Exploring an Old-Fashioned Village in Hautes-Landes

The Marquèze Ecomuseum (Écomusée de Marquèze) at Sabres in the Landes district gives us an insight into the almost self-sufficient lives of inhabitants of Haute-Landes at the end of the 19th century. Nestled in the heart of the Landes Regional Natural Park in Gascony (Parc Naturel Régional des Landes de Gascogne), the Ecomuseum immerses us in a world of conservation grazing where the rhythms of life were determined by seasonal work.

Grange et maison de Parrage à MarquèzeFondation du patrimoine

What was a village?

Marquèze was a village, or hamlet, located several miles from a town—in this instance, the town of Sabres. It was made up of several estates managed by an individual maître, or master, each of which comprised several dwellings and facilities that enabled almost completely self-sufficient living. The village that can be seen here today has been reconstructed using buildings that were already on the site and others from neighboring villages that were dismantled and rebuilt exactly as they were, according to an old land registry.

Before the pine forests were planted, the villages were surrounded by moorland. They were always built near running water, to allow natural drainage of the soil.
A village consisted of several estates, fields, orchards, and vegetable gardens that were cultivated jointly.
Most of the things needed for housing, food, and even clothing, were produced on site.

Détail de la maison Malichecq à MarquèzeFondation du patrimoine

All the houses were built from mud bricks and were half-timbered.
The first step was to twist and braid the moistened straw strands between the wooden splints. This mesh was covered with a mortar of clay, water, sand, and sometimes, dung.
Once dry, the whole thing was coated with lime.

Maison Malichecq à MarquèzeFondation du patrimoine

The Malichecq house is the oldest one on the Marquèze site.
Listed as a historical monument, it comes from Guiraut, another old-fashioned village in Sabres. It was rebuilt here in 2011, with support from the Fondation du Patrimoine (Cultural Heritage Foundation).
It is an example of a type of construction that has been in use since the 13th century, as an analysis of its oak timber frames revealed.

Maison du mineur à MarquèzeFondation du patrimoine

Each estate was built around its master's house. These can be identified by their size, and in particular, their canopied porches, which were supported by a clever arrangement of beams.
These canopied porches allowed the women of the house to do their sewing work under cover while still benefiting from the light.

This house, dating from 1772, is called the miner's house. It came from a neighboring village and was the first building to be transferred to Marquèze.

Cuisine d'une maison de maître à MarquèzeFondation du patrimoine

The masters' houses can also be distinguished by their fitted kitchens, which are separate from the primary living space where guests would be hosted.
Here is the kitchen of the Marquèze house, which was inhabited up until the 1950s.

Poulailler surélevé à MarquèzeFondation du patrimoine

Each property also had a well and a raised hen house like this one.
The chickens were put here every night so that they didn't get eaten by foxes or other poultry predators.

Chaudière de lamaison de métayer à MarquèzeFondation du patrimoine

In each estate, there was also a furnace, which was used in winter to make black pudding, preserves, and sausages.
In summer, the furnace was used to warm up water for the laundry.
Because the process of doing the laundry was called bugade, this space became known as the bugader.

Maison de métayer à MarquèzeFondation du patrimoine

Most of the houses were built facing east and west. The fronts of the houses faced east, to make the most of the sun. The more closed sides of the houses faced west, so that they were protected from the wind and the rain that could come in from that direction.

Only the farm hands, who quite literally worked with their hands, primarily as shepherds, had their houses facing towards that of their masters.

The fronts of the houses were covered in vines for various reasons. It allowed the inhabitants to produce a small quantity of wine, as the acidic, sandy soils were not suitable for large-scale production.
The vines were also useful for providing shade on the eastern side of the houses.
Here is a tenant farmer's house.

Intérieur de la maison de métayer à MarquèzeFondation du patrimoine

The tenant farmers' houses were the property of the masters of the estates. These dwellings were provided in exchange for agricultural work. The tenant farmers gave half of their main harvest to their landlords and also paid fees.

The houses were built around the central living space that contained the chimney, so that the fire could radiate heat through to the other rooms.

Potager du meunier de MarquèzeFondation du patrimoine

Each house had a garden with flowers and medicinal plants beside it. These gardens were tended to by women who knew which herbs should be used in cooking and which ones were for dyeing and healing.

Maison du meunier de MarquèzeFondation du patrimoine

The miller, a crucial figure in the village

The miller was a special person in the village. The millers' estates were located at the edge of a waterway, in this instance by the River Escamat, away from the other estates. Millers were among the richest inhabitants. Their presence was essential to the community, since they used to grind the cereals that were grown there. This mainly included rye, but also included sorghum, millet, and corn.

