While we were on holiday in the south of France recently, in the Languedoc, I noticed postcards on sale that appeared to be featuring something that looked like a pie chart. I didn't pay an enormous amount of attention I'm afraid, vaguely registering that it reminded me of the Round Table in Winchester.
On our last day we decided to visit the Oppidum of Ensérune, a pre-Roman village perched on top of a steep hill. We'd tried to find it on a few occasions and failed, but this time we were determined to get there. It was interesting to see quite such an old and extensive settlement, but to my surprise, when I arrived at the top, it was there that I found my pie chart spreading out before me.
Investigation revealed that it was called l'étang de Montady, the lake of Montady. The lake?
Apparently there used to be a lake in that area until the 13th century but it was stagnant and thought to be the cause of various epidemics. In 1247, the archbishop of Narbonne authorised four landowners to drain the area and make it healthy.
They had to construct the 10 ditches or channels converging on the central circular "redondel" which collects all the water and passes into the Malpas Gallery. This underground aqueduct then had to pass under the hill of Ensérune and emerge on the south side. It took 20 years in all to finish the work.
The upkeep of the system was given to the owners of the plots, the "pointes", and remains with them to this day. The area covers 430 hectares (1060 acres) and there are about 10 km (6.5 miles) of channels. It is still farmed today and the shape of the plots has been maintained.
At times, when there is very heavy rain, the area does flood again. It can take several days for the channels to drain the area completely.