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Roquebrun

 

Roquebrun is a small village of 550 inhabitants, and arguably one of the most picturesque villages of France. It can be found clinging to the mountains of the “Haut Languedoc” above the River Orb. It enjoys a micro-climate where oranges grow in abundance, and has an average 300 days of sunshine a year.

Tourists will find everything they wish, for. Apart from the unsurpassed scenery, there are opportunities for walking, swimming, climbing, canoeing and archery all within the bounds of the village. Additionally the ‘Mediterranean Garden’ is a public park that contains examples of plants found within the Mediterranean basin, and also the remains of the medieval village and the Carolingian Tower.

The old flourmill on the banks of the river is worth visiting. Throughout the year, many craft exhibitions are held here. Local wines, and gastronomy are also to be enjoyed in the village.

The CAMPOTEL, owned by the community, is situated on a marvellous site overlooking the village. It has 8 wood built chalets, 16 gites and 26 campsites. Open from March to October.
Camping de Roquebrun Campotel "Le Nice" - Hébergement en Hérault - Languedoc-Roussillon

 

 

A little history

Located on the foothills of the Cevennes (Montagne Noire) Roquebrun has always attracted men, because of its climate and its strategic position.

Remains of human settlements (4th century BC) have been found: a cave habitation, used by shepherds, and also buildings. Roquebrun experienced the Roman occupation, and Roman remains ( mostly burials ) were found downstream of Roquebrun in the place where St. André Roman garrison and a Roman villa was located. A castrum (fortified camp ) is often mentioned on the site of the present village.

Then came the barbarian invasion, followed by the Saracens (370-700 AD). In all 800 castles were built along the Black Mountains by Carolingian kings to protect themselves from barbarian invasions. It is from the period 900 ad that the Castle at Roquebrun dates. Only one part remains, La Tour.

It is a small square tower, uninhabitable but impregnable. It sits on a very thin and steep rock ridge. At the foot of this ridge there is some evidence of two rooms having been built into the rock. In the upper part of the tower, you can still see the holes that mark the site of hoardings, and wooden scaffolding used in the early days of feudalism, and which formed battlements and crenulations. This castle belonged successively to the Viscount of Beziers and Toulouse.

At the time of the Carolingian kings, a few houses were built around the castle and inhabited by the servants of the Chatelaine. This gradually attracted more people looking for security, and a village was created, surrounded by walls. Few vestiges remain of the wall:  a tower near the presbytery, and two gates or arches that are successively at lower levels towards the river. The last dated from the sixteenth century. This was, at a time when the village had grown closer to the River Orb. The original medieval village still exists and has been incorporated into the “Jardin Mediteranee”, where, after a climb, you can still visit.

From the year 1000 ad until the period of the Cathars, the castle was inhabited by Lord Bernard of Roquebrun, who was defeated by the troops of Simon de Montfort.

There is evidence of the presence of a Royal Garrison from 1250. The town was then administered by the Royal Regime and their Consuls. A large building near the church was the “Maison des Consuls”.

In the shelter of its castle, Roquebrun has developed over the centuries by exploiting its riches - vines, olive trees, marble and manufacture of linen. The river crossing was, originally, by boat, until 1870 when the bridge was built. Also at this time the village, had an oil mill, a flour mill and communal oven.  The mills were operated by the water flow in the river. These are still standing.

Evidence of a Chapel was the St. André  Chapel (a former Roman location) it still exists, and the earliest cemetery is situated in front of this Chapel.  Later, the Church, Our Lady of Roquebrun,  was constructed very probably on the location of the Castle Chapel.  

In the nineteenth and twentieth century, Roquebrun was mainly involved in the production of wine, and experienced the ups and downs related to French vineyards and rural depopulation.

Because of its natural beauty and location on the river, Roquebrun is now a very popular holiday location, and in the summer the town is full of tourists.

The history of Roquebrun is linked heavily to wine production that strongly developed in the 19th century.  Today, Roquebrun enjoys the fame of his vineyards.  Roquebrun counted 545 inhabitants in 2006, the inhabitants of Roquebrun are called the roquebrunais.

 

EXPLORE ROQUEBRUN

In the village: a marked route will allow you to discover the history on foot.

From the bridge take the street to the right of the little shop, the Rue du Barry, where you will pass the lower gate to enter into the fortified and medieval Roquebrun. This gate was secured by a wooden gate, and gave protection to the village. On both sides, were thick defensive walls.

Continue along the "rue du Barry" to the top and you will arrive at the  high gate on the left. This gate and the walls can still be seen today, and by taking the pathway you arrive in a square in front of the church (Place de l’Eglise). On this square were buildings (houses, shops) destroyed in the 19 th century. A little further up on the left, is an oven, which is now private property.

To continue the tour, go to the front of the Church.

