Towers of Merle (Tours de Merle)

Towers of Merle

Towers of Merle is a complex of defensive structures situated in the French wilderness.



Location: Saint-Geniez-ô-Merle, Corrèze département   Map

Constructed: 12th and 15th century

Official site


Description of Towers of Merle


The medieval remains of the Tours de Merle stand on a steep rocky outcrop, in a meander of the Maronne, in the heart of Xaintrie, in the French department of Corrèze in the commune of Saint-Geniez-ô-Merle. The visitable site includes a 10 hectare park.



From the beginning, the site bears the name of blackbird which could refer to the bird, naturally present, or to the merlon, the solid part of a parapet located between two battlements according to the architectural term.

Fortified largely naturally, the site offers the lords a dominant position because it is built on a rocky outcrop 30 meters high, 40 meters wide and 200 meters long, in a meander of the Maronne river. The first mention of the site dates back to 1219 (an eponymous family is attested from the end of the 11th century) and the castrum lasted until the 16th century.

Place of toll, the castrum is located on the border between the Duchy of Aquitaine, the county of Auvergne and the county of Toulouse and two dioceses. Seven families of lords cohabit or succeed each other in Merle and several square towers are erected on the same site in order to prevent each family from dispersing and weakening. On this “peninsula” the lords of Merle, Veyrac, Pesteils, Carbonnières (the most eminent), Noailles, Saint Bauzile and Alboy settled.

From the 12th to the 15th century, the seigniorial lineages who owned the place built towers, hostels and walls, thus constituting a castrum which would only decline with the advent of artillery because the site could easily be bombarded from the surrounding heights. In 1350, the castrum was home to more than a hundred peasants and nobles in a village made up of around thirty thatched cottages with their gardens and orchards. Each social category is represented since there are lumberjacks, craftsmen, peasants, priests, lawyers. In the 14th century, Merle comprised seven fortified houses, two chapels, one of which was dedicated to Saint Léger, and a village, jointly owned by seven lords of the families of Merle, Carbonnières, Veyrac and Pestels.

In 1371, during the Hundred Years War, the English, present since 1357 in the Auvergne and Limousin basins of the Dordogne, besieged Merle and occupied it: they took a tower and a castle, which they then restored. In 1475, at the end of the Hundred Years War, a period of peace contributed to the emergence of an era of prosperity for the city. The Wars of Religion later cause murderous ravages when the Protestants take the place and install a garrison there in 1574; they were chased out two years later by the co-seigneurs.

However, the site was then abandoned by the co-lords who preferred to live in more pleasant and accessible places. At the end of the 17th century, the village population, no longer able to count on their protection, dispersed and the castellany gradually fell into oblivion, although inhabitants occupied the village at the foot of the rock until the beginning of the 20th century.

The noble families
Merle family
The Merle family is probably at the origin of the aristocratic core of the site. Following partitions, the Merles formed several branches, at least three, which shared the rights to the castrum.

By marriage, the families of Pesteils, Veyrac, Saint-Bauzille and the Rochedragons entered the co-seigneury. Merle's family seems to end up submitting to that of Carbonnières. As co-lords of Merle, they received occasional tributes throughout the Middle Ages, notably from the Veilhan family.


Pesteil family
Probably originating from Cantal, the Pestels family would have established itself on the site of Merle at the beginning of the 13th century, following the marriage of Aymeric de Pesteil with Hélis de Merle. In 1270, the Pesteils paid homage to the Carbonnières; this tribute was repeated in 1347.



Merle was the chief town of a castellany; it is not a simple castle, the site, which indeed integrates several castles, is characterized by the presence of many co-lords within a specific feudal organization between lords and villagers in the form of taxes and tributes, hence its name Castrum de Merle.

There are only vestiges of the castrum, a collection of fortified houses, towers, walls dating from the 14th century or earlier. On the site are located.
the ruined piles of the bridge guard's house;
the location of the Veilhan drawbridge;
the Noailles tower;
the towers of Pesteils (or Pestel);
the house of Fulcon de Merle (attested in 1365);
the house of Pierre de Merle;
the house of Hugues de Merle;
the Cofolenc house;
the location of the so-called Veilhan house;
the location of the second chapel built in 1674;
the remains of the tower of the Commander of Saint-Léger;
the remains of the fort of St-Basile;
the remains of the castle of Carbonnière.

The castral site is the subject of a classification as historical monuments by decree of July 30, 1927.

Merle's tricks in literature and art
The site serves as the setting for the historical novel by Louis-Olivier Vitté Guinotte et le chevalier, whose plot takes place in the 12th century, and also as part of volume 3 of the fantasy series Louis le Galoup by Jean-Luc Marcastel, Le Master of the Tours de Merle, whose plot takes place in a different Middle Ages.