The Gers is undoubtedly a magnificent department, famous for the products of its soil and its sweetness of life. But, at the heart of Gascony, it is also renowned for the courageous qualities of some of its representatives such as the famous d'Artagnan, character popularized by Alexandre Dumas, and native of Lupiac, died in the Dutch war under Louis XIV, mown down by a cannonball. We also know the profusion of sacred buildings in the Gers, these churches and cathedrals with such a particular appearance, so much so that some are fortified. But we would like to make known here another aspect of the Gers heritage; the Gallo-Roman heritage. To do this we will invoke three different sites, particularly interesting in our opinion for the traveler-historian.
First, we can start with the Lectoure museum, east of Condom. It is located in the town hall, more precisely in the basements. This town hall itself has a certain cachet, but it should not distract from those who wish to learn more about the ancient heritage of the surroundings. The visit is guided, and you must contact the reception to be invited to enter the vaulted cellars which are spread out under the building. The setting is magnificent and gives the museum a real intimate, even almost mysterious atmosphere.
The visit begins with a whole set of prehistoric excavation pieces, from the biface to the worked reindeer antlers. The showcases, although dated, are richly endowed, compared to what the modest character of the town and the museum itself improperly suggests. But this is the sequel that interests us most here; the next room is dedicated to the Gallic period. In particular, you can admire two heads sculpted by the Celts of the region. In different styles, they are a rare testimony because anthropomorphic representations are quite rare among the Gauls. They take place next to everyday objects, such as pottery, but also, more surprisingly, a colander.
But it is by entering the rooms devoted to Gallo-Roman civilization that the most beautiful surprises await us. Indeed, Lectoure housed an iimportant place of worship to Jupiter and Cybele and a very large number of inscriptions consecrating bloody sacrifices have come down to us. Individuals made offerings of this type on religious holidays. The priest then sacrificed an animal, in this case a bull (taurobole) or a ram (cariobole) and shed its blood. Lectoure thus has no less than 20 altars, dating from the 2nd and 3rd century AD. AD, mostly made in Pyrenean marble. Beside them we can see a statue probably of Jupiter, as well as a representation of the god Mithras. But pagan worship was not the only one represented, and sarcophagi of fine quality have survived. One of them is beautifully decorated with fish scales and twigs of vines, a symbol in the days of Christianity.
By continuing this decidedly surprising visit, we can discover monetary treasures, a vaulted room entirely dedicated to mosaics as well as a whole set of common objects in the life of Roman civilization, but how touching today. Thus a very beautiful bronze gladiator figurine takes place next to oil lamps, spoons, coins, but also a representation of a Roman boat made of bone. We should not also forget the background gathering objects from the Merovingian period, donation of belt buckles and other precious jewels, bone combs.
The villa of Séviac
The interest in this small museum bodes well for our short presentation of some representative places of daily life in the Gers almost 2000 years ago. By pushing west, after Condom, we can get to the villa of Séviac. Former home of a local aristocrat, it is a brilliant testimony to Roman architectural genius. The highlighted site allows us first to discover the heating system of the wealthy dwellings of the Romans, namely the hypocaust system; a hearth was maintained by slaves and diffused in the ground and the walls, the heat. In fact, the slabs were placed on kinds of small pillars, thus creating a space that allowed the hot air to be diffused. He could go up in the walls thanks to arranged pipes.
The house has thermal baths (often public cleanliness and well-being establishment) where you could obviously benefit from lukewarm, cold or hot water. The luxury of the habitation is also evident in the mosaics which are numerous and well preserved. Most of them are decorated with geometric patterns and allow themselves with ease using trompe-l'oeil techniques. The fragile decorations are protected by roofs and sometimes also sand, when the restoration work is not completed enough to show it to the public without risk. The marked route is clear and leads us to enter a very rich area where history is also on the move.
Indeed, a small private baptistery is fitted out in the villa and attests to the diffusion of the christian worship. A little away from the habitation, a Merovingian village was built probably after the farming estate was abandoned. On the site, in the inner courtyard, archaeologists unearthed two bodies, the lovers of Séviac, two young people who died around the 6th and 7th centuries. In a truly magnificent setting, it is therefore possible to learn and walk in the footsteps of the ancient inhabitants of the Gers. But the visit to the site continues some distance away, in the village of Montreal, where a nice little museum keeps the discoveries made in Séviac.
Access is free and we discover in three small rooms some very beautiful rooms, like a bust from the Roman period, possibly representing the master of the estate. There are also several mosaics on display and therefore saved from the ravages of time. The Merovingian period is also present because we can see the iron of a Franciscan, a small throwing ax used by Frankish warriors. A stone column from the same period also appears in one of the windows and thus signals a form of copy by the newcomers of Gallo-Roman practices. Many small objects are also presented, such as statuettes, nails, loom elements, fragments of marble decorations, pieces of pipe, keys, plumb bobs, rings, spoons, fibulas. , belt plates, pottery ...
But again, these findings are associated with paleolithic material like carved flints, deer antlers transformed into tools ... Three life-size reproductions of animals from the period are also offered to the visitor, giving an idea of the local fauna of the Tertiary era. The Gers is therefore also very rich in terms of prehistory.
The Eauze museum
In order to continue this journey into the Ancient Era, we can continue west and go to Eauze, a place which houses a treasure from Roman times. However, here we have encountered some disappointment. Indeed, the entrance to the museum is expensive and the visual suggests a vocation much more commercial than the previous ones. In addition, the visit hardly lives up to the brand new structure and the essential is limited to a long litany of rooms lined up behind a protective display case in a poorly lit and ultra-secure basement. The disappointment is less for the numismatic enthusiast who will be able to rave about the 28,000 coins update. This treasure, dating from the 3rd century, is inscribed in a particular history of the Roman Empire; at that time barbarian bands raided the borders and sometimes penetrated deep into the lands of Rome by plundering the country. They then returned to their territory loaded with booty. Frightened civilian populations often hid true fortunes underground more because of psychosis than because of immediate danger. In this case, the money buried could have been used to buy a small farm estate. This museum is therefore disappointing by the lack of diversity in its exhibition and the profusion of visuals implemented. On the other hand, if you like Roman coins, don't hesitate.
It is with this mixed opinion that we leave this short trip to the Roman Gers, hoping to have made you want to travel the ancient paths of the Gallo-Roman province. It therefore appears that the best addresses remain those which are less prominent, but which contain a wealth much greater than that of the Musée d'Eauze.
- Knowing the Gers of Georges Courtès. Southwest Publishing, 2009.
- Gers by Jacques Lapart. bonneton, 2009.