Saturday, December 27, 2008

Finally, A Post About France, Roque Sainte Christophe

In May of 2006 Nancy and I took our tour of France with the intention of finding the region to buy a house. We started in Provence, (beaucoup euro) then went to Mirepoix and Leran, which we found both beautiful and reasonably priced. Then we went off to the Dordogne. It was very beautiful and expensive, and in addition, we heard so many English voices we knew it had already been discovered. While we were there we saw the Roque Sainte Chistophe. This large prehistoric settlement complex is found about 9 km north of Les Eyzies, on the south bank of the Vezere River. It's in a very scenic and attractive location, and by a stroke of luck, we rented a house for a week about 100 yards from the entrance. La Roque St Christophe is the largest such settlement in Europe and our first impressions were how similar it was to Mesa Verde in Colorado. The differences are obvious, of course, the climate and the relatively short length of time Mesa Verde was occupied. The similarity is of course how a culture took a natural feature, such a overhanging rock, and made a fortified village. Another striking difference is that in Mesa Verde much of the structures are intact, whereas the buildings here have been cannibalized for other villages in the region.
Roque Saint Cristophe is an extensive series of caves that have been carved out of the soft limestone cliff, initially by the action of the river. The cliff is at least a half mile in length (800 metres) and around 90 yards (80 metres) high. Over the years man carved all kinds of artifacts into the limestone, including shelves and passageways. The walls are covered with all kinds of slots, hooks, steps, handholds and other indentations too wierd to figure out.

The site from the air showing the river on the far right.The village was in the dark crease between the new road and the forested top of the cliff.

Approximately 55,000 years ago man first started to inhabit these natural caves. From the 6th - 16th centuries that the cliff also became developed as a village, with numerous buildings and fortifications backing onto the cliff. It seems likely that the village was occupied continuously during this entire period, until it was finally abandoned in 1588.
Lifting tools were quite massive and must have hauled up considerable amounts of food, firewood and water too.
Notice the carved archway, the scaffolding and the knotted rope hanging down. Your guesses are as good as mine.

Models of the tools they used to haul up supplies are actually in working order although we didn't get to see them in action. The must have used some of the rock from the site itself and other from elsewhere in the region. This one relied on men going around in a circle. A capstan winch on a sailing vessel is very similar.

Fortified stairways were carved out of the limestone. Luckily, limestone is a very soft stone.

The site has re-creations of what the settlement might have looked like back in the day, both in miniature, and in life-size. There would have been structures on the ground level as well. Impossibe to defend but easy to access. No elevators to the second level. Nancy took all of these pictures, with the exception of the one I stole from another website about this most amazing place. Remember kids, click on 'em to enlarge 'em.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

This is my first day back to my office...and computer...since Christmas...and I am happily greeted by some some new commentaries from "The Francophiles"! What a pleasure to hear new Yellowstone stories and see another area of France!

Happy New Year, Mr. & Mrs. Scrooge!