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From the Roman road to the Cannon road

Via Confleuentana

This bridge is probably located on the route of the Via Confluentana, a Roman road which ran from Illiberris (Elne), up the valley of the Têt which it then left to join the Col de la Perche. In September 1777 (the date is inscribed on the pillar of the bridge), the renovation and extension of this structure was carried out under the responsibility of Pierre Poeydavant, general subdelegate of the province of Roussillon and the land of Foix.

The Battle of Olette  (28th August to 3rd September  1793) and the strategic Cannon Path

Between Mont-Louis and Olette, on the soulane of the Haut-Conflent, there is a path which was born out of a historical event:  the Battle of Olette. It is called the Path of the Cannons. It served to win a decisive battle for the French army, waged  by General Luc Siméon Auguste Dagoberte de Fontenille, against the Spanish army of General Ricardos to win back Olette and Villefranche-de-Conflentand prevent him from reaching Mont-Louis.

This fine strategist, in order to surprise the Spaniards who were based in the Têt valley, had a discreet road constructed at night through the forest of the Llançades leaving from Mont-Louis, which enabled him to place cannons carried by oxen up above Olette and bombard the Spanish square. The surprise was total. The French troops then descended to the assault of the town, driving the Spaniards out. The road was opened. The fortified town of Villefranche-de-Conflent fell just after (4th September  1793).

When Olette was the chief town of the canton !

Vernacular heritage

Intangible heritage

When Olette was the chief town of the canton !

« Twice a day, the whole school took over the square for playtime: hide-and-seek behind the plane trees and the carts, under the watchful eyes of three masters and two donkeys. The little schoolchildren spent their holed centime coins on tins of coconut sweets and barley sugars at the two bakeries.

Twice a week, Xiquette (in black headscarf and long dress) came down from Evol on her little Judea donkey to shop at Olette.  At that time, women had the choice of three butchers from whom to buy their beefsteak, and of five grocers for their cheese! She tied her donkey to the iron rings set into the walls, and when the saddlebags were full, she set off, riding sidesaddle on its back.” Jacqueline Trouquet, née Rigole 2016.

Once the horrors of the hostilities had ended, Olette regained the serene life of the pleasant chief town of the canton, which the wrath of the administration had not yet amputated:

A railway station with its regular traffic of passengers and goods and its stationmaster,

A tax office open every day to taxpayers,

A brand new school,

A « Ponts et Chaussées office, headed by an engineer in charge of a team of road builders,

A post office with its postmistress, an employee and a postman  who rode his ancient bike to do his rounds,

 Two brigades, one of gendarmerie and the other of customs officers controlling the few cars which went by on the National 116, and on which you could also see cows and mules going past,

A notary’s office

Two garage owners ready to do a repair or fill up a vehicle,

Workers or pensioners, miners or farmers, all could find the solution to any problem on the spot back then…

Who doesn’t remember the two cafés animated with their games of « truc” and « belote”, or the Hotel de la Fontaine, the very height of Roussillon gastronomy, its hare or wild boar stews, its succulent trout fished from the Têt that very morning, its miraculous cellar which contained the finest  wines, such as the delicious rosé of Saint Antoine pressed in the autumn on the square to regale the gourmet palates of the élite of the region?”.

Hubert Trouquet, 2016

Olette, between the river Têt and the Madres massif

Between the river Têt and the Madres massif

Olette is located at the entrance of the Haut-Conflent and les Garrotxes, on the left bank of the Têt. The territory extends northwards up the valley of Evol, to the southern slopes of the Madres massif (2469 metres), where the Gorg Negre (Black Lake, 2882 metres) one of the so-called marshes of Nohède lies. To the east, the heights are also important, with Mount Coronat culminating at 2172 metres.

The commune has on its territory the village of Evol (780 meters) and its hamlet  Thuir  d’Evol (830 metres), as well as the hamlet of the Bastide d’Olette, on the right bank of the Têt. This was the location of the castle which Jean de So, Viscount  Evol had built for himself in the fourteenth century,  and it is now the seat of the Regional Natural Park Catalan Pyrenees. In the 1980’s, on the same site, the fluorspar from an open-pit mine in Escaro was processed. This plant is now demolished, and has been replaced by a mushroom farm today.

The municipality is located in an essentially schistous region. Production of lloses (slates) used for roofs was the speciality of the Evol valley. A craft quarry, reopened in 2009, produces fine materials for the restoration of historic monuments.

 A little history

The first mention goes back to the year 875, when the name is written as Oleta.

Its situation along the road to Cerdagne  permitted  considerable development once the conflicts ceased. The date of 1603 is symbolic on this subject. That year, the church of Olette became a parish church, replacing that of Evol, and dedicated, like the latter, to Saint Andrew.

Many industrial activities, especially those related to metallurgy, led to a rapid growth in the population until the mid-nineteenth century, with a maximum of 1286 inhabitants in 1851. But a decline started in 1901, and the population fell to below 1000 inhabitants. This phenomenon accelerated between the two wars, but stabilized at above 600 people. The demographic curve started to reverse, and now Olette has 398 inhabitants.