|La Pierre-Levée (Poitiers) - Fieldnotes
Visited September 14th 2008
My hosts had set aside a Sunday afternoon for the exploration of Poitiers. Having owned a local property for over twenty years, they had shown numerous visitors around it's ancient streets, cathedral and past Aquitaine splendours. It came as some surprise when I asked to visit the megalithic remains, as they didn't know of any.
Poitiers was founded by the Pictones tribe and their fortified centre or oppidum was named Lemonum, Celtic for elm, Lemo. Although the Pictones assisted Rome and accepted Roman control when Caesar defeated the Gaulic tribes at the decisive battle of Alesia in 52 B.C., Lemonum became the scene of resistance and it's oppidum was raised to the ground. Although La Pierre-Levée escaped this destruction, the might of Rome was to be felt alongside it with the construction of the major road from Lemonum (Poitiers) to Avaricum (Bourges) and onto Lugdunum (Lyon). When Poitiers became the capital for the roman province of Gallia Aquitania, aqueducts, baths and a vast amphitheatre, larger than the one at Nîmes, were constructed Unfortunately this was destroyed in 1857 during a period of "modernisation" of the city. Remains of Roman baths complex, built in the 1st century and demolished in the 3rd century, was uncovered 1877 and led to a more civilised conservation approach to the city's antiquities and history. In 1879 a burial-place and tombs of a number of Christian martyrs, hypogee martyrium were discovered on the heights to the south-east, the names of some of the Christians being preserved in paintings and inscriptions.
La Pierre Levée is located outside the old city walls in the district known as the Dunes. This lies across the river by Le Pont Neuf, which is the start of the old Roman road to Lyon (N151). If following this road into the city, when it becomes the Rue de la Pierre Levee, turn right at the cross roads with Rue du Dolman and the Pierre Levée is in front of you. If travelling out of the centre on Le Pont Neuf, you will need to turn right onto Allee du Petit Tour and then cross over Rue de la Pierre Levee onto Rue du Dolman. La Pierre-Levée is a cultural icon of the city and is well sign posted. La Pierre-Levée lies south-east of the city in the Dunes. Its sandy soil would have yielded poor crops and seems to have been set aside by the Pictones for the revered ancestors. A short distance away is the hypogee martyrium which is also a pre-roman sacred site.
La Pierre Levée means the raised stone or rock and is 22 feet (6.7 m) long, 16 feet (4.9 m) broad by 7 feet (2.1 m) high with a rectangular chamber. The large capstone sits on several supports along the southern side, but is broken and falls to the ground at the northern side. This damage apparently happened in the 18th Century, but facts are unclear as to what caused it. There are accounts of several stones, presumably the "pillars" which held up the northern side, being removed from the site and taken into the city. The site is mentioned in various records from the Middle Ages, with its Latinized name in different ways: Petra-Levata in 1299, Petra-Soupeaze in 1302, Petra-suspense in 1322. The Charter of 1302 also indicates its position: Super dubiam, the Dunes.
Church records indicate that the site was used as a public meeting place and several festivities were held here including the great fair of Saint Luke. The city prison used to stand behind the site but this was demolished after WWII and the area redeveloped.
Posted by Chance
18th June 2010ce