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Aude ( ) is a department in south-central Francemarker named after the river Audemarker. The local council also calls the department "Cathar Country".

Aude is also a frequent feminine French given name in Francophone countries, deriving initially from Aude or Oda, a wife of Bertrand, Duke of Aquitaine and mother of Saint Hubertus's brother Eudo. Aude was the name of Roland's fiancée in the chansons de gestes.


The first humans

Human traces have been found in the department from 1,500,000 years BCE in the form of hammers and worked tools on the hill of Grazailles at Carcassonne. The most interesting discovery, however, is that of the skull of ‘Tautavel Man’ made by Henry de Lumley in the commune of Tautavel in the Pyrénées-Orientales. It is the oldest skull known in Europe. It dates from about 450,000 years BCE. It is likely that Tautavel Man lived in all of this region.

The Roman peace

The Romans, directed by the consul-general Domitius Ahenobarbus, installed themselves first of all at Narbonnemarker in 118 BCE on the oppidum of Montlaurès, which became the provincial capital and a very active mercantile port. The position was strategically important since it stood at the cross roads of two Roman roads, the Via Aquitania and the Via Domitia, as well as by the sea and near the mouth of the River Audemarker. Carcassonne became Latin in 30 BCE with the creation of numerous grain farms. For almost two centuries, the Aude enjoyed peace and strong economic growth.


The Visigoths invaded the country in 435 at a time when Flavius Aétius, the Roman senator, was busy repressing the Bagaudes, some brigands from Gaul. In 507, the victory of Clovis I at the battle of Vouillé permitted him to conquer Toulouse and Aquitaine. However, he could not recover the territory of the Aude, which remained in the hands of the Visigoths, thanks to the help of the King of the Ostrogoths whose troops defeated Clovis's son in 508. The region was then part of Septimaniamarker, so called because it was composed of seven bishoprics that the visigothic kings had established there : Elnemarker, Agdemarker, Narbonnemarker, Lodèvemarker, Béziersmarker, Maguelonnemarker et Nîmesmarker. Septimania covered the Aude but also the whole region of Languedoc-Roussillon.

Creation of the counties

In 817, Louis le Débonnaire detached Carcassès and Razès from Septimania to reunite them with the marquisate of Toulousemarker and the kingdom of Aquitainemarker. The first count of Carcassonne, Oliba, from the family of the counts of Barcelonamarker, was established in 819. Razès, another county, was formed by an archbishop of Narbonne who had been chased from his town by Saracens. He had transferred his episcopal seat to Razes and had procured the honours of the feudal title for the area. Narbonne formed a third county. Thus, the Aude department was formed in the ninth century from three counties: Carcassonne, Razès and Narbonne. In 880, the county of Razès was united by marriage to that of Carcassonne, never to be separated.

Catharism in Aude

In the thirteenth century, the region saw the development of Catharism, a dualistic Christian sect with similarities to Gnosticism. This religion was very quickly judged to be heretical by the Catholic Church. Faced with its growing strength in the counties of Carcassonne and Toulouse, Pope Innocent III in 1209 declared a crusade against the Albigensians. The barons of the north united to form an army under the command of Simon de Montfort. Whereas the count of Toulouse Raymond VI received absolution, the Count of Carcassonne confronted the army alone. The city of Carcassonne became the refuge of numerous Cathars.

The Protestant crisis

Map of the Aude department at the time of its creation in 1790
In 1561, religious troubles appared at Carcassonne in the form of a Protestant crisis. Duke Henri I de Montmorency, the Governor of the Languedoc , joined the Reformed side in 1574. On the Catholic side, the Duke Anne de Joyeuse became head of the Catholic League. Henri II de Montmorency was defeated at the Battle of Castelnaudary in September 1632 against the royal troops, condemned to death and executed at Toulouse.

Creation of the department

The present department is one of the original 83 departments created by the Constituent Assembly during the French Revolution on March 4, 1790. It was created from part of the former province of Languedoc.Administrative divisions were amended by the Act of 28 Pluviôse of Year 8, which created four districts (reduced to three by Premier Raymond Poincaré in 1926) and brought the number of cantons from 45 to 31.

