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Photo of Medieval market halls

One of the more unusual building types that you will come across in southern France – especially in the medieval and bastide towns of the south-west of the country – is the traditional market hall.

These typically date back up to 700 years (our local town claims that a market has been held under the hall every Saturday since 1269), and have long served as permanent ‘covered markets’. Because of this role they are usually found in the centre of towns (eg Villereal, Monpazier, Domme and many others), and often in a large open square.

When the original market hall has been lost over time, you will sometimes find a large but empty square in the centre of a town (eg Monflanquin) or a more recent replacement - in the 19th century, inspired by the works of Gustave Eiffel,  there was a trend to rebuild market halls in wrought iron.

Market hall in Villereal

There are various different versions of the structure. The principal difference between them is that some have stone pillars supporting the roof structure while others have ancient timbers. In some cases the stone pillars have replaced the original timbers as part of later repair work, and they all have open sides.

The stone columns can be square or round, but do not usually feature decoration: the halls were built as very functional buildings.

The original detailed carpentry work of the roof can often be seen clearly from underneath, sometimes with additional grooves and markings that suggest the timbers were originally sourced from even older structures: it is said that the wood used often came from ships that had been taken apart at Bordeaux, apparently.

The stone used for the columns is of course the local stone of the region, so the hall in Cadouin in the Dordogne has golden-yellow columns and the hall in Meyssac in Correze has very red columns...

 
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The most interesting of these medieval towns still have the buildings with arcades at ground level around the edges of the square: the market was the principal centre of activity in a town n the Mddle Ages and the entire town centre was dedicated to it.

Typically, medieval market halls are square or rectangular in form and on one level only, as with the one at Monpazier (which interestingly still holds some of the original grain measuring jugs underneath).

Occasionally they follow a different form. The market hall in Villereal, for example, has an additional storey that is currently in use as offices. This feature is quite unusual.

Equally unusual is the round shape that you mght occasonally see, for example the hall in Auvillar, although I understand this was a 19th century replacement for the original mediaval hall, which ws rectangular.

Market hall in Auvillar

Note: medieval washhouses (lavoirs) are often of a similar form, with an open structure of pillars supporting a roof, although thay are usually smaller, and may be confused with the market halls. The location will usually make the role apparent, since lavoirs are situated on a stream or river, while the market halls are more central in the town.

Whichever you discover, these halls are an important historical record of the towns in the Middle Ages and deserve your particular attention when travelling in France.

They have also found a second use in many places - there is a trend in towns which have lots of tourists to have a 'marché nocturne' once a week during the summer months, where visitors can enjoy local produce and entertainment during the evening in a lively atmosphere, and a large open sided hall provides shade from the sun in an attractve environment...

Photos of Medieval market halls

  • market-allemans-sur-dropt
  • market-auvillar
  • market-belves
  • market-bourg-de-visa
  • market-cadouin
  • market-cordes-sur-ciel
  • market-laroque-timbaut
  • market-lyons-la-foret
  • market-martel
  • market-meyssac
  • market-revel
  • market-villereal
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