Memories of the districts of Sète: from the “end of the world” to a popular residential area, the thousand-year-old history of Barrou

Memories of the districts of Sète: from the "end of the world" to a popular residential area, the thousand-year-old history of Barrou

Hélène Roube, présidente de l’association du quartier, et Jean Degioannis, ancien pêcheur. Midi Libre – KELMAN MARTI

Le Barrou. It’s one of those neighborhoods in Sète where if you don’t live there, you rarely go there. It is not the most lively in terms of events, but its comfort of life is one of the best in the city, due to its setting combining tranquility and sublime landscapes.

Here we are, in the heart of Barrou, in the center of Place Marcel Soum (Mouettes for the Sétois). The tramontane blows over the Thau pond. The drache discourages residents from leaving their homes. The inhabitants of this peninsula have been camping here for a long time. The first ones arrived not centuries ago, but millennia ago.

Le Barrou, a story that dates back to the Bronze Age

Imagine. The level of the pond is a few meters lower. The place is marshy. And not far away is a hill behind which the sea reveals itself indefinitely. No trace of a town. Only one or more huts. Normal, we are in – 900 BC J. C, at the end of the Bronze Age. It was at this time that the first civilizations came down from the scrublands to settle.

"We know this, because we found stakes, planks and remains of food underwater in a deposit", remembers André Freises, one of the authors of these discoveries. "The place was ideal. The shallow pond is full of fish and easily navigable, analyzes the former curator of the Paul-Valéry museum.

When salt was worth gold

Then, no more traces for centuries. The story does not stop there. It starts again in the 1st century and continues until the 5th. This time, we are on Roman soil. The archaeological discoveries of mosaics, walls or amphorae, made from the 1960s until more recently, attest to this.

“The inhabitants cultivated the land. Fishing was seasonal and important when fish were coming in or out of the pond to reach the sea. The problem was that they had to keep their catch for a long time,” recalls André Freises.

"For this, they had built salting ponds, cetarias in Latin (we can think that the name of Cet comes from there). With the production of garum (sauce made from flesh and/or viscera of fish fermented in salt, Editor's note), the trade works very well. The village experienced its golden age around 250", he reveals, before pointing with his fingertip, from his restaurant in La Galinette, to the terrace where a Roman necropolis was discovered.

Le Barrou, why this name ?

On the Sète peninsula there is another peninsula: Barrou. This name could take its origins from the word “barron” (in Occitan) which designates a mass of sand, rock and mud.

"Perhaps there is a story with the expanse of land in the neighborhood and that of Balaruc-les-Bains which form a sort of barrier in the pond", evokes André Freises, former curator of the Paul-Valéry museum and resident of Barrou.

In the time of the market gardeners

In the 9th century, under the reign of Louis I, known as “the Pious”, son of Charlemagne, it is assumed that monks from Aniane occupied saltworks in the neighborhood .

Overall, "the Middle Ages are moribund. We have no traces of it, says the one who occupies one of the oldest houses in Barrou and Sète. This is ultimately not so serious, as the biography of the neighborhood is already a very thick book and is a little closer to our times.

Exactly. In the 18th century, Barrou, not yet so named, was divided into three farms: Hautes, Basses (the tip) and Saint-Joseph (named after the old eponymous church located next to Place des Mouettes). There are many wine growers and, above all, market gardeners, if we exclude the few fishermen. Local fruits and vegetables sell like hot cakes at the market. This lasted until the middle of the 20th century.

From shipyard to urbanization

In 1925, after fishing and agriculture, the district became industrialized. A shipbuilding factory, the Chantiers Généraux, is established on the Pointe du Barrou, where shellfish farms and the Paul-Bousquet high school have taken up residence.

Memories of the districts of Sète: from the "end of the world" to a popular residential area, the thousand-year-old history of Barrou

The Barrou district in the 1920s with its Chantiers Généraux and its cultivable plains. DR

"There were hundreds of workers and even a railway line all the way to the tip", underlines Jean Degioannis, a former fisherman in the neighborhood. But the factory closed in the 1930s. "After the war, the neighborhood was still isolated and not very accessible. It was the end of the world. It was only in the 1970s that it became truly urbanized", remembers Hélène Roube, president of the Barrou association 34.

A neighborhood that has become very residential

This era is “the second golden age” of the peninsula. L’Amicale du Barrou brings madness to the neighborhood with its corsos, its parades of male majorettes, its entertainment… In 1976, sewerage was installed and more and more people from Sétois began to join the historic families of the tip in the brand new housing estates.

Memories of the districts of Sète: from the "end of the world" to a popular residential area, the thousand-year-old history of Barrou

The male majorettes of the Amicale du Barrou parading on avenue Victor-Hugo. DR

Over the decades, houses grow and nature becomes smaller and smaller, like "the energy of the neighborhood, unfortunately, deplore Hélène and Jean. Now, it’s very popular, very residential, with also Airbnbs. The commercial part is almost dead. However, there was a real 'cinema' effect, with the series Candice Renoir and Tomorrow Belongs to Us. The beautiful images brought people in."

"What is certain, announces Hélène, is that when we lived in Le Barrou, it must have been difficult to detach ourselves from it ."Perhaps all that remains is to tirelessly admire the sun setting, over this charming pond, calm and soothing for its inhabitants.

A “wild” environment to preserve

For Pierre, member of the Environment commission of the Barrou association 34, "Le Barrou is the most natural district of Sète". Protection of the environment, particularly of the “wild” north, and the biodiversity of the edges of the pond, classified as a Natura 2000 zone, is natural and necessary in the eyes of the association.

Thus, it organizes bank cleanings with several local actors, environmental walks, monitors the retreat of the coastline, removes wrecks with the blue brigade… "The objective is to keep the wild side while managing the increase in the number of tourists" , they say.

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