The twentieth century

The Aude enjoyed strong wine production while grain farmers of the Lauragaismarker faced great difficulties. However, the department came to experience oversupply and poor sales of wine. In 1907, the crisis produced a winemakers’ revolt. This led to the establishment of many wine cooperatives in the Aude from 1909.



Aude is located between the Mediterranean Seamarker and the Pyreneesmarker mountains.

It is part of the current region of Languedoc-Roussillonmarker. It is surrounded by the departments of Pyrénées-Orientales, Ariègemarker, Haute-Garonnemarker, Tarnmarker, and Hérault, with the Golfe du Lionmarker on the east.

Natural regions

Natural regions of the Aude
The countryside in this department falls into several natural regions:


Each natural region of the Aude has its own particular landscape. In the east, lagoons or coastal lakes form a barrier between land and sea. These were formed by accumulated sediments brought down by the rivers Aude, Orbmarker and Héraultmarker. There are many such lakes of brackish water. This environment is demanding for flora and fauna, as it suffers from the rigours of sea, sun, dryness and floods. Halophile (ie, salt-loving) plants grow there and it is also noted for animals such as the pink flamingo and white stilt.

Inland to the east, shrub and scrub dominate the landscape of the drylands of the Aude and Corbières. This landscape is the result of forest clearance and was maintained by the raising of livestock. The flora is varied and typical with many species of orchids. The Sault countryside is dominated by beech groves and fir plantations up to the mountains. These forests are known for their mushrooms and have a rich flora and fauna including the Pyrenean lily, the euproctis moth and horsetail of the woods.

To the north and west, the Black Mountain country is made up of forests of oak and beech. The Lauragais is a wooded landscape where grain farming has shaped the hills. There are bodies of water like the Lac de la Ganguisemarker. Finally, the high valley of the Aude, otherwise called the Razès, consists of a riparian forest made of beech, alder, poplar or ash. It includes some peatlands that are very rare in southern France.


Relief map with some main towns
The landscapes of Aude can be explained by geology. In the south, there are sedimentary rocks folded during the formation of the Pyrenees. To the north and centre, the sedimentary rocks are less folded. At the extreme east, near the Mediterranean, the rocks are carved by normal collapse faults which are due to the opening of the Golfe du Lion.

The Black Mountain and Minervois to the north consist of schist and marble forming the southern boundary of the Massif Centralmarker. These ancient rocks were formed over 300 million years ago and deformed by the formation of the Hercynian chain. The Montagne d'Alaric (Alaric's Mountain) is an antiform fold in the shape of a vault and made of limestone.


Aude is under the influence of a Mediterranean climate.

The autumn is characterized by violent and short storms.The summer is often hot and dry, which is favorable to the culture of the vine and the olive-trees. Yet, the department is has several contrasts in climate:In the north, the Montagne Noire and, in the south, the Pays de Sault, have a mountainous climate with temperatures sometimes very low in winter.In the west, the climate is under Aquitaine influence with heavier precipitation while in the east the climate is purely Mediterranean.In the centre, in the Limouxin, Carcassonnais and of Razès areas, the climate is known as intermediary with significant exposure to winds.The winds are often present in Aude. It is one of the windiest French department, with 300 to 350 days of wind per year.This phenomenon is mostly due to the variations in relief north and south which create a kind of corridor.

In the north-west blows the Cers, called Tramontane in Provence, which is a ground wind. It is a dry, somewhat violent wind and cold in winter. In the south-east blows the Autan, locally called the Marin, which is hot and wet and comes from the sea.

These regular winds made it possible to install a park of wind mills, as in the area of Avignonet-Lauragais.


The drainage system of the Aude is dominated by its river of the same name. The river rises at the Roc d'Aude and passes through the Matemalemarker and Puyvaladormarker dams on the Capcirmarker plateau at 1500 m, then crosses the department from south to north across Axat, Limoux and Quillan following the upper valley of the Aude. At Carcassonne, the river changes direction towards the Mediterranean Sea to the east, where it empties near Fleury.



Economically active population by economic sector, 1999
Agriculture people
Industry people
Construction people
Tertiary sector people

Agriculture and fisheries

Aude is an agricultural land dominated by vineyards. In the east are the wines of Corbieres and la Clape, in the centreMinervois and côtes de Malpeyre and in the south blanquette de Limoux. In the Lauragais, grain is predominant, whereas in the Black Mountain only sheep farming is possible. More recently, there has been an increase in cultivation of olive trees for their oil.

