Archive for the ‘gallo-roman’ Tag
The single defensive wall of Minerve-la-Vieille can be seen from an altitude of 10 kilometers (if you know what to look for), and is possibly the biggest visible prehistoric structure in the south of France.
At 6 km. it looks like this, a white bar in the top left corner:
At 2 km. like this:
The visible section is about 60 metres long, 4 metres wide, and 2 m. high. It is a massive and dramatic example of an ‘ éperon barré‘ – literally a barred spur, a closed-off 5 hectare tip of a high ‘peninsular’ with sheer drops of 40 metres on the east and west flanks.
The term ‘oppidum’ might seem inappropriate – it more resembles ‘une enceinte fortifiée ‘ similar to that at Le Cros near Caunes, than the more compact Gallo-Roman structures like Pic St. Martin. There are no documents on the web to be found about it – just a couple of brief mentions:
M. J. Laurent-Mathieu Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française 1935 Volume 32
un camp celtique (oppidum) appelé « Minerve-la-Vieille », est délimité sur deux faces par un angle de la falaise à pic, et protégé sur sa troisième face, par un mur colossal en pierre sèche (long. 80 m. X haut. 2 m. X larg. 2m50).
It certainly is a ‘colossal wall’ – and placed in the midst of a wilderness of scrub, it’s one of the strangest places I’ve visited.
More photos and info on the Minerve-la-Vieille Page.
Languedoc has been a crossroads of people and cultures and trade since prehistoric times – and our corner of South West France where the river Aude meets the Mediterranean, reveals these traces most particularly. It’s an unassuming but benign river : bringing snowmelt from the Pyrenees, slowing in the fertile plain, before opening into accessible lagoons at its mouth near Narbonne.
From the south, over the Pyrenees, came the sunrise dolmen-builders, and from the sea in the east came the sunset builders. They came and stayed because the climate was good – and because there were metals in the hills, and a clear route through the Carcassonne Gap and down the Garonne to the Atlantic.
Metals and goods came down from Ireland and Cornwall, and were traded and exchanged for ceramics and jade and jet from Italy and Greece, and up from the Iberian peninsular. Poppy and sativa seed users met the beer-drinking Bell-beaker people – traces remain in the now-silted protohistoric lagoon ports.
For them here, the late Neolithic and Chalcolithic period was a golden age, with enough land and forest to go round, sufficient water and wildlife for the population, and an energizing interchange of ideas and goods. Families and clans lived in peaceful harmony with modest communal burial tombs spaced evenly through the hills of the Minervois and the Corbieres. There was no warrior-caste : there was no war.
It’s with deep pleasure then, that I roam around these hills looking for the half-forgotten burial places of these happy few.
Of course they did not know that they were happy. They didn’t know that the mines they dug would produce manganese-dust, leaving precious children and valued elders half-paralysed. And that the need for wood to fuel the forges would denude the hills of trees. Or that their ever-increasing flocks of sheep would strip the slopes of soil. Or that empires to the east would fall, and trade collapse, and that a dark age would engulf them. Or that new people would come, the Volcae Tectosages or Celts as we generally know them, with the new metal and the iron-working skills that produced lethal and durable weaponry. Then everything could start up all over again, but different.
I record and write about those Iron Age hillforts and oppida because my megalithic searches bring me into close contact with them – and because they too are fast being forgotten. But I do it with unease and a sense of foreboding – though their locations are often dramatic and the construction impressive. For by this time money has arrived, and these places represent concentrations of wealth and power and fear.
So I return with relief to the solitary dolmens, knowing they signify valleys of people unencumbered yet with the burden of overpopulation and the weight of complexity.
[The two photos are from recent finds on separate Causses above Minerve. I believe they are dolmens that have not been visited and recorded by historians or archaeologists for many decades – though local hunters and shepherds know them well. The problems concerning the accurate naming and locating of these ‘lost’ dolmens continues to this day, with unverified claims and inaccurate placings only clouding the subject. Full posts on both these ‘new’ dolmens, and a summary of their history to follow.]
Almost unmarked – but still quite remarkable. It should have a name: so I shall call it the Affiac Oppidum.
The hill upon which sit the vestiges of the oppidum lies just to the east of Trausse-Minervois, and dominates the Aude river plain. An old secondary Roman road from Carcassonne to Béziers passes close to its foot. A sizeable clay-works dating back to pre-Roman times lies on this once-important thoroughfare.
The locating of this impressive structure involved the three tools I have at my disposal : time, luck and perseverance.
This is presumably the entrance, opening south.
More photos & info on the Affiac oppidum page, right.
Quid.fr is France’s Encyclopedia Britannica – and has this to say about the canton of Durban Corbières:
Vestiges Préhistoriques : 1 – Oppidum de Carla. 2 – Habitation Gallo-Romain au Roc de Carla
. . . and that is the sum-total of information that I can find on the site. I came across this meagre thread while researching the dolmen de Palats which lies 2 km. north. We drove past le Roc a few days ago :-
– and the only words for it are impregnable and inhospitable. With uninhabitable running a close third. The first two are desirable in a defensive stronghold – but its location is not obvious. As far as I am aware this oppidum is a lone outpost, far from the linked chain of defensive hill-settlements that runs east-west along the Aude river valley to command the long-established trade-route [that became the Via Aquitania and now the Autoroute des Deux Mers]. It has intermittent streams at the base of the rock [Carla is a version of Cayla, or Caylar – occitan for caillou, or pebble – a diminuitively affectionate term for these jagged outcrops that were favoured sites throughout the region]. But the main river that runs through this fairly barren part of the Corbières is La Berre, and that passes well to the south, through Durban – with its mediaeval castle high on a rock.
