In the distance a church tower comes into focus, then earth-colored stone walls. This is Pérouges, a medieval village overlooking the Ain River valley. And this is the sight travelers have witnessed for more than 700 years.
Past the church and through the high gate, the village opens up. Houses line the cobble stone streets, passageways lead to alleys, gardens and other streets. The aroma of freshly-baked bread and Galette de Perougest, a thin sugar pancake, along with the scent of flowers fill the air.
An exact date of when construction began isn’t known, but in 1167, Seigneur d’Anthon closed in the population of the walled settlement to defend against the troops of the Archbishop of Lyon. Seventy years later Pérouges earned communal freedom. It has never been under the direct rule of a lord. Citizens here were craftsmen, merchants and farmers.
The village is shaped like an oval. Rue de Rondes is the outer street that follows the line of the wall. At the exact opposite of high gate, on the other side of the village, is the lower gate. From rue de Rondes several smaller streets jut inward toward lime tree square, place du Tilleul, one of the best preserved areas.
Rue de Princes was the main merchant street. Houses have wide bay windows where the merchants would display their goods. At the end of this street is the Princes of Savoy house which is open to the public. A museum filled with local relics also helps paint a portrait of the village’s past with looms, craftsman tools and other historic findings.
Until the end of the eighteenth century, the textile industry in Pérouges prospered. In the nineteenth century when roads and railroads were rerouted, the population dropped from 1,500 to 90. Fortunately, starting in 1911, restoration began and houses were saved. Today there are around 1,200 residents.
When Pérougians were granted their freedom in 1236 they agreed to defend the town. A siege of the town in 1468 lasted three months and while every fortified village in the area surrendered to the Dauphinois army, Pérouges was not conquered. Some provisions were in short supply and historians believe it was during this time that the town’s signature dessert, Galette de Perouges, was created.
St. Mary Madeleine, the church-fortress, has thick walls that are part of the town’s outer wall and are equipped with arrow slits for shooting at attackers.
The original church was built in the village before the siege of 1468, but villagers made the decision to destroy it in order to improve their ramparts. Construction of the current church began one year later. It was completed in 1479.
Around every corner is another beautiful discovery. At first the village seems small, but exploring it takes several hours especially for those interested in the details of medieval life. This is a journey you’ll remember for a lifetime.
If you go:
As one of the best preserved walled cities in Europe, it’s also one of the most visited. Plan to arrive early in the day ahead of the crowds.
There are several restaurants, shops and a hotel.
Pérouges is about 25 miles northeast of Lyon off the N84 highway.
The best website for practical information is the hotels: www.hostelleriedeperouges.com.