‘He Who Has an Uzerche House Has a Castle in the Limousin’

Uzerche (Usercha in Occitan) is a commune in the Corrèze department in the Limousin region of central France.

In 1787, the English writer Arthur Young described the city as “The Pearl of the Limousin,” nicknamed because of its picturesque setting, and a name by which it is still widely known today. Built atop a rocky outcrop, surrounded by a meander of the river Vézère which it dominates, Uzerche possesses a rich cultural heritage. First as a centre of influence and an important crossroads fortress under Pepin the Short, the city was also the seat of a powerful abbey and later a Seneschal. This legacy means that Uzerche features castles, hotels and other buildings marked by turrets that were built by the uzerchoise nobility and that can still be seen today, thereby, adding weight to the saying, “He who has an Uzerche house has a castle in the Limousin.

Location
Uzerche is a hill town, built on a deeply incised meander of the Vézère River. As such, it is a natural citadel. Uzerche is located a few kilometres beyond the western edge of the Plateau de Millevaches. Situated directly on one of France’s main north-south routes historically, it is now by-passed to the west by the A20 autoroute.

History
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Uzerche’s history as a fortified town began in the late Roman period. According to legend, Uzerche was evangelised by Saint Martial, the first bishop of Limoges. It remained an important citadel and ecclesiastical centre throughout the Merovingian and Carolingian periods.
A Benedictine abbey was founded in the 9th century. In the 11th century, a major Romanesque abbey church was constructed at the summit of the town. It was consecrated in 1097. With some Gothic additions, this constitutes the abbatiale Saint-Pierre or Abbey Church of St Peter, which commands all views of the town to this day.

As a major route junction and market town, Uzerche continued to grow throughout the medieval period. It became the seat of a royal seneschal and the recognised capital of the lower Limousin. The mid-18th century saw the construction across the river of a notable bridge, the Pont Turgot, the main approach to the town today. In 1855, a major tunnel improved access along the main north-south route, later the RN20. The arrival of the railway in the late 19th century resulted in the construction of large viaducts and tunnels, some of which have since become redundant and form footpaths from which to view the town.

Another major product of the period is the town’s old lycée or grammar school, which was built deliberately alongside the abbey church, in a commanding position above the river, symbolically challenging the old clerical order in the town.

The town today retains a large number of medieval and early modern buildings, all dominated by the ancient abbey, with the school and the mairie, arranged around a steeply sloping square, now named the Place de la Libération. It has seen a rapid growth in tourism in recent years.

Uzerche is found in the central west area of France, nestling to the west of the Massif central mountain region. The village is sited next to the Autoroute 20 motorway heading for the «l’Occitane», and connects Uzerche to the Préfecture of Tulle with Uzerche being located some 35 km to the north of Brive-la-Gaillarde, the prettiest town in the Department of the Corrèze Uzerche is fed by two rivers, the Bradascou and the Vézère, which have as their starting source the Tourbière du Longéroux in the plateau de Millevaches and end where it joins the Dordogne.