There has been a settlement at Esperaza since Roman times although the main village that you see today, 50 km south of Carcassonne along the River Aude, was built mostly from the 13th century onwards. For many years the village remained a smallish outpost with its inhabitants subsisting on low level industries that benefited from the river running through it, such as working wheat mills, tanneries and wood production. The town flourished in the 19th century when it became the second most important area in the global market for hat making. As hat wearing became less fashionable, the decline of this industry in the 1950s hit the town hard resulting in a sharp fall in the local population. But Esperaza’s fortune was about to change again, when in the 1980s a group of amateur archaeologists uncovered one of the largest fossil deposits in Europe in the hills above the village, including entirely preserved dinosaur skeletons. Today, Esperaza is home to a dedicated Museum of Dinosaurs which welcomes about 45,000 tourists a year to inspect its store of over 2000 dinosaur bones and has become an important centre for research in the field.
Esperaza has thus become a popular village for property investment, with many second home owners benefiting from renting out their properties in the tourist season. It is a very good location from which to explore the region, within easy access to other important historical sites of interest such as the villages of Rennes-le-Chateau, Arques and Puivert. There is a permanent local population of about 2200, a number of food shops and nearby supermarkets, and good services available including a bank, a pharmacy, offices of several medical professionals, a creche and a primary school. The highlight of the Esperaza week is the large Sunday market which is installed in the main square, with stalls ranging from local cheeses and honeys, to clothing and jewellery.
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