La Souterraine

La Sotarrana in Occitan, Subterranean in English – The Underground, what an evocative title and yet one so perversely familiar for someone living in London!

From whence did this long-standing name originate? Some claim the name of the town (translating as ‘subterranean’) comes from the underground parts of the church – the crypt. There is certainly evidence of pre-Roman occupation here, attested by the discovery of stone age tools and a menhir, and it may well be that that the church was built upon an old burial mound. Remains of Roman villas and temples have been unearthed in the area. But there are other stories… I have heard tell that there is a tunnel between the town and the nearby Tour de Bridiers but this is perhaps just a legend.

[l'Eglise Notre Dame, La Souterraine]
l’Eglise Notre Dame, La Souterraine

La Sout‘, to locals, is a small provincial town of five-and-a-half thousand souls with an 11th century bastide church and remnants of 13-15th century fortifications. Founded a thousand years ago by the monks of the St-Martial abbey of Limoges who had been given land, it’s a slightly sleepy outpost off the A20 yet somehow a destination for the Tour de France. In fact, in terms of population it is second only to Guéret in the département.

[The tower of La Porte St. Jean]
The tower of La Porte St. Jean

In the corner of the Place du Marché is a little bar to the right of la Porte Saint Jean, go in and ask them if you can visit the tower, they will give you one of the biggest keys you have ever seen. You can see it in my hand in the photo at the top of this page. Outside and to the right of the bar is an iron gate with steps leading to the tower. From the 15th century tower you will enjoy spectacular views over the rooftops of the town and beyond.

[Inside la Porte Saint Jean]
Inside la Porte Saint Jean

This is one of the last two remaining pieces of the old town’s fortifications. The other, La Porte du Puycharraud, at the western end of the town and is a little less impressive. Both date back to the 13th century.

[Porte du Puy-Charaud XVe Siècle]
Porte du Puy-Charaud XVe Siècle

There are a number of fine old houses in the centre of the town and on Saturdays there is a thriving market in the square by the church. On the last Sunday of each month there is a very useful brocante market in the same place.