Orris: vestiges of the pastoral life in the Pyrenees

orriGrazing land in Ariège is insufficient at low and middle altitudes to support the herds of cows, sheep and horses for the entire year, so in late spring the farmer leads his livestock to the high mountain pastures where they will spend the summer and early autumn. This phenomenon is called the "transhumance."

In the distant past, the shepherd or cowherd who looked after the animals slept in a tiny, round hut made of stone called an orri, built by hand without mortar and sometimes topped with slate or tree branches. They measured no more than two by two and a half or three meters and were so low that standing upright was impossible. A wooden or stone shelf piled with leaves and pine needles served as a bed, which took up half the space.

In the Couserans and around Auzat the orris were sometimes grouped in little hamlets and each had a different function, notably cheese storage. While walking in the mountains you might come across some of these stone "igloos", especially above Massat, the upper Garbet river, and around Aulus in the Couserans. The principal sites in the haute Ariège are: Auzat and the valley of Soucelm, Vicdessos, the valley of Orgeix and the valley of Orlu. On the road leading from Massat up to the Etang de Lers a local association has cleaned up a large cluster of orris next to a stream -- it's a great picnic spot.

Many thanks to these photographers

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