The essentials of Saint-Lizier, historic capital of Couserans

Saint-Lizier
The essentials of Sai ...

Perched at the top of a rocky outcrop, Saint-Lizier exudes the scent of suspended time. Fortified gates, ramparts, Romanesque cloisters and cathedrals, sculpted Gothic facades… the ancient episcopal city immediately announces its medieval colors and proudly wears the jewels of its rich past . Today, the City of Art and History of Saint-Lizier offers its visitors an exceptional heritage to discover. Between its unmissable tourist sites and its best-kept secrets, here are the must-sees in Saint-Lizier for a fabulous journey through time!

Saint-Lizier Ariège
Saint-Lizier Ariège


1 – Admire the ancient ramparts of the fortified city

If old stones exert an irresistible power of attraction on you, the ancient ramparts which surround the city will certainly fascinate you! A natural defensive site overlooking the tumultuous waters of the Salat, Saint-Lizier blocks the passage between several valleys and has a fortified wall built directly into the rocky base. Probably erected around the 5th century, these fortifications responded to attacks by Germanic peoples towards the Pyrenean foothills. All around the old town, notice these very well preserved ramparts along most of their route. Although partly collapsed to the north, or hidden in places by more recent masonry, they are still visible for more than 600 meters!


2- Stroll through the flowery alleyways

There's nothing like a stroll through Saint-Lizier to explore its medieval streets in search of evidence of its rich past! Go to the tourist office to obtain the map and itinerary for the self-guided tour of the city. Passing under the Clock Tower, one of the gates which marks the entrance to the Roman city, we discover a real gem. Lined with charming buildings built between the 15th and 18th centuries, the streets form a real labyrinth in which you can get lost with delight! Stroll along Rue des Nobles to admire the ancient residences of canons. Along the streets, we see beautiful half-timbered houses, superb studded doors as well as many small details on the facades. Don't miss the Place des Etendes, the Bourassou, the most beautiful paved alley in the city but also the “carré de Jules” , the narrowest street!

Saint-Lizier Ariège
Saint-Lizier Ariège
Saint-Lizier Ariège
Saint-Lizier Ariège
Saint-Lizier Ariège
Saint-Lizier Ariège


3- Visit one of the most beautiful old pharmacies in France!

During the heyday of the Compostela pilgrimage, the sick and pilgrims were cared for at the Hôtel-Dieu. The elegant building of the old hospice shelters behind its high walls one of the best-kept treasures of Saint Lizier: an authentic, perfectly preserved 18th century pharmacy. In this pharmacy, potions, syrups and remedies were concocted using ancestral processes! The tourist office offers guided tours by reservation to discover this unusual place.

The Saint-Lizier pharmacy


4- Contemplate the view of the Pyrenees!

The beauty of the place is everywhere for those who take the time to admire it, but certain viewpoints are truly exceptional! This is the case of the panoramic terraces located within the grounds of the Bishops' Palace, in front of the excellent restaurant “le Carré de l'Ange”. This open point of view spoils you with a beautiful picture of the church in the foreground, and the village opening onto a magnificent landscape of the Pyrenees chain in the background!

Saint-Lizier Ariège


5 – Discover the Bishops’ Palace

Overlooking the city, the Bishops' Palace is the former episcopal residence: 77 bishops succeeded one another there between the 5th century and 1801, the date on which Saint-Lizier lost its status as a bishopric. Now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the building houses the Ariège departmental museum which presents on 4 levels the history of Ariège (especially Couserans) from Antiquity to the present day. The first room is dedicated to the Roman era and reveals the treasure of Saint-Girons. In the second room are exhibited sarcophagi dating from the 6th century while the third room evokes the Episcopal Palace and the Notre Dame de la Sède Cathedral. Finally, the fourth room presents tales and legends from the Pyrenees as well as objects from the daily life of the inhabitants of the Bethmale valley at the beginning of the 20th century. A captivating and interactive visit!

The entrance ticket to the Bishops' Palace includes a free visit to the museum, as well as to the Notre-Dame-de-la-Sède cathedral within its walls.

Saint-Lizier
Saint-Lizier
Saint-Lizier
Saint-Lizier


6- Marvel at Notre-Dame-de-la-Sède Cathedral

After having been a Roman civitas then a religious capital, Saint-Lizier retains a unique historical heritage with the particularity of having two cathedrals. Located in the interior courtyard of the palace, Notre Dame de la Sède - the seat of the former bishopric conceals surprising treasures. In 1992, the dismantling of the choir's woodwork for restoration revealed superb, remarkably preserved wall paintings, created using ocher, charcoal and lime at the end of the 15th century. Against a starry background, the ceiling presents an exceptional group of 24 figures representing twelve sibyls associated with the Fathers of the twelve tribes of Israel. The level of detail and precision is admirable!

Saint-Lizier
Saint-Lizier


7- Discover the old Cathedral of Saint-Lizier

Located on the main square of the village, the Saint Lizier church is the original cathedral of the city. Built in the 11th century, consecrated in 1117, it lost its “title” of Cathedral to become the parish church of Saint-Lizier in 1655. Through a unique architecture, we notice several periods of construction. Its Toulouse-style bell tower, for example, a crenellated octagonal tower dates from the 14th century. Inside, discover exceptional Romanesque paintings from the end of the 11th century which adorn the choir and the central apse. Among the oldest visible in the Pyrenees, the splendid painting of “Christ in Majesty” dates from the 13th century. The Treasury of the Bishops of Saint-Lizier, its collection of goldwork (13,000 coins) and liturgical objects are kept in the old sacristy which is accessed by crossing the cloister.

Saint-Lizier
Saint-Lizier
Saint-Lizier
Saint-Lizier
Saint-Lizier


8 – Treat yourself to a timeless moment in the Romanesque cloister

Built in the 12th century, it is one of the most fascinating Romanesque cloisters in Ariège! Stroll between its 4 perfectly preserved galleries, with 32 arcades resting on single and double columns. Pay attention to the details of the architecture : the capitals are decorated with fantastic animals, demons and grimacing characters but also with braids, basketwork, interlacing and palmettes. Take the time to enjoy the serenity and timeless beauty of this place.

Saint-Lizier
Saint-Lizier
Saint-Lizier
Saint-Lizier
Saint-Lizier


Now, it's up to you to explore Saint Lizier, this jewel of Ariège heritage set in a natural setting! Since 1998, its main monuments have been included on the UNESCO World Heritage list, under the paths of Santiago de Compostela. The city is a stopover on the 'Chemins du Piémont' on the GR78.

Saint-Lizier


Saint-Lizier is the starting point for several beautiful hikes : the Chemin des Gabats, the "hadas" interpretation trail, the fairies of the Pyrenees, the Marsan chapel and the tuc de Montcalivert. Don’t hesitate to stop by the on-site tourist office for more information!


Photos and article prepared by Lesley Williamson for the Toulouse Pyrénées Guide


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