Availles-Limouzine is a small canton in the south of the Vienne Département, close to the borders of Charentes and Haute-Vienne. The other three members of the canton are Mauprevoir, Pressac and St-Martin l'Ars, all to the west. It is situated right on the banks of the beautiful River Vienne and is equidistant from Poitiers, Limoges and Angouleme. It is home to around 1300 inhabitants and covers an area of 5790 hectares.
This drawing, courtesy of LE CANTON AVAILLES-LIMOUZINE, shows a recontruction of the old Market Square. This is now part of the Town Hall Square. The drawing shows La Halle as it would have appeared in the XVth century. La Halle adjoined a XVth century house formerly known as "Maison de Aragons" and later as "Le Caveau". It was leased in 1625 to the Procurator Fiscal of Availles and then leased in 1661 to a master butcher and hotelier. In the undercroft of La Halle in a room called "Le Parquet," could be found the courts of justice. La Halle and the undercroft were destroyed in 1928.
In times gone by the village was a feudal châtellenie which went through several name changes from Availya to Availhe to Walia-Wisigoth to Avalhas-Lemosina. It's first mention as Availya links it directly to Availya, the King of Aquitaine who reigned in 418, allost a century before Vouillé (507). This châtellenie was a dependancy of the châtellenie of St Germain de Confolens.
It first appeared on a map in 1420 when it was referred to as Availhe Limousine (with an "S" not a "Z") alluding to its proximity to the Region of Limousin. It was successively occupied by the Romans, the Gauls and the Wisigoths, followed by the Francs. In the XIIth century a castle with high walls and deep moats protected the wooden bridge across the Vienne. An abutment of the original bridge is still visible on the right bank of the river near the house.
OCCUPATION BY THE ENGLISH
The English occupied the town for a considerable length of time. During the siege of 1350 the English destroyed a large part of the town inluding the bridge crossing the River Vienne opposite the lower gate to the town. The remains of this bridge are still visible. Parts of the old chateau at the entrance to the Rue des Cavaliers du Roi remain, as does the street itself. The street is named after the King's Cavaliers, who lodged with the inhabitants during their winter quarters. La Poste des Gardes was one of their lodgings and two of the south facing rooms still contain the stone window seats used by the look-outs.
Overlooking the square you can see the Porte de la Ville. This is a beautiful arched door still showing the grooves for the port cullis. The building adjoins a tower, of which there would have been two, with one serving as the prison. La Porte de la Rivière is at the lower end of the Rue des Cavaliers du Roi. This is exceptionally well preserved and was also flanked by two square towers leading to the old wooden bridge.
In later times at the end of the 15th century during the religious wars, Availles was taken by the "liguers", then subsequently recaptured by Captain Boisduffent of Dorat who ransacked it. Jacques d'Archiac, lord of Availles, later reconstructed the church. The historic quarter of the town, including Rue du Chateau, contains dwellings that were rebuilt at the start of the XVIth century.
VICHY FRANCE IN THE SECOND WORLD WAR
Availles lies on the north-south divide of the langue d'oc (Occitan language) and the langue d'oil (Oui language) and was also directly on the border between Vichy France and occupied France during the Second World War.
The line of demarcation cut directly through the Vienne Département from north to south and Availles was included in Vichy France.
THE CHURCH OF ST MARTIN
The Church of St Martin was originally constructed in the XIth century.It was dedicated to St Martin. He was a Roman officer who discovered Jesus at the age of 10. He met St Hilaire, Bishop of Poitiers, and decided to a Christian life to help the soldiers. He was baptised and left the army. Along with St Hilaire, he evangelised the countryside and together they founded the first Gallic monastery at Ligugé near Poitiers. After long travels with his disciples through Flanders,Switzerland and France, he died in 397 and his tomb can be seen in Tours.
The church is constructed from limestone and granite and is first mentioned on a map of 1090. The church came under the jurisdiction of the abbey of St Cyprien in Poitiers, which had the right to choose the priests of Availles. The church was destroyed by the English in 1350 and the choir and transept were rebuilt in the gothic style by Jacques d'Archiac in the XVth century. His family's crest can be seen on the crosses of the choir arches and at the top of the gothic window in the apse. The bell tower is still supported by four square pillars, the majority of which dates back to the romanesque origins in the XIth century.
