The Carolingian aula of Doué-la-Fontaine

The Carolingian aula of Doué-la-Fontaine

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Doué-la-Fontaine is a commune in the department of Maine-et-Loire located south-east of Angers and south-west of Saumur. The territory has been occupied since Neolithic times and is located at the crossroads of several Roman roads, in particular the Angers-Poitiers road. During the Carolingian period, Doué belonged to the kingdom of Aquitaine. The place is referred to as Thedwat or Theoadus, "the ford of God" which may refer to a natural water passage or an ancient source, known since antiquity. The region also has many washhouses.


Louis le Pieux, born in 778, sixth child and fourth son of Charlemagne, has been King of Aquitaine since 781. According to the Annales Royales, the poem “Faits et gestes de Louis le Pieux” by Ermold le Noir (1) and the Life of Louis the Debonnaire written by the Anonymous said the Astronomer (2) , Louis learns of the death of his father Charles while he is at his palace in Doué-la-Fontaine.

Shortly after, overwhelmed by years and old age, César (Charlemagne) will join his ancient ancestors in the tomb. He was given a funeral worthy of his rank, and his remains are placed in the basilica that he himself had built in Aix-la-Chapelle. However, an express was sent to tell the son of his father's death. It is the rapid Rampon who leaves in charge of this mission; he flies day and night, crosses immense countries and finally arrives at the castle where the young monarch lived.

Beyond the Loire river is a fertile and convenient place; surrounded on one side by forests, on the other by plains, it is crossed by the peaceful waves of the river which vivify it; fish like it, and it abounds in wild beasts. It is there that the triumphant Louis erected a magnificent palace. Do you ask who he is, dear reader? His name is Thedwat (Gifted) "Facts and Gestures of Louis the Pious" by Ermold the Black.

It was on January 28, in the year 814 of Our Lord Jesus Christ, that the very pious Emperor Charles died. Around this time, the Emperor Louis, as if prompted by some foreboding, had indicated a general assembly for the day of the purification of Sainte-Marie, mother of God, in a place called Doué. (...) Life of Louis le Débonnaire , by the anonymous says the astronomer.

This same text also tells us that King Louis has four winter residences in his kingdom of Aquitaine, where he goes alternately in order to be certain of having the necessary supplies for himself and his men. Among them is the palace of Doué.

He (Louis) decided that he would spend his winters in four different dwellings, so that at the end of three years he would successively choose to stay during the winter of the fourth one of these four dwellings, namely, Doué , Chasseneuil, Audiac, and Ebreuil. Thus each of these estates, when its year arrived, had enough for the royal expenditure. Life of Louis the Debonnaire, by the anonymous says the astronomer.

Carolingian aula


In 1966, work was undertaken in the town to level a motte called “Motte de la Chapelle”. A mechanical device gutted the mound and uncovered traces of masonry. The site was immediately stopped and excavations began the following year. Led by Dean Michel de Boüard of the University of Caen, they last three years and uncover a vast rectangular building measuring 23 meters by 17 meters. This building, classified as a Historic Monument on December 19, 1973, is known under the name of "Carolingian house" or "Carolingian aula" (3).

This building has two doors. The main door, on the west facade, is about 3 meters high; the other, smaller, opens onto the south facade. Rectangular holes in the thickness of the wall, on either side of the doors, suggest that large beams could be installed to barricade them.

The thickness of the walls varies between 1.72 meters and 1.80 meters. The apparatus, very irregular, sometimes in small rubble, sometimes in larger blocks, sometimes in fishbone (opus spicatum) is characteristic of the early days of medieval construction.

The interior space is separated into two unevenly sized sections by a 1.24 meter thick shear wall. The most spacious room (178 m² to the north) had stone paving and a central fireplace. The other room (72 m² to the south) had a fireplace. The reluctance of this can still be seen through the south door: it is made of bricks, then tiles laid obliquely and finally by small carved stones. This room was probably a kitchen; this is what all the household waste found during the excavations suggests.

To ensure water supply, a well, always visible, is dug.

On the preserved plaster of the wall separating the kitchen from the aula, several later graffiti, dating from the end of the 10th - beginning of the 11th century, have been discovered. Made by a rather skillful designer, they represent rather complex scenes for graffiti, borrowed from the repertoire of painting or goldsmithing: thus are represented a crucifixion, a virgin and child, characters.

What building?

The palace of Louis the Pious

The structure discovered does not correspond to the palace of Louis the Pious, because it was undoubtedly destroyed by the Vikings. Indeed, between the years 850 to 900, the region underwent many raids which notably encouraged the inhabitants to take refuge in the caves and developed the troglodyte habitat in the region. This is particularly the case in Doué where the inhabitants took refuge in existing underground quarries. (4) used by stonemasons to extract sarcophagi since Merovingian times.