Port-la-Nouvellemarker is the biggest fishing port in the department followed by Gruissanmarker. In 1996, Aude had 127 vessels including 75 in Port-la-Nouvelle and 52 in Gruissan. These vessels were as follows:

  • trawlers: 19 in Port-la-Nouvelle
  • tuna boats: 2 in Port-la-Nouvelle
  • small craft: 106 including 54 in Port-La-Nouvelle and 52 in Gruissan

Small craft are recreational boats such as dinghies with one man fishing a lake or motor launches with up to three people fishing in coastal waters. About 85% of small craft are intended for lake fishing as in the lagoon at Thau.


Map of wine growing areas of the Aude
Viticulture is the main economic activity of the department. The Aude enjoys rich and varied soil. Sunshine abounds and enables the Audois to produce quality wine. Many wines emanate from the department, ranging in quality from table wines to AOCs, passing through vins de pays and VDQS.

There are seven main areas of production:

Industry and energy

Industrial activity is strong in the upper valley of the Aude. It has been especially prominent around Limouxmarker since the late nineteenth century; and the Lafarge brick plant there is still booming.

Since the 1970s, however, the Aude has seen a rapid decline in its traditional industries such as shoe and hat making. More recent activity, which is mostly around Narbonnemarker, includes dock facilities and oil depots in Port-la-Nouvellemarker.

From 1889, the high valley of Aude became increasingly important in generating hydroelectric power. Indeed, Aude was the first department in France to transmit such power, from its plants at Alet-les-Bainsmarker and Quillanmarker. Joachim Estrade established the first electricity company in France, the Southern Power Transmission Company, in 1901. Its plant at Axatmarker-Saint-Georges supplied the cities of Carcassonne and Narbonne at 20 kilovolts.

Today, Aude is the first department in France for the number of wind turbines installed. There are 113 in operation. They produce some 91 megawatts, which is the domestic electricity consumption of about 100,000 people.. With the proliferation of these machines, the prefecture is seeking to establish with stakeholders a charter of good conduct on wind turbines.


The crafts are very well represented in the Aude, occupying more than 14.6% of the population. Some 5,400 businesses operating in 250 craft professions achieved in the late 1990s an annual turnover of 3 billion francs..


The inhabitants of Aude are known as ‘Audois’. The 1990 census confirmed a growth in population since the 1960s with about 700 people more per year. This growth is explained by the return of pensioners aged over 60 years to their place of origin and to immigration from the Mediterranean basin..

At the last census, the population of Aude represented 0.5% of the French population and 14.1% of the population of Languedoc-Roussillon. It is predominantly rural with a density of 48 inhabitants per km², which is slightly less than half the national average. The two main cities, Carcassonne and Narbonne, are medium-sized cities comprising only one third of the inhabitants of the department.

Demographic change since 1975 :
1975 1982 1990 1999 2006
272 000 281 000 299 000 310 000 341 022


Two major roads cross the Aude. From west to east the ‘Autoroute des Deux Mers’ (ie, ‘Motorway of the Two Seas’) or A61 connects Narbonne and Toulouse via Carcassonne. From north to south, following the Mediterranean coast, the A9 motorway links Montpelliermarker with Spainmarker.

The rail network follows the same route as the road network. It is a low speed system, but a project is under way to build a fast line to Spain as part of the Trans-European Rail network.

Finally, Aude is crossed by the Canal du Midimarker which is a major waterway that allows tourists to pass from the Atlantic Oceanmarker to the Mediterranean Sea. It comes into the west of Aude at Seuil de Naurouzemarker then joins the Mediterranean at Sètemarker.


Map of arrondissements and cantons of Aude
The people of Aude expressed royalist opinions until the end of the Bourbon Restoration. In 1830, republican ideas began to develop and made this department a bastion of the left. This growth is symbolized by two men, Armand Barbès and Theophile Marcou. Armand Barbès is a symbol of the struggle for a social democratic Republic.

Only affluent coastal areas surrounding Narbonnemarker and the department's prefecture, Carcassonnemarker give considerable to the right.

