Minerve-la-Vieille   Leave a comment

There’s no easy way to reach the Minerve-la-Vieille oppidum: from the north it’s either an hour’s wall down the slope of the ‘causse’ to a track that plunges to the bottom of a ravine and up the opposite side; or from the south it’s down the even more precipitous side of la Gorge de la Cesse, across the river to the Moulin d’Azam, and up the opposite face – where you still have to descend the ravine . . .

Once on the wall you are above a sea of garrigue: spiny, dense, impenetrable. There are no tracks here, save those made by wild boars beneath the canopy of scrub – for no hunters come to clear a path. But about 700 metres north is Bouys dolmen No. 5, or le dolmen de Minerve-la-Vieille, or the dolmen du Causse Grand. It’s as wild a place as you could wish for.

A short video from the top of the north defensive wall, and starting the precipitous walk back.

Below is the view west:

Looking east along the wall.

Below is the view over the dense garrigue which now covers the site of the encampment – about 5 hectares – to the southern rim of the Gorge de la Cesse.

A narrow path leads off the western end of the wall towards the brink of the cliff that drops 80 metres to the river Cesse below. This oppidum is impregnable.

The photo below, shot into the westering sun, shows the enormous entry to la Grotte d’Aldène, half-destroyed by phosphate-mining, and now closed to the public.

4 km upstream of Minerve, in the gorges of the Cesse, lies the Grotte d’ Aldène in which have been found Aurignacian wall-carvings, footprints and soot marks from Mesolithic torches. In  ‘la galerie des Gravures’ the last human incursion has been dated to over 30,000 years. This date, like the style, and also the animal wall-art, are therefore identical and contemporaneous with those corresponding to the first period of art in the Chauvet cave. Moreover, the passage of  human groups has left many footprints dated at about 8000 years. The Grotte d’Aldène finally shows much evidence of occupation during the Bronze Age and Early Iron Age.

Associated with this and other nearby caves, are the many remains of dolmens located on the limestone plateau, around the promontory of Minerve. Located on the left bank of the Cesse, they form four groups, from West to East: the Bois-Bas Group (12+), Bouïs (5), Lacs (4) and Mayranne (2) – all date from the 2nd and 1st millennia BC

On the Causses surrounding the village are two hill forts: the oppidum of La Gasque, an area of about 7 hectares, on which you can see the remains of fortified walls and foundations of huts; and the oppidum of ‘barred Cape’ of Old Minerve, constructed in the Bronze age and briefly reused in the Gallo-Roman period  located directly across the Gorge from the grotte d’Aldène. Two further prehistoric settlements have been identified: at Les Lacs, and at Brunan (these may be the same, the documents are scant).

In 2007-2008, as part of the restoration of the ramparts, a preventive search revealed that the site of Minerve village itself had been occupied since prehistory, from the last period of the Bronze Age (-850/-725 ), extending the history of the cité by about 1600 years. Subsequently, after a brief occupation during the second and first centuries before our era, the site was reoccupied in the fifth and sixth centuries at the time of the Visigoths – and has been occupied without interruption to this day.

Posted April 4, 2010 by Richard Williams

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