The Church of St. Andrew has two parts. On the left we see the tower wall. It is Romanesque. Below is the sacristy where there was a portcullis blocking access through the tunnel. There is also a hidden door, that masked entry into the old chapel. This was left embedded in the very thick walls of the château. On the right of the nave is a more recent construction with a door surrounded by pink marble.

 

La TOUR

Built on a rocky outcrop, the tower dates from the year 1000. In about (1036) there appears the name Rocabruna (brown Tower). The function of this tower is difficult to establish, it is thought that it may have been a belfry tower monitoring three valleys (Laurenque, the Orb upstream and downstream). Another theory is that it was a type of dungeon in a defensive castle, with a more elaborate walled enclosure surrounding the village, where there was the abode of the Lord. It was defended by wooden, hoardings, which protruded, and allowed the attackers to deflect shots. You can still see the holes for the wooden joists that supported these hoardings.

On the east side there is an opening which served as an entrance, and was accessed using a ladder. At the base of the tower was a terrace, containing buildings reserved for, or constructed for, use as a military defensive position.

Today, at the foot of the tower is the Mediterranean garden, established in 1985. The Mediterranean garden offers visitors a rich collection of Mediterranean plant life in a natural environment. The botanic trail offers a view of the local flora along with numerous varieties of Mimosa and an orchard.

To continue the tour, pass through the upper gate again and go to the "Place de la Salle."  Here you will notice a round tower, included in the old rectory, that formed part of the fortifications.

In 1279 Roquebrun was given the right to have a body of Consuls in charge of managing the village, and to temper the power of the feudal lord. This body convened in the imposing building opposite the church and formed a part of the ramparts. Later, the building housed a royal garrison.

To continue the tour,  go to the "rue de la fontaine", cross the road and go down stream towards Laurenque to find the INTERMITTENT FONTAINE

 

 INTERMITTENT FONTAINE

This is one of the great mysteries of Roquebrun. This water source is very capricious, sometimes it suddenly spouts water, and then it stops just as suddenly. An impressive amount of water can flow from the vault.  Explanation has been sought for this phenomenon which, so far, has kept its secret. Simple observations gave birth to the local saying: " «de plege ou de bent, et la foun ben  " ("rain or wind, and the fountain flows"). One might assume that the atmospheric conditions, even far removed from the region have an influence on the character of the water source.

This source gave drinking water to the village until 1960, thanks to a pumping station which pumped the water to basins in the church square. These basins then fed then a network of fountains located throughout the village.

 

GARDENS LIMPACH

These were the first gardens in Roquebrun, where the inhabitants grew their vegetables. Water intake came from upstream, using small canals made of slate ("béals").  They traversed most gardens, and poured water into basins called "Tanes." This natural wealth, relied on proper functioning of the system, the villagers used the facilities, by implementing a rota system, of opening, and closing his own “béal” with a stopper made of earth, sticks and rags.

This was followed by a method called "chadouff" probably brought by the Arabs at the time of the invasion, which is called locally, the "pousalanque." It was a pendulum system with a bucket on one side and a counterweight on the other, which allowed without effort, the extraction of water. More recently, another system was more widespread with a "waterwheel" bucket chain driven by a mule. The water, once collected in the basins ("Tanes") was sent to rain on crops by the gardener using a wooden scoop.

It is also here that the roquebrunais chose to plant their first orange trees. You will find orange, mandarin, clementine, and lemons ... everywhere in the village.

To continue the tour, retrace your steps and go to the Town Hall “Marie” and opposite take the passage to the mills along the River Orb.

The flour mill (you can see the old wheel on the right against the wall). Well before the monoculture of the vine, Roquebrun as many Languedoc villages, lived frugally, in total isolation.

Mixed wheat, barley and oats, livestock in the form of a pig, chickens or pigeons supplied their food supply.

This flour mill, restored by the Natural Park of Haut Languedoc, is now owned by the municipality, and managed by the association "Friends of the Mills" who hold handicraft and art exhibitions.

Below is mill is the sluice which fed the water to turn the millstones and, even today, feeds the irrigation canal.

Behind this grain mill is located, with its feet in the water, le « foulon »

It was also a mill, used for crushing the stems of broom to extract the fibres with which they wove ropes, bags for agriculture, and even linens (sheets, towels ...).

Downstream of the le « foulon » were two pillars that were linked by a rope on which was attached a ferry boat which allowed people to cross the river up to 1870.

Inside the mill you will find beautiful vault rooms that have been kept intact. Black olives were harvested in late autumn and brought here. Then were crushed under the wheel to obtain a paste which, when squeezed, gave a crude oil. A second pressure after heating the paste, allowed the extraction of a little more oil. After these operations were completed, the villagers then proceeded to decant the oil from the water.  All these tasks were done on a communal basis, and each family obtained its oil reserve for the year. Together with fat from the family pig, they constituted two sources of fat in their diet.

To continue the tour, retrace your steps to join the BRIDGE over the River ORB

This stone bridge of seven arches, was constructed in 1870. Previously the villagers lived on the left bank of the Orb, there were no houses on the other side. The Orb also provided fish, and every Friday fishermen brought to the table.