The President of the General Council is Marcel Rainaud of the Socialist Partymarker.

Party seats
Socialist Partymarker 26
Union for a Popular Movement 4
French Communist Party 2
Left Radical Party 1
Miscellaneous Left 1
Independent Workers' Party 1


The Aude department in 2008 had 364 primary schools (schools of the first degree) serving 30,771 students.
Between 2000 and 2007, primary school enrollment steadily increased from 28,331 students to 30,491 students  At secondary level, the department had 31 colleges and 17 public and private high schools for about 23,000 students in 2006.

Education in Aude now includes teaching in the Occitan language.


Festivals and traditions

The Carnival of Limoux is an Audois festival which takes place over a period of ten weeks or more. This is one of the longest carnivals in the world. It takes place in the town of Limoux on the Place de la République every weekend from mid-January to late March. It is characterized by bands in Pierrot costumes (known as 'les fécos') accompanied by musicians. In the region around Limoux, a major celebration of gastronomy, known as ‘Toques et Clochers’ (literally, ‘Hats & Steeples’) and organized by the ‘Vignerons du Sieur d'Arques’, takes place over the weekend of Palm Sunday. It permits the sale of a large quantity of wine in order to restore the local heritage.


Rugby union (rugby à XV) is a popular sport in Aude. It appeared early in the twentieth century and the US-Quillan club dominated in the late 1920s. Jean Bourrel won the title in 1929 against Lézignan. After the Second World War, the Carcassonne team took the lead. Recently, however, rugby union in the Aude has faced an uphill struggle in a sport that has become both globalized and more professional. The Narbonne team (known as Racing Club Narbonne-Mediterranean) has nevertheless managed to develop in the Pro D2 championship.

Aude is the land of rugby league (rugby à XIII) with the teams of Limoux, Carcassonne and Lézignan among the elite. Puig-Aubert (1925-1994) was a famous rugby league player who played with AS Carcassonne.

Every 15 August, in Quillan, an international cycling competition takes place. This is the oldest of such contests in France.

The Tour de l'Aude is one of the most important female cycling events in the calendar. It generally takes place in May.


Cassoulet as served at Carcassonne
The fricassee of pork or ‘fréginat’ can be found throughout the department. It is made from pork and pig’s liver. On the coast, eel stew (borrida d’anguilles) is a dish of choice. Finally, the cassoulet of Castelnaudary, made from white beans and sausage, is the typical dish of the Aude.

Other specialties exist such as oysters of Gruissanmarker and Leucatemarker. Olive oil is also a very widespread in the Aude and is a specialty of Bize-Minervoismarker. The Cartagena is a liqueur marketed by some manufacturers. Finally, the Blanquette de Limoux is a sparkling white wine popular in the department, whose origin dates back to the sixteenth century.

The Occitan language

The Occitan language is spoken in the Aude in its Languedoc variant. The Occitan language emerged during the High Middle Ages from the Latin used in the south of Gaul. The name of the department is Aude in Occitan.

In Aude, Occitan was rarely used in writing before the eleventh century. However, several poets and troubadours such as Raimon de Miraval used language based on courtly love in the twelfth and thirteenth centuries. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries, the langue d'oc was used to draw up local administrative documents. In the sixteenth century, the langue d'oc was used less in comparison with royal French, whose use was made compulsory by the edict of Villers-Cotterêtsmarker in 1539. However, it survived very well among the people until the nineteenth century, when public schools were established with teaching solely in French.

In the 1970s and 1980s, new demands were made for the dignity of the language and for its teaching. Occitan speech reached a wider audience and singers like Claudi Marti or Mans de Brèish or La Sauze promoted its use.

