The Lalonquette villa, a large farm and cattle ranch (Lalonquette, Pyrénées-Atlantiques)
An estate at the foot of the Pyrenees
The villa is located in the valley of the Gabas, a river in the Pyrenees, about twenty kilometres from the secondary towns of Beneharnum
(Lescar) and Atura
(Aire-sur-l’Adour), in the civitas of the Tarbelli
. François Réchin (Université de Pau) has reopened this site, which was thoroughly excavated between 1958 and 1972.
Around 10–20 CE, at a time when the population of this part of the Pre-Pyrenees was becoming denser, an initial structure appeared, with a colonnade in front and flanking wings. During the 2nd century CE, a second courtyard extended this initial core. Signs of luxury are evident – great care was taken with the corridors linking the two parts of the new ensemble, the baths were expanded and floor heating was installed.
At the end of the 3rd century, the residence was rebuilt; its surface area was extended, and more official (and heated) rooms appeared. Rubble stone was used to extend the bank of the Gabas, located to the east, to accommodate a grand gallery pointed towards the river. During the 4th century, the residence was restored and extended. Mosaics, the only ones to have survived, attest to luxurious living conditions. Once again, the river was redirected to build a curved portico
containing a garden. After the first quarter of the 5th century, occupation of the site centred around a small Christian sanctuary.
A rural estate focused on animal breeding
Animal breeding was perhaps the predominant activity in the Lalonquette villa's production system. Mapping the various types of pollens found provides a picture of a villa in an increasingly open environment – due to intensive farming – that was surrounded by prairie. Cultivated plants are not evident: neither grains, surprisingly, nor vines, even though wine-making equipment was identified in the farm's outbuildings.
The centre of the estate was located in a valley located between two plateaus, of which only the edges were populated with small farms, all of which disappeared after the 2nd century CE. Throughout the Roman era, the central part of the plateaus were untouched by construction, perhaps due to their permanent use as grazing lands. These areas are criss-crossed by camins
, traditional transhumance paths that were used in Antiquity. Roman-era stopping-places have been located along their axes; they consist of rudimentary shelters, of which only their pebbled floors remain today. The share of animal breeding in the economic profile of these Pre-Pyrenean territories justifies the involvement of villas in overseeing and managing seasonal movements of herds.