On the Loire, the Viking leader Hásteinn rages in particular, who takes advantage of the dissensions between the sons of Louis the Pious and in particular of the conflict between Charles the Bald (823, † 877) and his nephew Pepin II (823, † 864), about the kingdom of Aquitaine. In 845, Ancenis, Angers, Saumur, Chinon were pillaged. Angers was attacked again in 851 and 873.

The aula of Robert, Count of Poitou and King of Western France

The structure discovered corresponds rather to a construction carried out in the years 900 for the count Robert, brother of king Eudes (860, ♛888, † 898) and future king of West Francia (866, ♛922, † 923). In fact, in 853, Charles le Chauve created a vast command composed of the territories of Anjou, Touraine, Maine and the country of Sées which he entrusted to Robert le Fort (815-830, † 866), son of Count Robert III of Hesbaye. In 886, it was his son Eudes, Count of Paris, who took over this command. Elected king in 888, he left this command and the county of Paris to his younger brother.

The building therefore consists of a kitchen and a reception room, an "aula", a ceremonial room where the count received his faithful and where the main events of his public life took place. Traditionally, the "aula" is associated with a "camera", the count's private room, and a "capella", a place dedicated to worship. The building was burnt down around the years 930-940. The traces of reddening on the internal faces of the walls suggest a disaster triggered by a war operation, the context of which would be the quarrels between the Counts of Anjou and the Counts of Blois.

In fact, in 853, Anjou and the Blois region were part of the command attributed to Robert le Fort and were governed in their name by viscounts. Little by little, while the Robertians acceded to the crown, the viscounts of Angers and Tours emancipated themselves. Under the reign of Charles the Simple (879, † 929), Foulque Ier d'Anjou dit Foulques le Roux was called “count of Anjou” while Thibaut I the Tricheur (910, † 977), took advantage of the death of 'Hugues le Grand (898, † 956) to take the title of “count of Blois”.

The two lineages whose territories are strongly entangled then constantly clash, especially for the possession of the city of Tours.

The castle mound

Following this fire, the building was converted into a dungeon, by raising the walls. The gates were walled up and gates were opened, 5 meters higher. The building had a priori two levels. Wooden posts were planted in the ground to support the joists on which rested a floor separating the ground floor from the first floor. Finally, at the beginning of the 11th century, the base was packed to a height of about 5 meters and the aula became a completely blind cellar. Also, Doué is the oldest example of the conversion of a primitive "aula" into a defensive structure of the "castle mound" type.

The town of Doué depends on the lord of Saumur, Gelduin de Saumur, ally of the count of Blois, Eudes II (983, † 1037). He is opposed to Foulques Nerra (965, † 1040), count of Anjou. This one, around 1023, launched a devastating raid on the region of Saumur. During this campaign which will lead to the capture of Saumur by Foulques in 1026, the town of Doué falls into the hands of the Count of Anjou. The keep would then have been destroyed, leaving only the motte to remain.

Regarding the graffiti found on the plaster of the cross wall, kitchen side, Michel de Boüard, in his article devoted to the study of these [ref5], hypothesizes that they were made by prisoners . During the capture of Saumur, Foulques Nerra captures the provost of the city, Aimeri, and several of his sons. Perhaps they were held in the old kitchen of the aula, which became a cellar during the construction of the keep. Perhaps Aimeri was accompanied by his chaplain, hence the nature of the graffiti ...

(1) Ermold le Noir is an ecclesiastic, cleric of the house of Pepin I of Aquitaine. He was banished by King Louis the Pious for having incited his son Pepin I to revolt. A refugee in Strasbourg, he wrote the Poem “Faits et gestes de Louis le Pieux” in order to regain the emperor's favors.

(2) Nothing is known about this author, of whom no memory remains except his works devoted to Louis the Pious.

(3] La motte is located south of Doué-la-Fontaine, at the corner of Boulevard du Docteur Lionet and Impasse de la Motte, and cannot be visited.

(4) The Cellars can be visited; they are located at 1, rue de la Croix Mordret.


- Life of Louis the Debonnaire, by the anonymous said the astronomer.
- Poem, "Faits et gestes de Louis le Pieux", by Ermold le Noir
- Michel de Boüard, From the aula to the donjon, the excavations of the mound of the Chapel at Doué-la-Fontaine (10th-11th century), in Medieval Archeology N ° III-IV (1973-1974), pp. 5-110, Caen.
- Doué-La-Fontaine and its region, the Carolingian house, Doué-la-Fontaine Tourist Office.
- Michel de Boüard, The Carolingian graffiti of Doué-la-Fontaine (Maine-et-Loire), In: Reports of the sessions of the Academy of Inscriptions and Belles-Lettres, 115th year, N. 2, 1971. pp. 236-251.
- Joëlle Delacroix, Hásteinn, Viking leader between myth and reality, December 4, 2013,

Video: Fuegian steamer duck paddling at Bioparc Zoo de Doué la Fontaine (June 2022).