Listen to this article here: You think you can pee? You never tried me!
There’s a place in France, hidden well among lush meadows, sun burnt fields of wonderfully ripe vines and pretty old trees. You will get there by not trying to.
We followed a road. Some road. A pretty summery road. A road that was melting in the heat of the southern French sunshine. A road that was relaxing and calming. A road to literally nowhere, but to so much. A road off the road. A road that at some point glued itself to the side of a winding ribbon of the Canal du Midi and led us straight into a little village of Colombiers.
We crossed the bridge over the canal, which is here since the end of the 17th century. Plenty of pretty barques and boats were swinging lazily on the water. People were enjoying their brunch on the decks. Late morning was slowly turning into a properly hot afternoon now and we were all only happy to absorb a view like this in hopes for more.
The signposts were there. One of them marked something that looked worth checking out. And so, slowly, enjoying the view on the lazy canal life, we barely rolled down the nice alley shaded by the hundreds of years old trees.
Our way was getting steeper. We were now out of the village and surrounded by vines. You could feel a difference in the air between the middle country and the coast. We were only a stone’s throw away from the Medditerrian Sea and the Spanish border.
Finally, something strange appeared on top of the hill and we knew this had to be it.
Oppidum D’Enserune is an archaeological site containing the remains of a village which was lived in between the Iron Age and the first century AD. It is located on a hill in the municipality of Nissan-lez-Enserune.
The term “oppidum” derives from the Latin: oppidum, meaning city or a fortified agglomeration. Such term was used by Roman historians to name a type of fortified settlements found accross Europe.
First excavations of the site were undertaken between 1843 and 1860 by a priest from a local parish of Montady. It was Father Ginieis, who found graves here. During that time, in 1850 Iberian coins were also found on the site.
Almost hundred years later, a local land owner, Félix Mouret, who happenned to be a passionate archeologist, undertook some more detailed excavations on the hill. He worked on the site from 1915 till 1928. During this time he also published his discoveries and built a villa there. Ten years later this building was used to house the exhibits which can be admired in it to this day. The collection of ceramics takes you through the centuries of cultural evolution of the site.
Excavation works continued during the following twenty years and finally a museum has been established in place, which now is a National Monument. Later on, there were extensive works carried out on the tombs as well as the entire hill top which led to the discovery of a necropolis.
The Ensérune site is renowned for having a significant amount of storage modules, such as silos. There are about 300 pits on the hill and its surroundings. A very soft rock, formed of Miocene sediments, consisting of coastal marine sands, made it possible to dig them. These, generally ovoid in shape structures, have a capacity ranging from 10,000 to 85,000 liters.
Initially the silos were believed to have been used five centuries before Christ to store grains but now it is confirmed that a large number of them was designated for the storage of water, especially in the last two centuries BC.
The hill of Ensérune dominates the surrounding plains by a hundred meters and thus offers an excellent panoramic view on the neighboring area as far as to the Pyrenees.
Among others you will see the strangest of sites, heart in shape – L’étang de Montady, a 400 ha in size pond that dried up in the Middle Ages. Just at the foot of Ensérune, it is surrounded by a fan of fields and meadows making it look like a shining star.
Apparently it once had been a natural basin, created by the winds and erosion. Later, the rise of the sea level allowed it to fill with water, creating a temporary pond. In the middle of the 13th century, locals decided to drain this swampy area by creating a network of 80 km of canals, joined in the center. Through drainage channels, the water is piped to a central collector, which explains the star-shaped layout of the fields. The water is then drained by a ditch towards the pond of Capestang and by a gallery under the hill of Ensérune and under the tunnel of Malpas, created to accommodate Canal du Midi.
Sadly heavy rains tend to flood this piece of land which now is devoted to cereals, meadows, vines and durum wheat.
We were very lucky to find the oppidum, as there are only two places in the area from which the pond is visible and this is one of them. The other one is the Tower of Montady, vestige of the old castle from the twelfth century, housing a dungeon. It stands at the highest point of a rocky promontory, facing the Montady pond and the Oppidum d’Ensérune.
Walking in 35 °C and drinking hectolitres of water made us want to pee. Quite natural, no?…
…It looked very much like on the photo below, although this one is borrowed from internet. I may have been too shocked to photograph the actual one. Yes, the squat toilet is what I am talking about. Here it was when I discovered this thing, known and used in the world for over two thousand years, and I will never ever forget Oppidum even if only for that reason.
A squatting toilet, also referred to as a ski toilet, Turkish toilet or Arabic toilet, is a type of sanitary device used to defecate in a squatting position. The main part of it is made of an oval or square bowl assembled at the floor level, with a drain in the lower part, with a diameter of 75 to 100 mm. On both sides of the bowl, a few centimetres higher than the drain, there are bases for placing your feet. Some models have the ability to flush with special flush valves. They are usually made of ceramics or stainless steel.
I have seen many disgusting toilets in my life but this exceeded my worst nightmares by very very far. It was dirty, pied all over. This itself stressed me enough and then standing on it and trying to concentrate to get the flow into the actual hole was an olympic feat. Imagine trying to hit the bullseye with a more concrete stuff! I came out of it all sweat and anxious praying that this would be the first and last time I had to use such a thing.
But no…. They are everywhere there. You’d think you’re in Europe….
There are of course pros and cons behind such installations and I guess, when in public places it is meant more for hygene purposes than anything else. But hell no. There was absolutely nothing hygenic about this place. I only and truly hope that they do not, which I doubt, use one mop to clean the inside of this thing as well as the surrounding floor.
Of course local donkey keeps an eye on the proper running of the matters. They can be found in the most interesting of places. This one was right next to the infamous loo.
When yet on top of the hill, we checked our position against the Via Domitia, the first Roman road between Italy and Hispania via France, which passed through here. This would explain the Iberic coins, ha? It was time to move on and we did not want to miss the next spot. A spot we just came up with on that spot 🙂
I’ll take you there next time. Unless I take you somewhere else…. who knows…. The world is our oyster…. but do not mistake for the Rocky Mountain oysters.
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