Couthures sur Garonne

Relatively little is known about this village’s historic past. Its name comes from the Latin “Culturis”, meaning fertile land. This fertility can be explained by the fact that the river floods regularly, enriching the soil with alluvial deposits. Originally, the village consisted mainly of wooden houses and these would be moved depending on the rising levels and changing course of the Garonne. Agriculture, fishing and the use of drift wood were the main activities of the people living by the river at that time.

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Couthures sur Garonne

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Château Peager

A toll castle was built in the twelfth century by King John of England (also known as John Lackland, or Jean-sans-Terre in French), as part of the town ramparts, which were built at the same time. This arrangement enabled the boats and crossings on the Garonne to be monitored. The castle’s ramparts were maintained until the end of the sixteenth century with bricks, but they eventually deteriorated due to the floods and were demolished in the eighteenth century. There are still remnants that can be seen in the river at low water.

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Eglise de Couthures

In the thirteenth century, Couthures had a church in the Romanesque style, built very close to the ramparts. It was destroyed by the Garonne and rebuilt in a different location in the village in 1658. This second one was also destroyed, and a new building was constructed in 1848 in the neo-Romanesque style on the basis of plans that had been amended by the famous architect Viollet-le-Duc.

The wharves and docks were built in the early nineteenth century, during the reign of Napoleon I. Benefiting from the massive growth in river traffic at the end of the eighteenth century, the village became an important port for trade in wine, flour and fish-based products.

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Ancien Pont de Couthures

Inaugurated in 1846, Couthures’ first bridge was a toll suspension bridge that linked Couthures-sur-Garonne and Sainte-Bazeille. This bridge was 180 metres long and weighed 700 tons. The children of Couthures used to gather in front of the church and hold diving competitions from the bridge, where the river is about 15 metres deep. Due to maintenance issues and the changing nature of the traffic, the bridge was demolished in 1979 and replaced in 1981 by a new structure, more suited to the requirements of modern transport.

Today all that remains of Couthures’ suspension bridge is one of the piles, on which a canon has been installed. At the end of the nineteenth century, two canons were donated by a local family to warn inhabitants when the Garonne flooded. One was given to the mayor, and the other to the parish priest. Both would fire their canons, the mayor to warn his citizens, and the priest to warn his flock. Nowadays, potential floods are signalled by a siren in Meilhan, on the instructions of the prefecture of the Lot-et-Garonne.

The Garonne and the village

Nestled in a meander of the Garonne, life in Couthures-sur-Garonne has for many years revolved around one of France’s great rivers: the Garonne.

The Garonne is the fifth longest river in France. Its begins in the Spanish Pyrenees, in the heart of the Val d’Aran, and then flows for 525 km, 478 km of which are in France. The Garonne River has a capricious character and until recently would flood several times every spring. Locals will tell you stories of the damage that has been caused by historically high water levels, due to exceptional weather conditions (such as melting snow combined with heavy rain in a large part of the drainage basin). The great floods of the Garonne River were known in former times as the “Aiguats”. The flood of 1875, known as the Aiguat de la Saint-Jean, was the most catastrophic, but the Garonne also rose to historic levels in 1930, 1952, 1981 and most recently in 2000.

The source of the Garonne is located in the Maladeta massif in Aragon, where it disappears into the Trou de Toro sink hole, to make its way underground to the valley four kilometres further on, reappearing at Uelhs Joeu (the eyes of Jupiter). It was the French caver, Norbert Casteret, who ascertained that this was the source of the Garonne in the 1930s. For the Spanish, the Garonne’s source is near the Pla de Beret.

It is still a mountain torrent when it cascades over the border, before considerably widening its course in the Toulouse plains as it is joined by the Ariège River. It is then further swollen by the addition of the Tarn River just after Moissac and the Lot River after Aiguillon. Finally, at Bec d’Ambès, it joins the Dordogne River, with which it forms the Gironde estuary.

There can be no doubt that the inhabitants of Couthures sur Garonne have great admiration for this river and, rather than a weakness, they have made it a strength! The history of the Gens de Garonne is recounted and recreated in multi-sensory space with mechanized décor and “spatialized sound”. The rich history of the region is brought to life with special effects, lighting and projection.