Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Fort de Bellegarde and the old Roman road

Having just learned about the Via Domitia and Via Augustus, the old Roman road that linked Cadiz to Rome, we decided to see if we could find it this afternoon. We drove to Le Perthus, the first town in France, which we've passed by several times but never explored. It was one of those places that makes you ask yourself "why are we here?"  It is known as a  shopper's paradise with 60,000 square metres of shops, many selling perfume. There were stores selling watches, jewelry, leather and clothes. People were certainly buying but it was one of those places you just wanted to leave. There were numerous men on the sidewalks badgering passers by to buy sunglasses and watches. We made a quick exit.

Our first stop was Le Fort de Bellegarde, which sits high up on the hill overlooking the Franco-Spanish border. The fort is a jewel of seventeenth century military architecture designed by Vauban, who served Louis XIVth. The fort was built as a result of French-Spanish conflicts over the centuries. The panoramic views from the ramparts were quite stunning and you really could see everything just as Vauban had planned. As we moved around the ramparts we could see where the Wehrmacht had kept their ammunition dumps in 1943. Apparently the Gestapo had a prison for escaped prisoners of war and Spanish republicans at the fort.

A huge  well sixty five metres deep could withstand a siege. It was interesting seeing the huge bread ovens but I'm not sure how they worked as they were so vast. How did they get the food in and out of them especially at the back of the ovens? There were interesting displays of Roman and medieval artifacts, mainly pottery, that had been discovered in an archeological dig at Le Pannissars further down the hill.

We got back in the sweltering hot car to go down to Le Pannissars and the old Roman road. There are signs denoting the Via Domitia (into France) and Via Augustus (into Spain). This road usually parallels the autostrade and is about fifteen kilometres from the Mediterranean. The building of the road improved communications and attracted many new Roman settlements. The route was probably the same as followed by Hannibal and his famous elephants in 218 BC before the Via Domitia was built.

There were remnants of Roman ruins at Le Pannissars as well as the ruins of a medieval church. You can clearly see where the medieval buildings were simply built on top of the huge stone Roman foundations. You can also see grooves in the stone worn by countless Roman wagon wheels. We look forward to finding more places where the old Roman road existed. Apparently there is European and Spanish government money being used to reclaim sections of the old road.

Just down the road from Le Pannissars lies a seventeenth century military cemetery. Many of the graves were marked with stones, not gravestones, but there were a few with proper gravestones. All were marked with recent white crosses.

We had one final stop to make and that was at Marti Fabra, a small family winery. Everything was locked up but one lady member of the family spotted us and got the key to the winery. In we went, being enveloped in that lovely wine bouquet. We sampled the white wine and bought a couple of very nice bottles. It was a lovely ending to an interesting and very hot day.

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