Thursday, 24 November 2011


“ …En ceste mesmes saison, Fayoles, quart roy de Numidie, envoya du pays de Africque à Grandgousier une jument la plus énorme et la plus monstreuse […], car elle estoit grande comme six oriflans, et avoit les pieds fenduz en doigtz comme le cheval de Jules Cesear, […]. Mais sus tout avoit la queue horrible, car elle estoit, poy plus poy moins, grosse comme la pile Sainct Mars, auprès de Langès, et ainsi quarrée , avecques les brancars ny plus ny moins ennicrochéz que sont les espicz au bled."*
François Rabelais, Gargantua, XVI

On the Monday before I went to London we were working, and we managed to visit a new place for us, The pile of Cinq Mars.

This is a bit of a mystery: a 2nd century Roman (or at least Gallo-Roman: that is built by locals who wanted to show how Roman they were) tower. No-one is quite sure what it is - or was - although a funerary monument is the current front runner. Made of brick and standing exactly 100 roman feet (29.4 metres) high, it sits overlooking a bend in the river Loire at Cinq-Mars-la-Pile. It contains about 100,000 bricks surrounding an infill of rubble, which can been seen in various places where we assume treasure hunters have been at work.

At the top on the tower and facing the river are twelve decorative panels, patterns of brick and cut stone. These are more commonly found in buildings in Ostia, the port city of Rome, and may give some indication of the background of the person who had the monument built.

Numerous excavations have taken place, the latest being in 2005. During the course of the work a stone built terrace was excavated, as well as a small building. A statue was also found, of Sabazius, an eastern deity very rare especially in Gaul and northern Gaul. Originally Phrygian, Sabazios was worshiped as a god similar to Dionysus. He was the son of Zeus and Persephone. The results of this excavation are here (or machine translated, here)


*In the same season Fayoles, the fourth King of Numidia, sent out of the
country of Africa to Grangousier the most hideously great mare that ever
was seen, and of the strangest form, for you know well enough how it is
said that Africa always is productive of some new thing. She was as big as
six elephants, and had her feet cloven into fingers, like Julius Caesar's
horse, with slouch-hanging ears, like the goats in Languedoc, and a little
horn on her buttock. She was of a burnt sorrel hue, with a little mixture
of dapple-grey spots, but above all she had a horrible tail; for it was
little more or less than every whit as great as the steeple-pillar of St.
Mark beside Langes: and squared as that is, with tuffs and ennicroches or
hair-plaits wrought within one another, no otherwise than as the beards are
upon the ears of corn.


  1. We've driven past this mystery structure many, many times, but never took the time to stop and take a closer look. Thanks for the close-up photos. There is a similar 'tower' in Rochecorbon called 'la Lanterne', just as mysterious. Martine

  2. Interesting structure.

    I'm surprised that Mr. Chappe didn't put a relay for his telegraph on top of it.

  3. chm. I bet he looked at it but even it his time I think it was a recognised as a historic monument