The first Occitan radio station in the Languedoc-Roussillon region was established in the Aude department: Ràdio Lenga d'òc 95.5 FM (



Carcassonnemarker has been restored to much of its medieval glory. Narbonnemarker attracts many tourists to its Roman ruins.Other towns and villages worth visiting include Limouxmarker, Quillanmarker, Lézignan-Corbièresmarker, Lagrassemarker, Sigeanmarker and Leucatemarker.Limouxmarker lies in the upper Aude valley, 24 km south of Carcassonnemarker. It is particularly noted for its local wine, Blanquette, a sparkling white wine which is said to have been the forerunner of Champagne. Limoux hosts an extensive and varied market each Friday.Quillan lies 27 km further south in the upper Aude valley and is at the head of the branch railway from Carcassonnemarker.Lezignan-Corbières lies on the main road between Carcassonnemarker and Narbonnemarker. It is called the capital of the Corbières and has an excellent Wednesday morning market.Lagrassemarker is listed as one of the most attractive villages in France. It stands on the River Orbieumarker and has an 8th century abbey, two very attractive bridges and an unchanged and very compact and delightful medieval stone village centre.Sigeanmarker, 18 km south of Narbonnemarker, lies between the A9 Autoroute and the coast and has an African Reserve.Leucatemarker is an attractive hilltop village, about 30 km south of Narbonne, which has spread down to the coast where Leucate Plage is a popular beach resort.

The Corbières Hillsmarker form the central part of the department. This is an area of dissected plateaux and escarpments which form an effective barrier to direct road communication. It is a very attractive and sometimes wild area of steep hills, hidden valleys, woodland and vines, and contains some of the most memorable Cathar sites including Quéribusmarker, Peyrepertusemarker and Villerouge-Termenèsmarker.

Wine production is extensive across Aude, and local chateaux and domaines provide free tastings as well as sales of wine and other local produce. With the decline of some local wine production, local government policy is now to attract more tourists to the area, and to assist with this the Corbières area is now labelled on maps and road signs as Cathar country.

Architectural heritage

Château de Puilaurens
The Aude has about fifteen bastides which were built after the Treaty of Meaux in 1229 when the region was attached to the Capetian crown of France. The bastide is a type of town based on a grid created in one building project on a greenfield site. The purpose of such construction was to weaken the local lords and attract people to new economic centres. These bastides came into competition with fortified villages based on ecclesiastical or seigneurial power. Chalabremarker, Camps-sur-l'Aglymarker and the Bastide Saint-Louis in Carcassonne are examples of bastides in the Aude.

The department has many castles that have been developed by the General Council of the Aude to stimulate tourism. The fortresses are often located on rocky peaks, like the castles of Quéribus and Lastoursmarker, giving them a strategic position. The city of Carcassonne was the logistical hub of the country at the time of conflict with the Kingdom of Aragonmarker.

Abbaye de Fontfroide
Many abbeys exist throughout the department of Aude. The best known are Fontfroidemarker Abbey, the abbey of Sainte-Marie Lagrassemarker, the abbey of Sainte-Marie Villelongue-d'Audemarker or the Abbey of Saint-Hilaire.

The Cathedral of Saint-Just-et-Saint-Pasteur at Narbonne is a remarkable Gothic cathedral and remains unfinished. It is a symbol of the French presence in the land of Languedoc in the Middle Ages.


The Aude has many natural and underground caves suitable for speleological exploration. The Pays de Sault consists of one of the largest limestone areas of the Pyrenees. This geology lends itself to the formation of cavities and there are many ‘barrencs’ (the local name for potholes). This plateau is home to a cave, the TM71, which is a superb cavity classified as a nature reserve since 1987. This is unique in France.

Other natural cavities of the Aude contain concretions like the hole of Cabrespinemarker, the Aguzou cave or the grotto of Limousismarker. The latter contains the largest block of aragonite yet discovered. In the Massif des Corbières, on the plateau of Lacamp, are special cavities formed by detrital rocks (marls, clays and puddingstone) carved by erosion.

Second homes

According to the general population census of March 1999, 27.8% of available housing in Aude consisted of secondary residences. The following table indicates the main communes in Aude where second homes or occasional residences comprise more than 10% of total housing.

Year Town Population Number of houses Second homes % second homes
2004 Leucatemarker
2005 Gruissanmarker
2007 Fleurymarker
2005 Port-la-Nouvellemarker
2006 Fitoumarker
2005 Belcairemarker
2004 Roquefort-des-Corbièresmarker
2005 Saissacmarker
2006 Quillanmarker
2007 Sigeanmarker
1999 La Palme
2005/1999 Narbonnemarker
2004 Salles-d'Audemarker

Famous people from the Aude

See also


External links

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