Sunday, April 16, 2017

Friday April 14 - The French Underground -Troglodyte Farms

Rochemenier is a town about a half hour from here that is famous for having troglodyte caves. The geology of this area (where is Pat Dosch when we need him?) is limestone that creates natural caves which can then be dug out quite easily to enlarge the caves.

A troglodyte is simply a person who lived in a cave. Of course its meaning has been usurped to mean a person who chooses to be deliberately ignorant. From what we saw, these troglodytes were anything but ignorant.

In this area, there are many troglodytic homes where people continue to live in these homes which of course have been modernized for today’s lifestyles.

But these caves are something I’ve never seen before. There is a complex of 250 underground rooms comprising 40 farms. This idea is a bit difficult to get your head around – the living areas, animal pens, and “barn” areas for working are underground and of course, the farm fields are above ground. Two of the farms, dating from the 17th and 18th centuries, are open to visit as well as a couple of common areas – a meeting room and a chapel.
These openings led to work areas for pressing wine.

The earliest farms were dated from the 13th century and were lived in until the early 20th century.  
Room typical of troglodytic rooms we saw - fireplace, bed and table all near one another, but notice the light flowing in from a window on the right which opened onto a "courtyard" dug into the limestone opening a pit.
The rooms visited provided examples of wooden farm equipment, beds and other furnishings, and lots of photos of farm people from more than 100 years ago. 
Farming in the early 20th century

Farming in the early 20th century

I was surprised that you would go through rooms dug into the limestone and then suddenly you’d exit to an opening where you were essentially in a pit with open sky and trees 20 feet above you.
Passageways connected one farm to the other and to common areas
The farmers would quarry the limestone out of an area, selling it to local builders, then they would carve out the caves within the pit. They earned money from selling the limestone, so the homes were essentially cost-free.
Front of the cave closed with a "normal" house wall with window.
The living spaces, work spaces and animal spaces had to be ventilated and lit. These were accomplished by digging shafts upward to ground level and horizontally between rooms and out to the pits. 
Entrances to two different family homes

Families in the above houses might have had kids learning to walk. 

A large wine cellar held equipment for pressing grapes and walnuts. These farmers clearly had vineyards as lots of the equipment we saw was related to winemaking. 
Grapes were pressed between the two platforms and the juice would run off into containers to start making wine

Some rooms were surprisingly “normal” looking – they had wooden doors, exterior-facing windows, fireplaces and furniture like any other house of the period. Only their back walls gave notice that they were built into the limestone underground.
Compare this dining room chimney to the one below. 

The underground chapel was enormous with even a couple of gothic arches carved into the stone. It had (and still has) a door to the outside. Looking over where the door comes out to daylight, you can see a deep depression where other troglodytic houses also exist. 
The underground chapel exit was to the right of the large tree on the right. You can see that this area was also an "open pit" area with troglodyte dwellings below us.

Above the troglodytic chapel was a traditional church, built in the 13th century, La Madeleine-et-Saint-Jean. When this church was burned during the wars of religion, the underground chapel was used for services until the church was rebuilt.
Eglise Sainte-Madeleine-et-Saint-Jean

Interior of above ground church

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