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motorway aires: 3

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motorway aires[1]
Pech Loubat, A61
in the land of the Cathars

Motorways/autoroutes of France

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pech loubat aire
sketch map locating pech loubat aire
    oc and oui – yes and yes
end notes

Motorway aires are designed to provide a suitable environment for relaxing, refreshing and recovering during the long, hard journeys. As well as facilities of often dubious nature, picnic tables and seats, a telephone kiosk, there are often optional extras such as a play area or a display related to some local interest or event.

marker at

Pech Loubat aire

From the A61 motorway, can be seen the three great Cathar knights brooding over their long lost homeland. Pulling into their often deserted, large last home, you may relax and explore this wild area, and stop off  for a quiet pique-nique. You can even climb right up in the hollowed out bodies and look out through the helmets of the lonely giants, east over the vast valleys as they sweep down towards the Mediterranean.

The aire seems almost as unloved as the Cathars were by the Church of Rome, but that’s cool. It allows the wildlife to flourish and provides an experience of quiet and the open skies from the rise above the everlasting tarmac ribbon.

view east from beside the Cathar knights. You can see very large étangs (ponds) to the east, and beyond the Mediterranean Sea.

This aire is only on the north side of the A61 autoroute, the nearest exit (from the autoroute) junction being Lézignan (no. 25) and nearest entrance (from the autoroute) junctions on the A9 at Narbonne Sud (no.38) and Sigean (no.39). To the east, near by, is a large motorway intersection between the A9 and the A61.

sketch map locating pech loubat aire

The A9 runs north-south: north to Narbonne and Montpelier and south to Perpignan and Spain. The A61 runs east-west, with Carcassonne and Toulouse to the west. Thus, a visit to Pech Loubat needs fairly careful planning, driving west on the A61, unless you do not mind dodging about and turning back by using various motorway junctions (sorties|exits) that are some way off.

The Pech Loubat aire is in Département 11- Aude.

the last Cathar knights watching over their lost homelands


Forms of Manichaeanism extended eventually as far as romantic Languedoc, there appearing as Catharism. It was on Catharism, and its several, sometimes shadowy, Manichaean relatives, that Rome developed and practiced its policies and methods of purge and inquisition; one of the darkest episodes in the ever-rising power of the dictatorship of Rome.

Catharism was a ‘heresy’ that was introduced to the Languedoc in about 1150 and was widespread in this region of France for several centuries. Catharism was so popular, even priests were leaving the Catholic orthodoxy to follow this Manichaean heresy. In 1209, Pope Innocent III declared a crusade against the Cathars, when the Catholic Church came down extremely heavily on the heretics, aided by the King of France, keen to grab more land for his idle, spare knights.

The eradication of Catharism continued into the 15th century, and included the complete slaughter of the town of Toulouse. In all, about half a million people of all ages and rank were killed.

The word Cathar comes from the Greek word Katheroi meaning pure ones. Cathars believed in a theological dualism with two divine principles, a good one who made all good, unmaterial, things (like the human soul) and a bad one who made the bad, material, things (like the human body). They also believed that the mainstream catholicism had strayed away from, and had corrupted, the very early christianist teachings.


Languedoc: the language of Oc (in French, la langue d’Oc)

The south and western regions of France spoke a different language to the north and east, which is called occitan. It is distinguished by the word for yes being oc, rather than oïl (now spoken as oui). The occitan speakers were educated and cultured, the Troubadour tradition of songs and poetry arose in this region (and was spread further west into Aquitaine by Eleanor [2], grand-daughter of one of the earliest major troubadours, William IX). When the Cathars were eradicated, much of the Languedoc traditions died, though occitan is still spoken locally in the region, still named after its cultural roots - Languedoc.

Occitan is said to comprise several major dialects used south of the Massif Central, which are spoken in Languedoc, Gascony, Limousin, Auvergne and Provence. The Langue d’Oc, occitan, is considered by some philologists as the root for catalan. Alternatively, occitan and catalan are regarded as variations or dialects of a single catalano-occitan language. (Catalan is the local language of Catalonia, of which Barcelona is the capital. Perpignan, just to the north beyond the French border, was regarded as the second city of the principality of Catalonia in the 14th and 15th centuries.)


oc and oui – yes and yes

Many European languages have their origins in Indo-European linguistic roots. From basic building blocks in the Indo-European language system, called bases, words are made. The Indo-European base -l-, vocalised as al-, ul- or ol-, indicates distance or remoteness.

