Life in Ruins Part VI – A Rock and a Hard Place.

Published May 4, 2012 by pennyrandall


France’s Auvergne region is a wondrous land of extinct volcanoes and geological curiosities. I was lucky enough to spend a while there a few years back researching the weird and wonderful sights the area has to offer and these incredible cave dwellings near St Pierre Colamine are one of them.

Carved into a cliff of soft volcanic tufa, these seventy  rooms on five levels were begun by the Celts, became a monastery in the 10th century and  later served as a feudal stronghold, when knights from a nearby castle moved in and added a stone facade and tower.  With  its network of corridors and staircases, ovens, latrines, living quarters, stables, armoury and even hospice,  this was medieval high rise living par excellence.

One of the most evocative rooms is the feudal chapel, where  a series of ancient frescoes is remarkably well preserved. There are five of them: the denial of Peter, Jesus receiving the crown of thorns, the body of Jesus lowered from the cross, the discovery of the empty tomb and the Virgin Mary enthroned with the child Jesus on her lap.

Legend has it that a group of Templars found refuge here after the suppression of 1309, whether this is true or not, it eventually passed into the hands of the Knights Hospitallers and was finally abandoned in the 17th century.

The caves fell into disrepair, their interior was plundered – even lime scraped off the walls and used as fertiliser – and the higher, more sheltered rooms were used to house pigeons.

Restoration work was carried out in the 1950s and today, the site is a fascinating place to visit, to imagine life as it was lived by the monks and knights who made it their home so long ago, and to savour the unique  atmosphere of  this troglodyte ruin.

14 comments on “Life in Ruins Part VI – A Rock and a Hard Place.

  • Wow! The view is spectacular. I would love to go through the dwellings. Could you imagine living there in the winter? I could definitely picture some great story ideas coming from these. I love the columns and archways in the one pic.

  • Oh yeah Rebekah, I bet it was bloody freezing! And as for story ideas, that’s what I love about all the places I’m writing about, in this blog, they’re where your imagination can really run wild. Places like this become a kind of mental library of landscapes and atmospheres and suggestions that stay with you forever, and inform and enrich your life as a whole as well as your writing. Well, that’s what I think, anyway. Thanks for stopping by (and also thanks to Vanessa, who I forgot to thank earlier!). xxp

  • That whole area is astounding, it’s a chain of extinct volcanoes and for a nerdy girl like me utter paradise. “Ooh, look! A sill! OMG over there – a crater lake!” “Stop the car NOW! It’s a volcanic plug!” You get my drift.And yeah, definately could see Templars there! Thanks for coming over! xxxp..

  • Reminds me of the Aztecs–a people I’m absolutely fascinated by. One of my stories I wrote in the past dealt with them and their history and the mystery surrounding their disappearance. These photos are priceless, Pen!! You feel like you’re right there. This would be an amazing adventure to learn more about.

  • So pleased you enjoyed the post and the photos Traci! And that it reminded you of something else too. Love the way stuff fires off connections like that. Thanks for stopping by hon. xxp

  • Wow Penny! These pics are amazing. Totally envious of where you live right now. So much rich history and all that greenery. Doesn’t quite compare to the mob history Vegas is known for. Not even on the same playing field. All of these pictures and the corresponding history have to demand some serious muse face time huh?

  • Hey Moira, thanks for dropping over. Gad you liked the pics and the history – yeah, Europe is lovely but so is the US and to someone like me who’s never been there, the whole Vegas atmosphere and mythology is fascinating too.xxp

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