Saturday, May 15, 2010

Landes before the pine forest

Sheep at Marquèze Ecomusée
Peaceful sheep at the Marquèze Ecomusée.

I'm not a history fanatic, but sometimes knowing a bit of the history for a place helps to understand what you see here and now. As of today, it is difficult to imagine Landes without the big pine forest, the biggest planted forest in Europe, but in the beginning of the 18th century most of the region was covered by vast heaths and marshlands. Fifty years later started the changes that would lead to the enormous planted pine forest of today. Let’s have a look at life in those days, just before the big changes.

The villages were small. A church, a mayor and a few artisans, that was all. Most of life was centered to the farms who were almost totally self sufficient. The basic principles were simple. You needed to have enough sheep to get enough manure to get enough nutrition for the poor soils to grow enough barley and wheat to get enough bread to feed the inhabitants of the farm in bread. At that time, a person was estimated to need around 1 kg of bread per day – the equivalent of four baguettes. They had bread and vegetable soup in the week, porridge in the evening and meat almost only on Sundays.

Oak tree in Airial
Impressive oaks in what is called the Airial, the area around the farm.

The Marquèze Ecomusée is an old farm that shows what life was like at that time. On the farm you found almost everything the people needed to live. Oxen to pull the plough, sheep for manure, fields to grow wheat and barley, smaller plantations for vegetables and medical herbs, hens for eggs, a pig for sausages and ham, bees for honey and fruit trees. Oak trees were important, because they were used to create the bearing beams of a house.

Typical shepherd in Landes
Picture from approx. 1950, so here you already see some pine forest. This is a typical symbol for Landes, the shepherd on his stilts.

The shepherd was an important person. The shepherd on his stilts has become a symbol of this society. They used stilts to see far on the flat heaths and to walk far with long steps.

I visited the Marquèze Ecomusée with the children in May last year. To get out to the farm you have to start with a short train ride. We started by looking at the mill and saying hello to the black pig Papillon. They we joined a very interesting guided tour, looked at the different houses, the tools and learned about life back then. We ended the visit with the sheep that are kept freely within the farm area, to keep the grass short and nice.

The train at Marquèze Ecomusée

The mill house in Marquèze Ecomusée

Vegetables and medical herbs


Hen house


  1. Did your kids like it?
    I went there as a kid, and I actually hated it, I was bored to death.
    But now, I really want to go back as an adult, because I know I missed something interesting and instructive (mmm... something I could do this summer when I move back to the South West)

  2. Oh, trop de bons souvenirs resurgissent. Je l'avais visité avec mes parents quand j'avais 13-14 ans et je m'en rapelle encore. Il va falloir que j'y revienne avec mes enfants.

  3. Hi David! My children loved the train! They also love animals, so the little baby ducks, the big pig and the sheep were great too.... The guided tour was rather boring to them, but ok since it didn't last too long.

    Maybe you were in the wrong age when you came, not young enough, not old enough?!

  4. Yeah, I was really young, about 8 or 9. But I'm sure I'd enjoy it now.

  5. Jag tycker också det är spännande att veta något om en plats historia. Det gör ju att man på ett annat sätt förstår varför det ser ut på ett visst sätt eller varför människor beter sig som de gör.


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