Wednesday, 27 January 2021

The Roman Castellum at Larcay

The castellum at Larcay is a Late Roman Empire military fortification on a terrace in the slope up from the Cher River at Larcay.

Roman castellum, Larcay, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Part of the curtain wall and a tower, along the eastern side.

Probably constructed towards the end of the 3rd century, like other similar constructions in Gaul, it seems to have been built on the site of an existing mausoleum, which was demolished at the time of constructing the fort. There are a number of unanswered questions about the site: why was it never finished; who occupied it and why was it built. It is very close to the heavily fortified Tours, which makes the need for a fortified enclosure here seem surprising. The extant remains comprise a part of the curtain wall and some towers.

In Antiquity Larcay was close to the major route between Bourges and Tours via the Cher Valley, and also several lesser routes, such as Truyes to Saint Martin le Beau, Truyes to Amboise and Tours to Loches via Saint Avertin. The Cher itself would have been navigable and seen people and goods transported back and forth.

Cellar under the Roman castellum, Larcay, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
Cellar under the wall of the castellum.

The instability in the Roman Empire in the 3rd century led to a reduction of economic activity and distruption of administrative functions. Tours was also facing incursions by Germanic Barbarians who by 250AD controlled northern Gaul. It seems likely that the fort at Larcay was constructed in response to these issues in the hopes of controlling both river and overland traffic close to Caesarodunum (as Roman Tours was called).

The castellum is a trapezoid of 80 x 66 metres, with the longest side along the river and a gateway to the south, on the opposite side, away from the river. The site is one of the best preserved of its type in France.

Roman castellum, Larcay, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
A section of wall and two towers.

The walls do not seem to have any below ground foundations, but have been raised on a tamped clay platform. Elements from the mausoleum previously on the site, such as fluted columns and carved stones, have been reused. In the 19th century cellars were dug under the walls for houses built up against the exterior walls. In the process stones were moved about and reused again.

The curtain wall is 4.2 metres thick to the south, but as little as 2.2 metres in other places, and standing 6 metres high. The structure follows a set pattern -- two small limestone rubble courses alternating with terracotta tiles (rather than bricks) enclosing a coarse block core of a mixture of limestone and flint as well as pieces of terracotta embedded in lime mortar. Very little of the original exterior surface render has survived. The towers are solid and constructed in the same way as the walls.

View across the Cher Valley, Indre et Loire, France. Photo by Loire Valley Time Travel.
The view across the Cher Valley from the castellum. The chateau in the distance is Moncontour at Vouvray.

The fort was abandoned at the end of the Roman era, but repurposed by Merovingian occupants, who reused some of the material from the old mausoleum for their own burials. Archaeological digs have found pottery shards and evidence of a palisade from the 15th century. In the 1970s the enclosure was divided up into gardens which have meant that the soil has been greatly disturbed, making the interpretation of archaeological digs difficult.

Today the castellum is part of a hamlet called La Tour, on the edge of Larcay, hidden away, no longer on the route to anywhere. All along the southern side the castellum walls have been incorporated into a row of houses.


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