In the spring, spawning period, and in the winter, a net known as the "simplou", was stretched across the river during the night, and provided a catch of Chub (chevesnes) and eels.  During the summer, during periods of extreme heat, the fishing system called the "trémail" called for the river to be closed with a big net and  skilled divers were called on to make sure the net was sealed on the river bed to maximise the catch.

The concrete breakwater, formerly made of dry stones, and bundles of reeds, was regularly swept away by floods. The men of the village participated in its annual refurbishment. It still has an economic function, which is to direct water into the irrigation canal.



The Baron's Legend

Legend has it, that the Baron d’Openac built his castle at Roquebrun, so as to prey from this vantage point on any passing pilgrims on their way to the Abbaye de Fontcaude, or returning from the monasteries of Montels and Villemagne.

He earned the nickname “Le Baron Tempete” from his habit of welcoming those unfortunates during inclement weather, and then robbing them, and turning them out, wearing only a shift! The castle was impregnable, and the Baron became more and more daring, even stealing livestock from the Abbaye de Fontcaude.

People started to search for an alternate route, and most travellers started to use a new route, by way of St Chinian and St Pons.

At this point, a young novice monk, named Poncian, came upon the scene. Undeterred by the Baron, he came to live near Roquebrun, and brought with him, two saplings, a lemon and an orange, also some mimosa seeds. He duly planted the saplings, and sowed the seeds, which started to flourish.

Daily, he walked the banks of the River Orb, to the village of Ceps where, on a huge rock, he prayed. This infuriated the Baron, who called upon the Devil to help rid him of the troublesome monk. The Devil agreed to demonstrate his powers, against his normal fee, the Baron’s soul.

The Baron, desperate to get rid of the monk, agreed, and the Devil called up a terrible storm, which came rapidly towards Ceps, with billowing clouds, lightening, thunder, and tremendous winds whipping the surface of the Orb.

Miraculously, because of the strength of Poncian's prayers, the storm stopped, and not a single orange, lemon or mimosa was harmed. The climate became milder, and the mimosa flourished. The Baron was beside himself with rage, but despite his failure, the devil called upon the Baron to surrender his soul, to compensate for the work he had done, but the Baron refused.

The Devil then called up a thunderbolt to strike the castle, which crumbled, into ruins. Only the tower was left. The Devil took away the blackened cinders, which was all that remained of the Baron’s body, so that his soul should not escape. Roquebrun’s mild climate had been established, and has, since time immemorial, been known as “Petit Nice”.

The villagers built a chapel dedicated to their benefactor, and it stands to this day at Ceps, and there are those exotic plants that survive to bear witness to the legend of St Poncian.

 

CEPS

In the heart of the Orb gorges and 5 minutes drive from Roquebrun, you will find Ceps, a small but beautiful medieval village with stunning views over the vineyards and mountains
It is hidden in the bottom of the Orb gorge in the Haut Languedoc Regional Park. It can be reached by crossing the beautiful stone bridge that crosses the River Orb.
The river has a small beach for swimming in the summer, a shady picnic area, and the possibility to hire canoes or kayaks.

Near the village, beside D14, discover the CHAPEL OF SAINT Pontian. It was saved from ruin in 1994. It is mentioned for the first time in a charter of 940 under the name "St. Pontian of Baraussan" which recalls the founder of the Roman "villa" which stood on this site. Shards of large jars, called "dolium" sigillata ceramics and Graufesenque, made in Millau in the 1st century have dated construction on this site to the time of Emperor Augustus.

Very early, probably in the fifth century, close to church was a necropolis This was  revealed by the finding of slate tombs found in the vicinity.   

This building has been the subject of multiple renovations.  Due to the slope of the ground the foundations and walls have been the subject of slippage and many of its fitments plunderd.


 

 


The American Connection

The next village to Roquebrun is very small, but has a big connection to the United States of America, and especially the Statue of Liberty. The statue, more famous as marking the entrance to New York harbour, was a gift of the French people.

In 1865 during a dinner party given by French politician, Edouard Rene Lefebvre de Laboulaye, he made the suggestion that it would be nice for the French people to commemorate the coming of the centennial of the American independence.

One of the guests was a sculptor, Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi.   In 1874 Bartholdi and Laboulaye decided to start fundraising for a statue, but because of the expense it was decided that France would pay for the statue, and America for the base.

The statue was started shortly after, first the torch, and then the head. During the winter of 1883 Laboulaye died, never to see the statue finished. Then at last, in June 1884, the statue was completed, but remained in Paris until the spring of 1885, before it was dismantled, and then shipped to America – inside 217 wooden packing crates.

The captain of the ship that transported the statue to New York, subsequently retired to live in the village of Lugne, and presented the village with a replica of the statue. This replica still stands in the middle of this small village of about 15 houses.
 

 

La Cave de Roquebrun - AOC Saint Chinian