Château de Moussac

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© Château de Moussac

The vaults and walls of this great hall are likewise decorated with lines of flowers in varying darkish red-ochre tones. Why this profusion of very simple flowers in a bishop’s palace? Are they roses (originally represented with five petals, like the common wild rose), popular in the Middle Ages? They have often been associated with the martyrdom of Christ. Perhaps they adorned the bishop’s coat of arms? Do they symbolise a biblical garden, the Garden of Eden in Genesis or the orchard of the Covenant in Jeremiah (maybe the sweet flowers of the Song of Songs)? Or perhaps it is just simply an evocation of springtime renewal …

The period of the Avignon popes

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© Château de Moussac

Guillaume Grimoard, Vicar General of Uzès, lived for a while at Moussac castle before being elected pope (1362-1370), under the name of Urban V,during the period when the Holy See resided in Avignon.
This was a sombre period of history during which the Black Death took a violent toll of the local populations. It was also a period which saw the first conflicts of the Hundred Years War: the “Tuchins“, who revolted against royal power, took possession of the village in 1382, when it was pillaged with great savagery. The War Tax bled the area dry, leaving the region without resources.

Catholics against Protestants

Cardinal de Richelieu

Cardinal Richelieu

In the 16th century, and as the convictions of the Reformation began to take hold, the lands in the Languedoc gradually became a Protestant stronghold. Rivality with the Catholics would turn into a civil war in the following century. Royal troops besieged Alès, the adjoining town, which they conquered in 1629. Cardinal Richelieu came in person to negotiate peace and re-establish the Uzès diocese. Local tradition has it that this encounter took place in Moussac castle, which had just been restored to the bishop.
The village fell into Protestant hands once again in 1703, during the Cévennes War. The head of the “camisards“, Jean Chevalier, took over the church but baulked at capturing the castle. The religious building was then converted into a protestant church.

Revolution and restoration

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Great Hall @ Château de Moussac

Our venerable Moussac castle ended up being sold as state property during the French Revolution. A whole string of private owners then took possession up to 1984. In 2012, it was bought by Anne Creusot and Frédéric Salle-Lagarde, whose ancestors had also played a role in the history of the area (on one side or another). It was they who undertook a particularly stylish restoration of the centuries-old monument and re-designed it as holiday accommodation.

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First floor of the castle © Château de Moussac

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The Great Hall and its mezzanine © Château de Moussac

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Facilities

  • 4 guest rooms (3 of which are equipped with a private bathroom)
  • B&B or Full castle rental
  • Up to 14 beds / 250 m2
  • TV / Wifi
  • Drawing room/library, great hall (with kitchen and chimney), salon-mezzanine
  • 360° terrace on the roof
  • In the garden: bowling, barbecue, Jacuzzi, lawn
  • Wine cellar with the best local vintages (to be paid in addition)
  • Includedin the rent: bed linen, towels, cleaning, water and energy costs
  • Adjusted rate in the low-season
  • The castle may be hired for a week-end or a short stay in the low-season (adjusted rate)
  • Spoken languages: English, French
  • Nearest city: Nîmes (22 km)
  • Private parking (2 vehicles) + public parking in front of the castle
  • Not suitable for those with reduced mobility (lots of old stairs)
  • Families and children welcome
  • Domestic pets: to be discussed with the owner
  • Non-smoking interior

In the neighbourhood

Located on the chemin de Regordane which has linked Puy en Velay to St. Gilles du Gard since the 9th century, Moussac is ideally placed between the Cévennes and the Mediterranean. This is a region particularly rich in terms of history, culture, natural beauty and gastronomy.
The arenas and Maison Carrée of Nimes, the Pont du Gard or Arles, with its arenas and ancient history museum are impressive reminders of Roman colonisation.

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The Roman Pont du Gard © LaurPhil

Its medieval heritage is also particularly rich: Avignon, Uzès and Aigues-Mortes have the most famous vestiges. However, the little town of Sommières and the abbey church of St. Gilles are also worth a visit. Not forgetting the numerous little villages with their stone houses and narrow streets, so typical of the Midi: Vézénobres, Rochegude, la Roque/Cèze, Montclus, Barjac, Aiguèze …

Uzes

Uzès © Jean-Louis Zimmermann

Those who enjoy gastronomic delights will find the local specialities, among which exquisite olives and wines, are a source of delicious surprises.

