La Gaufresenque, the Gallo-Roman village of potters
La Gaufresenque is an archaeological site and open-air museum in situ located on the eastern outskirts of Millau.
This ancient Gallo-Roman village of potters dates from the 1st century AD.
Contadomagus – The market where the two rivers meet – indeed developed on fertile land, at the confluence of the rivers Tarn and Dourbie.
The Roman potters obviously thought that this was a prime location!
Indeed, the land contained large deposits of clay.
The vast oak forests on the surrounding hills provided the wood necessary to work their kilns.
And of course, the Tarn and Douvie provided unlimited access to water!
Finally, the Roman road connected La Gaufresenque to the region’s main city, Rodez!
But above all, this road also had access to the major Roman road that led to Spain.
It therefore facilitated the city trade with the outside world!
The prosperous and thriving city of Contadomagus specialized in sigillated pottery, a technique the Romans imported from Ancient Greece.
La Gaufresenque potters, the specialists of sigillated pottery
Sigillated pottery has indeed several unique characteristics, seen as innovative at the time.
Firstly, it is made from red clay adorned with patterns in relief then lacquered.
Secondly, it is systematically stamped with a pottery workshop’s seal, hence its name (the Latin word Sigilla means seal).
The potters of La Gaufresenque developed a semi-industrial production which boasted an impressive scope of styles, shapes and decors.
They engraved their moulds with patterns in order to reproduce the same patterns series over and over.
They fired their potteries in collective kilns which had a capacity of 40,000 jars per batch.
Casting, drying, enameling and firing in series enabled them to mass produce and therefore create mainly for export.
Their designs represented gladiator fights, mythological and daily life scenes, domestic animals, wildlife and plants.
However, thiss mass production was, however, of very high quality.
Pottery produced in La Gaufresenque was indeed used in ordinary homes, but also in palaces and even as offerings in tombs.
Pottery marked with stamps from 600 different potters from La Gaufresenque were indeed found across the Roman Empire (which then stretched from Africa to England).
It undoubtedly proves that La Gaufresenque was the Gallo-Roman capital of ceramics.
The city thrived for four centuries, until the Fall of the Roman Empire.
La Gaufresenque, an open-air museum in situ
The once active city fell into oblivion, and the pottery industry was never revived.
All that is left of it are ruined houses, workshops, kilns, temple columns and a hypocaust.
Among these are the vestiges of a huge collective kiln whci could fire about 40 000 vessels per batch!
You’ll also see the foundations of dozens shops, workshops (still containing clay deposits), washing and drying chambers.
And of course, you’ll see countless fragments of discarded pottery dumped in waste pits.
The site unfolds over 10 hectares, however, only 2500m² have been excavated so far; excavations are indeed still ongoing.
La Gaufresenque has therefore not yet revealed all its secrets; it will be interesting to monitor the site over the years.
This open-air museum is nestled among cultivated fields and meadows.
It can be disappointing at first glance as only the buildings’ foundations are left, however, it’s really worth a visit.
You should then visit the Millau Museum in order to discover the impressive collection of potteries found in La Gaufresenque.