Latin used this base for constructing all third person pronouns [in English: he, she, it, they; him, her, them], showing clearly a distant or remote person. By the modification of the sound ol-, Latin made the pronouns ille, illa, illum, illos, illorum etc [in English: he, she, it, they, belonging to them, etc].

According to [French] phonetic rules [4], these Latin pronouns came to lose their ending and so become the French pronouns: il (ille), elle (illa), lui (illi, which is illui in low - working class - Latin), eux (illos, which was els in old French), leur (illorum). The Latin pronouns could also lose their prefix, thus becoming the French object pronouns: le (ille), la (illa), les (illos); these also became the French definite articles [in English: the].

At this point, English speakers must remember that

  1. The Roman invaders, as they spread throughout Europe, brought with them their language - Latin. Britain [the originator of the English language] only started to enter the then modern world with Julius Caesar’s visit in 55 BC and later, Claudius in 43 AD.
  2. This section is a discussion of the development of French words. You will have to wait for a discussion of the origin of the English word, “yes”.

Latin does not have any single word for saying “yes” [present French: oui]. Old French used the neutral pronoun hoc [that], using the word in a sense of  “it’s that, I know that, I think that” - that is, with a sense corresponding to acquiescence in present French.

Hoc was written as oc in old French.[3] Oc is found now in the word languedoc, la langue d’oc - the language of Oc, the language of the south of France. However, in the north of France, hoc became ‘o’ and, from the eleventh century, served as a prefix for the new pronouns. Thus, there appeared composite pronouns: o-je, o-tu, o-il, with the sense of that-I (think it, know it...), that you, that-he [in current French: celà-je, celà-tu, celà-il]. The two first composite pronouns disappeared so only o-il remained.

o-il became oïl [5], which was soon transformed into oui [current French for “yes”] and spread throughout France. Now oïl is only found in the historic phrase, la langue d'oïl, which is the counterpart of la langue d’oc.

end notes

  1. aire: in this context, an area —
    aire de loisirs: recreation area;
    aire de pique-nique: picnic area;
    aire de repos: rest area;
    aire de services: services , motorway (GB) or freeway (US) service station.

  2. Eleanor’s name was, in fact, Alia-Aenor, which means “the other Aenor”.

  3. Speakers of French probably know that the French are practically incapable of sounding a leading “h”. Thus one can easily imagine that the ‘h’ of hoc soon disappeared.

  4. Current French pronounciation often drops the final letter of words, unless it is followed by an -e-: vert, pronounced ver, and verte, pronounced vert [both words are the adjective for green, as used for masculine and feminine words]. Note that in French songs, the reverse is often the case, with final syllables being frequently heavily pronounced: tranquille would be pronounced tranquil-le.

    Of interest is that French children learn the gender (masculine, feminine) of words by learning the word together with an adjective that has clear differences between the pronounciation for its two versions. Thus, a French child would learn une pomme verte, a green apple, and un bal vert, a green ball (see the previous paragraph for pronunciations of verte and vert.

  5. Although it does not show clearly on this page, there is an umlaut - two dots - on the letter i - oïl. In French, the umlaut indicates that the second vowel is pronounced separately, in this case o-il rather than oil.

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on first arriving in France - driving motorway aires, introduction
travelling by rail to and within France individual aires                                             
A75 autoroute from Clermont-Ferrand to Béziers and its aires Les Pyrénées, A64 Poey de Lascar, A64
A89 autoroute from Bordeaux to Clermont-Ferrand and beyond - aires Pic du Midi, A64
Hastingues, A64
Dunes, A62
Mas d’Agenais, A62
A7 - aires on the busy A7 autoroute from Lyons to Marseille Pech Loubat, A61
Port-Lauragais, A61
Mas d’Agenais, A62
Garonne, A62
A9- aires on the motorway to Spain Ayguesvives, A61
Renneville, A61
Catalan village, A9
Tavel, A9
A62 - aires on the autoroute of two seas three aires on the canal du midi, A61 Lozay, A10
Poitou-Charente, A10
A65 : the autoroute de Gascogne, from Langon to Pau Carcassonne, A61 Les Bréguières, A8
A64 and A61 - aires on the other autoroute of two seas  
A83 motorway in Poitou-Charentes - aires A63: the French Wild West, Bordeaux to the Spanish border - formerly the N10
A837 motorway in Poitou-Charentes - aires A20 - aires on the Occitane autoroute, from Brive to Montauban
A42 and A40 motorways - aires from Lyon to Switzerland and Italy A87 motorway and its aires in Poitou-Charentes

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