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SORDE L'ABBAYE Landes, France.

Commune of the Pays d'Orthe. (In the Middle Ages it was known as Sordo or Sordi, later Sordua; the Benedictine abbey was called Monasterium Sorduense.) In the Roman period the region was part of Novempopulania, whose capital was Eauze. Situated upstream from the confluence of the mountain torrents of Pau and Oloron, Sorde was a crossing-point and settlement from prehistoric times on.

To the N a rocky spur rises above it, with sites that go back to the Acheulian period under its S cliff. In the Bronze Age camps were set up on top of the spur. With the coming of the Pax Romana the people moved down into the plain and a settlement grew up on the banks of the Oloron river close to a road running from Burdigala (Bordeaux) to Spain. Sorde was probably the first stopping-place on this road after Aquae Tarbellicae (Dax), the ancient capital of the Tarbelli. The Roman road is still visible and in use.

The cultivated land in the commune abounds with Roman and mediaeval potsherds. Two structures have been partly excavated, one in the area called Barat de Vin, the other in the abbey close.

1) Barat de Via or de Bin. The site has attracted attention because of some exceptionally well-preserved walls, 4.5 m high with gateways and windows of stone and brick masonry, and also because of a mosaic floor discovered at the beginning of the century. Excavations in 1964-67, not yet published, uncovered several buildings belonging to a complex that may have served as a statio: a large courtyard, with a series of rooms on the NE side opening onto a portico, and a great gallery on the SW with an openwork rear wall overlooking what used to be a branch of the river. At the W corner are baths; their plan is clear and the superstructures are partially preserved. Built apparently in the 3d c., they were modified in the 4th c. and embellished with stucco and geometric mosaics. The plan is very like that of the baths excavated in the abbey of Sorde at Las Hies in Jurançon. An alveus projecting toward the outside opens into the frigidarium. The adjacent heated rooms were probably vaulted. Their hypocausts are well preserved; hot air was drawn off vertically by means of wall flues. The spacing and fixing of these flues is recorded by terracotta sockets fastened to the walls with large nails. The caldarium has two pools along its W wall. The windows lighting the hot rooms are exceptionally large, and many glass fragments have been found below them. The common use of window glass in the 4th c. made it possible to improve lighting without loss of heat.

2) Villa of the abbey (2 km W of Barat de Vin). Mosaics were found in 1870 and 1957 in the abbey close, and excavations 1957-64 led to the discovery of a group of buildings that extend into nearby estates where they cannot be investigated. Three periods are represented. A bath building, originally freestanding and erected ca. the 3d c., was joined (ca. 5th c.) to the W wing of another building by a peristyle courtyard. All the mosaic floors of the latter building can be dated to the 4th c. by coins of Constantine's reign; one coin was included in the nucleus of one of the floors. These are decorated with geometric designs: checkerboards, octagons formed by two interlaced squares and developed by lozenges. Some emblema have designs of plants, birds, and canthari. These finds are in a collection in the abbey. The plan of the baths is very like that of Barat de Via.


L. Palustre, Congrès scientifique de Dax (1882) pl. LXXI; Dufourcet et al., L'Aquitaine historique et monumentale (1890) 51; J. Lauffray, Bulletin des amis de Sorde et du Pays d'Orthe (1962, 1965, 1969); C. Lacoste, “Les mosaïques gallo-romaines du département des Landes,” Bulletin de la Société de Borda (1962); J. Coupry, “Informations,” Gallia 19 (1961) 396; 21 (1963) 332-35; 23 (1965) 436-39; 25 (1967) 367-69; H. P. Eydoux, Les terrassiers de l'Histoire (1966).


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