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Martel is a gorgeous little town lying a little north of the Dordogne river in the Lot department. It was the former capital of the Viscount of Turenne and much remains of its medieval past. It is listed as a 'town of art and history'.
One if its more remarkable features is its seven towers giving it a distinctive silhouette. It is known locally as the town of the seven towers.
Wandering round Martel every street offers something different. Lots of imposing doorways, beautiful arches, half-timber houses, wooden shutters and, of course, towers.
Start your visit to Martel at the the main square of the town, the Place de la Halle also known as the Place des Consuls. Here the Palais de la Raymondi is one of the many notable buildings of Martel. This impressive building is home to the tourist office where you can pick up a tourist map indicating the main sights of the town. The Palais de la Raymondi was built between 1280 and 1330 and started by the town's tax collector Bernard Raimondi. Its tower, originally a status symbol, became a belfry.
In the centre of the square is the town's beautiful halle with a very elaborate wooden roof . It is surrounded by the Palais de la Raymondi and many other beautiful buildings including the Tour des Penitents, another of the seven towers.
See the Maison Fabri, where Henry " ShortCoat", eldest son of Henry II of England (Richard the Lionheart and King John being the other two more famous brothers) died after pillaging many of the churches in the region, including Rocamadour. This house has another of the seven towers. The Hotel Vergnes de Ferron is another impressive mansion with a tower.
The Tour Tournemire, or square tower, is an imposing tower which once served as the town's prison. Another tower is on Mirandol house which has a high, square staircase tower and Saint Maur's church, a defensive church, has a tall belfry which was used as part of the town's defences and lastly there is the Cordeliers tower which is the only remaining part of a Fransiscan Monastery which was built in Martel in 1230. This particular order, the mendicant order only established its monasteries in wealthy towns.
Whilst in Martel you will also notice remains of remparts of the 12th and 14th century. These include some stone gateways and the Tour de Tournemire.
Market days in Martel are Wednesday and Saturday mornings. In the 19th century Martel was an important town in the truffle market and underwent a second period of growth due to thIs. Nowadays In December and January there is a Truffle market.
On the edge of town there is a walnut mill that you can visit and watch the production of walnut oil which is available to buy in the shop.
From Martel you can travel on a steam train to Saint-Denis; a 13km round trip on the edge of a cliff about 80m high and so offering some fabulous views over the Haut-Quercy countryside. This is known locally as the "Truffadou". The train runs from April until early Novemeber.
Short history of Martel
The town, unusually for these parts, didn't begin as a religious centre or a castrum (military defensive site). It began due to its position at a crossroads for Paris-Toulouse trade and an east-west route carrying salt and wine. It is also close to Rocamadour and so became an important stopping place for pilgrimages to Rocamadour.
The original town, with a merchant quarter in the west, a religious quarter in the east and a fortified quarter in the centre, was surrounded by a defensive wall. The 13th century was a time of economic wealth for the town and many merchants houses were built. As the town grew the poorer people of the town occupied the growing 'barris' or suburbs outside of the wall.
The Hundred Years War led to the building of a second wall to protect the barris. After the Hundred Years War the town recovered relatively quickly and another period of prosperity followed in the 15th century. Goverment servants, lawyers and others arrived and built nice houses with mullioned windows, spiral staircases and ornate doorways. These can still be seen as you amble round.
Places to Visit Nearby
Carennac is just 10km from Martel and is classified as one of the "most beautiful villages of France." Admire the charming courtyard cloister, the 'Court de Priere' at the centre of the village. Inside the cloister is a famous 15th century sculpture of the Miseau Tombeau. With lots of 15th and 16th century houses and the river at the edge of the village there is much to admire.
Another most beautiful village nearby is Curemonte.
Reptiland, close to Martel has the biggest collection of reptiles in France. It is open most of the year.
You can find more local travel ideas in the guide.