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This page was published on: Wednesday, January 15th, 2014 at: 09:38 am
Commandery’s circular tower
Veyre-Monton is located in the department of Puy-de-Dôme and to the south west of Clermont-Ferrand in the foothills of the mountains of Auvergne, some 500m above sea level.
This medieval village is nestled on the bank of the small river Veyre in the once marshy Narce Basin which spreads at the foot of a curved cliff facing south-west.
The Butte de Monton is easily recognizable from the motorway A75 by its monumental statue of the Virgin Mary.
The village of Monton was probably founded in the 13th century.
Troglodytes are undergoing restoration
Monton thrived after the establishment of a Hospitaller Commandery in the 14th century.
The Hospitallers fortified their commandery and village in the mid 15th century.
Monton resembles a traditional bastide with a grid plan layout and identical plots allocated to new residents.
The commandery, which has long disappeared, was a quadrilateral laid out around an imposing circular tower that still dominates the village.
The fortified village had already fallen in ruins when the French Revolution broke in the late 18th century.
One of the attractions of Monton are the cave dwellings or troglodytes situated on the cliff that was once flanked by the exterior ramparts of the fortified village.
Troglodytes spread on various levels
Monton troglodyte dwellings were built during the 14th century during the Hundred Years War.
It is commonly believed though that the natural rock shelters might have been inhabited since time immemorial.
The site was known as Roche Donnezat until the 15th century.
Monton troglodyte dwellings spread over four levels.
The natural cavities formed in the hard volcanic rock and softer sedimentary rock known as tufa were enlarged and converted into proper dwellings.
Ancient cellar on the lower level
The inhabitants knew how to take advantage of the cliff’s natural shape by converting entire panels of tufa into facades which they opened with windows and doors.
They dug anchor points in the face of the cliff in order to fix support beams for the roof of their dwellings.
You can still see the imprint of the long gone beams and walls in the rock.
They widened, transformed and adapted their dwellings’ interior layouts.
Many alcoves of modest size were carved in the internal walls of the cliff and served as cupboards, shelves, pantry, safes, benches, seats, and bedrooms with built-in beds…
Some dwellings used existing natural partitions as walls, others had masonry walls.
The caves located at the lower level are deeper.
Undergoing restored work
Some can reach up to 13.50 m deep and often consist of several rooms placed in a row.
Monton troglodyte dwellings are never larger than 50m2 and the height of their ceilings – which are always horizontal or arched – varies between 1.70 m and 2.80 m.
It appears that ancient local populations were shorter (compared to our modern standard).
Masonry ruins found at the foot of the cliff correspond to different buildings that flanked the rock and allowed access to the caves with ladders and stairs.
Natural cavity and troglodytes
All these remaining architectural elements and the remains of soot on the walls today allow to differentiate the caves reserved for human habitation from those used as cellars, barns, dovecots, water tanks and even bread oven.
Monton troglodyte dwellings were inhabited until the 18th century, but some families remained there until the early 20th century.
Most dwellings have since fallen into ruins but the site is in a fairly good state as it is undergoing restoration.
Monton troglodyte dwellings have been listed in the inventory of ‘picturesque sites’ since 1987.
Troglodyte dwellings are also found along the Vézère Valley in Dordogne-Périgord.
Coordinates for Monton troglodyte dwellings: Lat 45.677714 – Long 3.169051