It was later rebuilt by Jacques d'Archaic and retains his crest on its keystones. The transepts and nave date from the XVth century. The stained glass is signed by the Gueritault brothers. The clock was crafted by Charles Brunier in 1768. Two chapels were added, the right-hand one in 1784 and the left-hand one in 1790. Today you can see the remains of an eighteenth century wooden altarpiece representing the Madonna and Child. You can also see the small opening known as a hagyoscope, typical of the XVth century, which allowed people to follow Mass from the chapel.
The cross standing in front of the church in the Place de l'Eglise is particularly interesting. It depicts a snake encirling an amphora and the lower section shows a lacrimosa with two tears clearly visible.
The church did not serve as a place of worship, but was used for communal purposes such as a school house and a venue for public sales. The Church is set in an attractive tree-lined square, well-loved by players of pétanque.
THE DOLMEN OF PIERRE FADE
This dolmen, or standing stone, is a classified historical momument and can be found on the left bank of the River Vienne. It is situated on a promentory close to Les Grands Moulins on the D8 road.
It is an important monument from the neolithic era.
HOUSE "LA COUR" IN ADRIEN VEILLON STREET
The house on Adrien Veillon street is also a classified historical monument.The tall stone facade of this house was constructed in the XVIth century and features a cropped Renaissance mullioned window decorated with mouldings and foliated capitals. A small statuette named "Bacchus", locally known as "dieu gaulois" (Gallic God), dominates a round building cantilevered at the front.
This corresponds with the positioning of a niche on the interior of the first floor. The little character, who some say has oriental features, is holding an object in his right hand, which is very difficult to identify. Take a walk from the house to see if you can do it.
THE SALT FOUNTAINS
Les Fontaines Salées are springs rich in mineral deposits. The source of these springs can be found on the right bank of the River Vienne and they flow through both Availles and Abzac. It is known that King Louis XIII took the salts for his health in 1615 and in later centuries a chemist from Civray conducted a comparison and declared that the springs were equal to those from the renowned spa of Baden-Baden in Germany. Modern plans to develop the springs appear to have been postponed. They currently resemble an overgrown quarry on the road to Abzac.
Availles has three underground springs, of which one is at the Tourist Office. This spring is covered by a barrel vault. The water is clear and the level has remained constant for several centuries. In the Middle Ages, the inhabitants of the "Fief de La Rivière" were allowed to use the water in all seasons.
SITE OF THE OLD CHÂTEAU
Availles can still reveal substantial traces of its medieval past. The site of the original château is marked by a group of streets leading down to the river, including Rue des Cavaliers du Roi (King's Cavaliers), Rue des Douves (Moat) and Rue du Château, on which the house is situated. The shape of the old château can be seen clearly on this sketch:
The Rue des Cavaliers du Roi still has two entrance gates to the town which are in perfect condition, as well as one of the original towers of the castle.
GUIDED WALK AROUND THE HISTORICAL SITES OF INTEREST
The Tourist Office offers a guided walk around the most interesting historical features of the town. This lasts approximately 2 hours and is a wonderful way of getting to grips with the rich history of Availles-Limouzine. They will provide you with a copy of this detailed map:
|1. Start at the Town Hall||19. Rue de la Gare|
|2. Town Gate||20. Fire Brigade Car Park|
|3. Rue des Cavaliers du Roi
||21. Arribat Bridge|
|4. Town Gate to the Vienne||22. Gagnadoux Allotments|
|5. Stream running into the Vienne
||23. Rue du Commerce|
|6. Rue du Château
||24. Rue Dite de l'Acétylène|
|7. Impasse du Château||25. Rue de la Victoire|
|8. Venelle du Puits Marlou||26. Place de la Liberté|
|9. Rue des Douves||27. Ruelle au Fond de la Place|
|10. Rue de la Tout||28. Church Choir|
|11. Rue de la République||29. Venelle vers Rue de la Liberté
|12. Rue du Château (where the house is)
||30. Rue de la Liberté|
|13. Bridge over the River Vienne||31. Ruelle Face Escaliers Église|
|14. Rue du Port||32. Place de l'Eglise|
|15. The Port||33. Traversée Rue Résistance|
|16. Chemin du Port||34. Sentiers du Parc|
|17. Rue du Dr Veillon||35. Traversée Rue Baptiste Marcet
|18. Impasse du Marché||36. Chemins des Jardins du Bord|
ALL THESE SITES ARE INVALUABLE SOURCES OF FURTHER INFORMATION AND WELL WORTH A VISIT, THE LATTER GIVES AN UNUSUAL AND FASCINATING ADVENTURE THROUGH AVAILLES USING OLD POSTCARDS