Life in Ruins Part IV

Published March 14, 2012 by pennyrandall

Whereas last week’s village, Oradour-sur-Glane, was a stark reminder of the evil humankind is capable of in war, this one, Naours, shows us just how tenacious we can be when our world becomes a battleground.

Up to 2,000 people at a time found refuge in this underground complex while war ravaged the northern French countryside they lived in. It was used during dozens of conflicts over hundreds of years, from the Barbarian invasions of the Roman Empire in the third century right up until the French Revolution.

What’s left isn’t pretty. It’s grim and gritty and basic, exactly what you’d expect somewhere used as a place of safety in troubled times to look like.

The tunnels fell into disuse after the revolution until their rediscovery by a priest a century later. English troops used them during the First World War; during World War II, the Nazis used them as a munitions dump and Rommel’s staff headquarters.

Two kilometres of excavations on three levels contain 300 rooms, 28 galleries, 12 public rooms, a chapel, six chimneys, a jail and a law court.

Between five and eight people shared rooms, which were staggered on either side of passages to give some degree of privacy, which in these cramped and uncomfortable conditions, must have been essential.

Imagine the heat, the smell, the whispered conversations. The flow of human traffic through the chalky tunnels, animals tethered to the walls, possessions piled in corners.  Listless children playing in the shadows. Women crowded under the chimneys, cooking, knowing their smoke was routed up through a nearby miller’s cottage but worrying all the same their hiding place would be discovered.

In short, this must have been a very crowded and tense place to live. Yet at the same time, a very hopeful one, where that basic will to survive joined forces with human ingenuity, determination and endurance.

Like I said, not a pretty place.  But an evocative one. A fascinating one. And a powerful one.

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9 comments on “Life in Ruins Part IV

  • Hey Rebekah, the tunnels are probably bigger than they look in the photos but all the same I wouldn’t have liked to have spent much time down there! It’s a brilliant place to visit though. Glad you’re liking the ruins, will have another next week…thanks everso for coming by and commenting and retweeting and everything,,,xxp

  • Love the posts, Penny. This does look, like Rebekah said, very basic. But then, I don’t suppose I’d care too much if this was my way of getting away from whatever was after me. Its amazing the things people can do, when they put their minds to it.

  • Hey Vanessa,you’re absolutely right, when someone’s out to get you, you wouldn’t be too bothered about creature comforts. And yeah, totally agree, people can be absolutely amazing. I’m so glad you’re liking the posts…thanks for the retweet and stopping by and saying hi..xxp

  • The world you describe is eerie. I almost feel like I’m there and the pictures complete the image. Can you imagine living underground like that? Terrifying. I’m claustrophobic anyway and it would be a nightmare for me. I once had a chance to go underground to see the Native American tunnels in Cincinnati but couldn’t do it. I felt like I was going inside a coffin and the space was so confined–I had to retreat back the way I’d come. But I would give anything to have been able to see what it was like inside. Pictures like these help flood my imagination.

  • I’m really pleased you like the pictures Traci, the places I’m posting about really inspire my imagination too. Really sorry to hear your experience at the Native American tunnels, I’m the complete opposite – if there’s a cave or tunnels to explore anywhere I go, I head straight for them! It’s either my inner cavewoman or inner troll busting out there! Thanks so much for stopping by. px

    • I have claustrophobia and it tends to get the best of me. Thankfully, some of my family take pictures and I can learn from them and imagine what it’d be like. I did force myself to do some cave exploring to a degree at Nelson Ledges here in Ohio a couple summers back. It was fun–until we came upon a rock leaning over the passage making a slim path through it. We tried to slide through but there wasn’t enough space so we had to go back. Luckily though, we ran into what’s called the devil’s icebox. THAT was purely amazing. All that chill and beautiful waterfalls. Someday, maybe I’ll get myself up to speed with exploring underground. Until then, amazing pictures like these fuel my imagination.

  • Wow! This is very interesting. I’ll admit I’m not a fan of the past, lol, so the way life was “back then” has never interested me. Or at least not too much. Social studies in school was always boring to me, but it was filled with dates and wars and things I didn’t want to think about. When history is presented to include everyday life, the cooking, child rearing, things that directly speak to me as a person, then it takes on more interest.

    Thanks for these insights and the information, Penny. 🙂
    Also, if interested, no pressure, lol, I tagged you.
    http://www.jenniferfischetto.com/2012/03/more-about-me.html

  • Hey Jenn – In school, they pay a lot of attention to political history (or they did when I was there lol) but there’s so much more to it than that. The connection to the past you get when you look at people’s everyday lives is one that fascinates me, and I’m really pleased I caught your interest too.
    Thanks for tagging me too, it was very sweet of you to think of me.xxp

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