To read, watch or listen to

 

Moussac_Castle_France_fresqueTo fully appreciate the period atmosphere of Moussac Castle, do not hesitate to enhance your stay by reading a few books (nothing beats a good historical novel to bring old stones back to life). Watching a film evoking the era or listening to some period music may also be a good way to transport you back in time… A few suggestions:

Learning and Understanding

  • The Popes of Avignon, A Century in Exile“, by Edwin Mullins
    When Pope Clement V decided to flee Rome, which had become dangerous, to go into exile in the south of France, he could not have imagined that the Papacy would settle there for nearly the entire 14th century. This book recounts in novel form, the life of the seven popes who succeeded each other in Avignon, and confronted by the key events of the waning Middle Ages, opening the door to the Renaissance.
  • The Real History behind the Templar“, by Sarah Newman
    So many fantastical stories have been written about the Templars, their secret rites, their hypothetical treasure and the mysteries surrounding their powerful influence and the dissolution of their order … that it is important to revert back to historical sources and distinguish what is fact from what is heresay and the multitude of legends which burgeoned after the trial and execution of the principal Templar leaders.

Books to be read during your stay

  • Travel with a Donkey in the Cévennes“, by Robert Louis Stevenson
    Early work by the famous author of “Treasure Island” and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde”, this appealing, surprising and humorous book has become a reference in travel literature. Along his way through the Cervennes, Stevenson explores some of the dramatic historical events of this wild French region and describes its typical villages and inhabitants in the 1870s. But of course, the main character of the story is his stubborn donkey Modestine … (excerpt)
  • Eminence: Cardinal Richelieu and the Rise of France“, by Jean-Vincent Blanchard
    Captivating biography of one of the most influential statesmen in the history of France. This portrait, written from an objective and critical point of view, gives a much more nuanced and complex picture of the cardinal than the character depicted in the “Three Musketeers” of Alexandre Dumas. Tradition says he was a guest at Moussac castle to arrange peace between the protestant Huguenots of the Languedoc.

Films to be seen before leaving:

  • The Age of Uprising“, by Arnaud des Pallières (2002)
    Victim of the injustice of his lord, Michael Kohlhaas, a German horse merchant living in France, attempts to obtain redress. His quest for justice, although firmly anchored in his faith, prompts him to lead a band of insurgents who are spreading terror throughout the Cévennes. A detailed account, depicting rural populations in the 16th century, suffering under harsh living conditions, the inegalities of the social system, religious quarrels and attacks by marauding soldiers … Wonderful original music (see trailer).

(Period) Music to be enjoyed in situ:

  • Altera Roma, Music in the Popes Palace (14th Century)“, performed by the Ensemble Venance Fortunat
    The polyphony of the 14th century, in some of its finest religious works. Close your eyes and you will be transported back into the heart of the Popes Palace, as if it were inhabited by angels. The pure vibrations of the sacred office against a backcloth of ecclesiastical peregrinations and the tragedies of the Middle Ages.
  • 100 Years War“, by Audiomachine
    In the musical style of today’s great epic films, a powerful evocation of the battles of the Hundred Years War (excerpt).
  • Drive the Cold Winter Away“, from the “Nobody’s Jig” Album, performed by The Witches
    Deeply moving soundtrack of the film “Michael Kohlhaas”, where a resigned and melancholic flute is pulled through the dance when violin, cello, lute, mandolin and drums join it.

 

Some of the links below will enable you to consult the recommended titles directly on Amazon.com. If you decide to purchase one of these titles via this link, please note that intoHistory will receive a small commission on your transaction, which goes towards covering its running costs.

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14th century Castle Holiday rental 100-150€/room

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Château de Moussac
Anne Creusot
1 place du Château
FR-30190 MOUSSAC
France
+33 6 14 06 11 99
Castle’s own website

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