The Syndicat d''Initiative has mapped out three different tours of Condom: the Circuit de Bossuet, covering the cathedral, abbey and older buildings; the Circuit d'Armagnac passing the great hotels (usually funded by the great Armagnac estates); and the Circuit d''Artagnan, which takes you over to the west bank of the Baise river, and sites specificallyconnected to the Chemin de Saint-Jacques de Compostelle. This latter area is well worth exploring - and very visitors ever do.
Each site has a plaque with information in French, English, German and Spanish and usually a historic photograph of each site.
Small city with marvellous Armagnac brandy
This city with the strange name (in English and many other languages, but not in French) is rather small. The exact number of inhabitants is - according to Wikipedia - 7251 (in 1999) and the German version of Wikipedia says that this number has remained almost exactly the same under the last 120 years. Are you wondering?? ;-))
So at least the name of the city could remind everybody what to do to prevent a demographic desaster on our planet.
For more data and facts - see the official website
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Museum of the Armagnac Brandy
The full official name of the city is Condom en Armagnac So you may expect to find not only a Condom Museum but also Le musée de l'Armagnac. This museum shows you much about the history of this great brandy and how it was and in principle still is produced.
You find all actual data about opening times,entrance fees etc. at the official Condom website (unfortunately in French only)
MAN - Musée d'Art Naïf, marginal et populaire
This is a very interesting museum that showcases primative art from around the world. It was a relatively large and very impressive collection of this type of art. I'm not sure quite how far it is from Condom as we were driven there by friends, but it was not more than a half hour away. Plus the drive there is through some beautiful countryside.
I've posted the website below. The site promises to give you versions in many languages, but alas only the French version works.
- Arts and Culture
- Museum Visits
If the place de Saint-Pierre and the cathedral are at the very centre of Condom, the rue Gambetta is the heart of Condom.
There are other shopping streets (west of the cathedral in the place Lion d'Or and the rue des Armuriers), but Rue Gambetta is the real shopping street.
Don't expect much, but it is a very friendly street with many surprising little places: the tea specialist, the philatelist, the greengrocer, and the fishing tackle shop at the very end.
The street - it's only 150 metres long - is pedestrianised and several bars have tables outside. But remember, real French men don't sit out at the teak tables; they drink 'au zinc' and fart, belch and discuss the cepage or menuiserie while keeping an eye on the TV.
Many of thse bars are at their best at the crack of dawn when people come in for 'un cafe et croissant' before sluching off to work.
Sit inside, mutter unintelligibly at the TV and scratch your arse, and you're an instant local.
The old ramparts
Condom was required to remove its walls very early on, and much of the stone work was then used to pave the streets (see the base of the fountain/pool in the place Saint-Pierre). However, a small part of the ramparts can be seen in the small Jardin des Remparts, near the hotel du Polignac (access from several points off rue Jules Ferry). The ramparts can be seen at the top of the grass bank on the western edge of the park, as can a small spring. The park is a peaceful place to sit and enjoy the warm summer sunshine.
Musée du Préservatif
The enterprising mayor of Condom decided to capitalise on Condom's legendary name, and opened the Musée du Preservatif in June 2005 (as a temporary exhibition until September only), after it had been in the planning for several years. Many in the town are said to be unhappy about it. Ah, la politique communale!
Musée de l'Armagnac
Housed in the old stables of the bishop's palace, the museum of the local eau-de-vie is worth a visit. I must admit that we have never been there in all the time we have lived in the area. One of the reasons is that many farms locally have equipment as old as can be seen in the museum, and they are free!
A listing of just a few of the estates can be found at the Tenareze Tourism website.
The 16th Century cloisters are a reminder that long ago the cathedral was a part of an abbey. This is always a quiet spot, although music recitals and events are often staged here. Since 1861, the town hall has been on the upper floor, and the staff are happy to let visitors see the inside of the building.
The former bishop's palace
Now the offices of the sous-prefecture, the former bishop's palace is an impressive building, but is difficult to appreciate from any angle because of the surrounding structures. It was constructed by the very last Bishop of Condom, Monsignor d''Anterroches. He, however, preferred to live in his residence at Cassaigne, 7km south-west of Condom. He was believed to be a fabulously wealthy man.
L'hotel du Polignac
Many visitors believe that like many French towns, the very centre of the town contains all that there is to see, yet some of Condom's charms are found outside the very centre.
The hotel du Polignac is worth wandering seeking out. From the place Bossuet, immediately west of the cathedral, walk ahead then turn right into the narrow rue Balabie and on into rue Jules Ferry. A five minute walk brings you, on the left, to the hotel du Polignac with its bizarre history.
Basically, the palatial building was constructed by the abbot of the monastery at Layrac, and cost 300,000 livres, making it the most expensive building in Condom. It seems that the extravagance was a deliberate slap in the face for the then Bishop of Condom, whose own palace (see separate review) was far smaller and less elegant. The view from the rue Jules Ferry is restricted because of the space and also because the wrought-iron fence, itself extremely elegant, prevents the eye from taking in the whole structure. At the back, the massive facade looks down on the Baise. The facade would seem bleak without its long stone terrace. This western facade is looking rather unloved right now, but a programme of restoration continues in 2005.
The hotel du Polignac is currently a school.
Rue des Armuriers
Leading down from the place Lion d'Or, itself just west off the place Saint-Pierre, is the Rue des Armuriers, which runs steeply down to the banks of the river. Along both sides, particularly at the bottom on both sides, are some particularly nice houses with lush gardens. The council has also brightened up the lower part of the street with some wall paintings
La Tour d'Andiran
This 'rather beautiful 13th Century tower is rarely seen because visitors almost inevitably pass on the narrow pavement alongside it, stop in at the tourist office on the grund floor and leave armed with pamphlets - without ever stopping to look up. Yet it is (I think), the oldest complete building in Condom. Cross the place Bossuet, past the attractive wrought-iron cross and look back across at the tower! If you really like it - and this is one of the most peaceful squares in town, there is a small cafe opposite where you can sit and do nothing for a long while. There is also a cafe next to the tower if you really like the view looking the other way towards the bishop's palace and the west end of the cathedral.
Cathedral of Saint-Pierre
The cathedral of Saint-Pierre is, of course, far too grand for a town of a mere seven thousand inhabitants, and its presence gives an indication of the importance of the place through history as a major stopping point on the Chemin de Saint-Jacques de Compostelle, the great medieval pilgrimage route from central France to north-eastern Spain.
There had been a church of some kind on this site since at least the 9th Century, and it is known that a monastery was built here by Amuna, good wife of an early Duc de Gascogne starting around 900. In 1011, the duke's nephew, Hugues, bishop of Agen built a basilica in Condom, and this is considered the start of the present cathedral.
[to be continued]
As you can see from the aerial view there is also an interesting Gothic cathedral in Condom. It might sound strange but it is like these Russian puppets: There is Armagnac. In the Armagnac there is Condom and in the Condom is the cathedral.
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