It is also possible that this was one of the more northern oppida belonging to the ibero-celtic tribes who built the oppidum de Ruscino [at Perpignan] later to become the ‘capitol’ of the Roussillon region.
Had I been alone I would probably have spent a painfully futile afternoon up there, hoping for a photograph of a crumbled wall or two – but I had wiser counsel beside me. So we drove on to the dolmen. This now joins the lengthening list of sites that require some local knowledge – and a set of crampons.
Co-ordinates for the oppidum will be available from S.E.S.A. at Carcassonne – or from me.
Following my discovery of various pieces of ceramic, I have taken expert advice and returned them to their original location. It seems I should not have moved them at all, but in my excitement – these were my first ever finds! – I overlooked the obvious ramifications. I’ve written to S.E.S.A. [Société d’ Etudes Scientifiques de l’ Aude] of which I’m a member, for a meeting. And to the Mayor of the nearest village, and to the owner of the land.
The find consists of four pieces of a large amphora [date not established], one section of a flat-bottomed urn and handle-stump of similar composition and thickness, one section of a tegula [thick roof-tile] and one unidentified object. It is possible that I have discovered a Gallo-Roman site.
Photos of the pieces, with measurements, are on the Ceramic Finds Page.
The information given on Quid for the Oppidum du Pic St-Martin is accurate – while the new IGN Seies Bleu map – and the http://www.geoportail.fr placing – is out by nearly 2 km. Its position is 2. 39′ 54″ E, 43. 20′ 11″ N and it is a most impressive structure. The site was occupied continuously from the Iron Age through to the arrival of the Visigoths. The earliest inhabitants were possibly the Ibères or the Ligures, but more certainly the Volques Tectosages [ a Celtic tribe that put up a fierce resistance to the invading Romans, and who were themselves an invading force from Middle Europe – the name translates best as Land-hungry Wolves ].
The scree slope rises about 300 feet from here to the walls.
More photos and info on the Pic St-Martin Hillfort Page
Quid is France’s Encyclopedia Britannica, on paper since 1967 and online since 1997. IGN is the Institute Géographique National – it began as an army mapping service in 1887 and went public in 1967. They are invaluable tools in researching old stones but they are not without weaknesses. This is what I found for Siran, a village nearby in the Minervois:
Cachette de fondeur de l’âge du Bronze à Centeilles. [Traces of Bronze Age smelting]
29 dolmens* et tumulus.
Habitat préhistorique à Centeilles, Ausine, Belvédère.
Champ des Morts.
Nécropole 1er âge du Fer à La Prade.
14 villas romaines, principalement : Najac, Saint-Michel de Montflaunez.
Oppidum du pic St-Martin occupé de l’âge du Fer au 6ème apr.J.-C.
Mosaïque gallo-romaine* à la chapelle de Centeilles.
Tombes wisigothiques à La Rouviole, Le Champ des Morts, Centeilles, Saint-Martin, Saint-Pierre des Troupeaux, Saint-Gontran.
And this is what the new IGN map says is there:
Centeilles seemed central to this rich and diverse little corner, and was one of the few from the list to be marked on the map, as was the Gallo-Roman fort [camp or oppidum] closeby. That confident red star looked a certain bet, so I set off this saturday to see what I could find – knowing that information on Quid could well be long out-of-date and that I could be beating around the bush all afternoon for nothing. But not suspecting that the map could get it so wrong.
The 13th.C. Chapelle de Notre-Dame-de-Centeilles was certainly there with its stone roof and holy well – as was a host of other fascinating structures and features [see following Posts & Pages] – and so were the remains of a massive emplacement deep in the wood where the map shows the red star. It wasn’t until I got home and compared this new map with the 1967 version that doubt set in about The Thing in the Wood. I now needed to persuade Jessi and Mary to come out on another hunt this sunday.
The story of this weekend’s two visits to Centeilles is complicated, so the photos about it all are over on the Pages section. Starting with the Not the Gallo-Roman Camp Page. And as fast as I can post them, the following will appear :-
The real Ancien Camp Gallo-Romain on the Pic St-Martin Hillfort Page.
The dolmen of Centeilles – or les Pierres Plantées, take your pick – on the Centeilles Dolmen Page.
The dolmen du Mourel des Fadas – on the Dolmen des Fadas Page.
The Chapelle de Notre-Dame de Centeilles – the extraordinary frescoes, its history, holy well and capitelles – on the Chapelle de Centeilles Page.
And the second earlier church at Centeilles [in many ways even more extraordinary] – on the Chapelle Ruinée Page. There was a third even earlier church here at one time – but it’s been lost . . .
And then there’s those Roman villas, and the visigoth necropoli, and the neolithic habitat here too, somewhere – but I need another visit or ten, for them.