Moulin du Meunier à MarquèzeFondation du patrimoine

The mill was located on a millstream where the flow of water was controlled by a gate. When the gate was open, the water turned a wheel (a horizontal one in this example), which enabled the mill's two grinding stones to turn.
This mill has been restored with support from the Fondation du Patrimoine (Cultural Heritage Foundation).

Meules du moulin de MarquèzeFondation du patrimoine

It houses two different sets of grinding wheels, which are used depending on the size of the grains to be ground.
Each set consists of a rotating and a stationary grinding wheel.

Barrage du quartier de MarquèzeFondation du patrimoine

The dam is essential for the supply of water to the mill. When the level of the River Escamat is at its lowest, the dam is closed. The water is then sent to the millstream that leads directly to the mill.
This dam has been restored with support from the Fondation du Patrimoine (Cultural Heritage Foundation). A fish ladder was added during the restoration.

Boulangerie de MarquèzeFondation du patrimoine

Bread was made with the flour ground by the miller and was baked in the estate's bread oven. It was the inhabitants' main food source and they used to eat two pounds of it per day on average.
It was soaked in the soup from the vegetables that were grown in the gardens and dipped in dripping and even in lard.
Meat was only eaten on Sundays or holidays.

Bouquet traditionnel de la Saint Jean à MarquèzeFondation du patrimoine

The bread oven, like many other important buildings in the village, was decorated with little bunches of flowers.
These are St. John's Crosses, which were made from special varieties of flowers whose protective properties were supposedly heightened by the fact that they were picked barefoot on Saint John's day.

Troupeau de moutons landais à MarquèzeFondation du patrimoine

An ecosystem supported by animals

Sheep played an essential role in this ecosystem, as their manure enriched the very poor soil, allowing for the cultivation of grain and other essential foodstuffs for the village. The Ecomuseum still has a flock of 40 Landais sheep—a local breed that almost became extinct at the beginning of the 20th century.

Filage de la laine des moutons à MarquèzeFondation du patrimoine

The most beautiful sheep fleeces were chosen to be spun and knitted on site.
The rest of the fleeces were sold to quilters; it was one of the few commodities that the villages sold.

Bœuf Martin Chouan de MarquèzeFondation du patrimoine

Old Chouan (John in English) is one of the symbols of the Marquèze Ecomuseum.
The 13-year-old ox—now retired—is a cross between the Béarnaise and Blonde d'Aquitaine breeds and weighs a little more than a ton.

Étable des bœufs à MarquèzeFondation du patrimoine

Oxen were essential for carrying out work in the fields.
These two here are Bordelais cattle, another breed that almost became extinct in the second half of the 20th century.

Gemmage d'un pin dans la forêt landaise à MarquèzeFondation du patrimoine

Pine forest cultivation: A disruption to the conservating grazing society:

Under the reign of Napoleon III, the decision was made to open up the territory of the Haute-Landes region and bring it into the industrial era. The solution that was implemented was to systematically plant pine trees—a native species—in order to make use of their wood and resin. These vast territories of moorland, which had been communal up to that point, were then privatized.

The resin was collected by using drills on the trunks, in a process known as tapping. This could not be done with trees that were under 25 to 30 years old.
Each drill was used for about 4 years, then another side of the pine tree was used for collecting the resin.

It was only at the age of 70 to 80 years that the pine trees were chopped down. Their wood was then used to build frames or railway sleepers.

Tonneaux de résine de pin à MarquèzeFondation du patrimoine

The resin was stored in barrels on wooden pallets, before being collected by special carts.
At the period around the end of the 19th century, the resin was used for many purposes, especially in industry. For example, it was distilled to obtain rosin.

Mule à MarquèzeFondation du patrimoine

With the cultivation of the pine forest, mules replaced oxen, as their size was better suited to this environment and they could navigate around the tree trunks more easily.

Ancien train de MarquèzeFondation du patrimoine

The arrival of the railway line in Marquèze was another consequence of pine cultivation. This facilitated the export of wood and resin to Sabres, and then on to export ports like Bordeaux or Bayonne.

Rencontre avec Florence Raguénès - Conservatrice de l'écomusée de MarquèzeFondation du patrimoine

A meeting with Florence Raguénès, curator of the Marquèze Ecomuseum, who is describing the place and its concerns.

Credits: Story

We'd like to thank Florence Raguénès and Audrey from the Marquèze Ecomuseum for their time and their invaluable help in producing this content.

Follow this link if you would like to support the work of the Fondation du Patrimoine (Cultural Heritage Foundation).

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The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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