Souzay Champigny Troglodyte Shopping Centre

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We’re on our way back from Saumur to Turquant, having just cycled up hill and down dale in the opposite direction. We’re on the riverside cycle path on the Loire à Vélo route, which has just taken us through a series of troglodyte houses parallel to the river when another hilly path takes us up a winding street on the other side of the village of Souzay.

The tunnel on our cycle bath

The tunnel on our cycle bath

We have doubts – are we really supposed to go through that tunnel?

Vaulting at the entrance to the 11th century troglodyte shopping centre

Vaulting at the entrance to the 11th century troglodyte shopping centre

We stare in amazement as we get closer. A vaulted troglodyte village!

Wine press shaft called a "jitte de pressoir"

Wine press shaft called a “jitte de pressoir”

The first thing we see is a “jitte de pressoir”, a sort of stack through which grapes were poured onto the wine presses below.  Jean Michel explains that his grandfather used to have one.

Village well now fenced off

Village well now fenced off

The next thing we see is the village well which was shared by the villagers

Mediaeval troglodyte grocery shop

Mediaeval troglodyte grocery shop

We then come to a mediaeval grocery shop with mullion windows on rue de Commerce which, the sign tells us, operated as a busy trading street from the 11th to the 19th century! More shops follow. A troglodyte shopping centre!

A typical platform

A typical platform

We continue through the underground labyrinth, with its many empty shops and overhead caves. It’s very eerie as it is late afternoon in spring and not another soul in site.

Subsidence has endangered some of the caves

Subsidence has endangered some of the caves

A more open area follows with an 18th century pigeon house. There is an oven with a long table and benches.

An 18th century pigeon house

An 18th century pigeon house

Signs along the way explain consolidation techniques used since renovation began in 2002, the subsidence that produced the open areas and the quarrying of local tufa stone for construction, which is how the village originated .

Taking quarried stone down to the Loire

Taking quarried stone down to the Loire

The blocks of tufa extracted from the rock and cut to size were taken out through a shaft to the level below using a pulley system. The next person in line placed them in a cart that took them down to the river. This very practical timer saver meant the carts didn’t have to jostle their way through the narrow, winding hillside streets.

If you look closely, you can see table and chairs, cooking utensils and even a bed!

If you look closely, you can see table and chairs, cooking utensils and even a bed! 

It’s easy to understand why the villagers quickly took over the resulting cavities once the stone had been removed.  Certainly a cheap way to get a house. I’d like to know how they got across the shaft in the sketch though!

All_About_France_blog_linky_xmasThis post is an entry in Lou Messugo’s All About France montly link-up. For more posts about France from other bloggers, click here.

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14 Responses to Souzay Champigny Troglodyte Shopping Centre

  1. Susan Walter says:

    Wow!! and Damn!!! we were up that way yesterday to see a client planning a tour and to check out the fritillaries. We got as far as Montsoreau. If only we’d gone that bit further!

    • Rosemary Kneipp says:

      What a pity! My post was one day too late. Next time! It’s really worth the detour I can tell you!

  2. Susan Walter says:

    PS. Wouldn’t they have just walked around the shaft? It would have been a hole just big enough to get the stones down, not a great trench. It’s the equivalent of the jitte de pressoir, but for stones.

  3. breadispain says:

    This is so cool! I don’t know what else to say…it’s just COOL!

  4. Pingback: Fontevraud l’Abbaye and its Extraordinary Kitchen | Aussie in France

  5. Alberto says:

    g’day from a beautiful Brisbane amuutn Sunday. Breakfast in the garden with Jane W and Jane J all of us planning for our 2012 European Adventure. and me, looking forward to lunch under the trees in the Tuileries on a sunny Paris afternoon.

  6. Margo Lestz says:

    How interesting! I’d love to visit these troglodyte structures. Thanks for posting – I’ll have to add it to my list.

  7. Jill BARTH says:

    Wow, what a trip through time. I’ve never seen anything like it. Thanks for sharing these photographs!
    Jill BARTH recently posted…New Wines from Wineries You KnowMy Profile

  8. I’d heard of troglodyte dwellings in the Loire but I had no idea of their history or that they had shopping centres! Amazing stuff Rosemary and just like most other commenters, I’ll have to put them on my never ending list of places to visit…one day. Thanks for linking up to #AllAboutFrance, I hope you’re having/have had a great trip down under.
    Phoebe @ Lou Messugo recently posted…All About France #14My Profile

  9. We have done some cycling along the Loire and seen some troglodyte dwellings, but nothing quite like this. I might have to go back! #AllAboutFrance

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