The site of the Fort-Freinet seems to have been inhabited from the end of the 12th Century – this is what the study of the archeological material found during the diggings uncover. The gradual abandon of the fortified village by the inhabitants took place around the end of the 13th Century. The people settled on the pass of la Garde which was nearer to the transport ways, to agricultural soil and also to the numerous springs.
The site was finally abandoned. Only the so-called “castle” continued to be occupied for surveillance purposes. It is probably this strategic function that gave the name of Fort-Freinet to the ancient village.
Its history finished in 1589 during the war of religions when Maréchal de la Valette, duke of Epernon, governor of Provence, ordered its preventative and definite destruction.
The Fort Freinet is registered as a natural exceptional site.
From the 18th Century people thought of the Fort-Freinet as the Provençal landmark of the Saracens.
These Andalusian pirates landed on the Provençal coasts in the 9th Century and settled for more than 80 years in the administrative district called “Fraxinetum” (from Latin fraxinus, ash-tree, these trees occupied a large part of the plain of Grimaud).
In 1965 archaeologists decided to dig on the site, hoping to find what the legend told: the ruins of a Saracen fortress.
Several diggings unearthed the vestiges of the forgotten medieval village – but no trace of an occupation of the site by the Saracens.
The moat and the question of water
The moat is entirely cut in the rock and achieves partially a depth of 8 meters. This construction had the function of a water reserve. There was no other permanent spring on the site. A water collecting system was set up in the moat: a large corridor allowed to collect the rain water and to fill a first basin closed by a barrier hewn in the rock. This basin fed a second “storage” basin.
Organization of the site
Following the unearthed vestiges, the “castle” was established in two distinct parts:
The “castle” at the top stretches out over 120 m². It is composed by 5 big rooms, one of which is somewhat smaller and probably the ground floor of a tower.
The village beneath the “castle” clearly separated from the latter by a road crossing the site. The village is constituted by some thirty houses fanned out on three or four levels of the hill with North-West exposure. Several ways allow the access to these different levels.
Most of the houses are hewn into the rock in order to form an even ground. The quarried stones are then used to build the walls. The builders had to cut drainage channels in order to drain away the infiltration water of the rock. You may observe several cavities in the walls which remind us of the existence of roofs and wooden floors.
The houses had probably several floors. The buildings were covered by tiles found in big quantities on the site. Most of these buildings were used for housing but some of them had apparently other functions.
The stagnant water in this profound room cut in the rock at a depth of about 3 m seemed first to indicate a collective cistern, a frequent and necessary element on sites without water resources. But several elements indicate that this room was rather used as a collective cellar:
The two stairs that reduce the water storage capacity were used to have access to the cellar.
The triangular kennel on the Northern wall was used as a support for a lantern and had no reason to be in a cistern.
The numerous notches in the Southern wall are joist supports. This means that the room had a ceiling corresponding to the ground floor of the building.
It is supposed today that the small circular room served as an oven. Some traces of an extended use of an important fire seem to confirm this. Archaeologists also found a paving that has now disappeared; the conception of the oven seems to indicate a roof in the form of dome.
Source: Conservatoire du Patrimoine du Freinet, Chapelle Saint-Jean, 83680 La Garde-Freinet, Tél. 04 94 43 08 57