Background: The Mousseaux Life
Residing just to the south of the Loire river
in France, close to Doue-la-Fontaine
people farmed peacefully for decades. The summer months were
spent growing and then harvesting their famous wine
, while the winter
months were spent digging their homes. Yes, digging their homes-- what do
you do in your winter
? Endless vineyards covered their land,
each owner’s property marked off by a small stone fence
. The only things
that betrayed the farmers’ existences were these fences, the meticulously
s, and an occasional chimney
sticking out of the ground. Long
days were spent in the field and the blazing sun
, until the growing season
was over and then there was very little work to be done except for quarrying
stone, which could either be used to fetch a hefty price on the market or
be used to fence off one’s own land. It was this quarrying, and the
large open mine
s, that gave them their characteristic lifestyle: underground
Starting in the 1400’s, people lived and thrived in this
style, and an estimated 25,000 cave dwellers still reside in France (Kempe
7). In fact, the cave-dwelling life is having a comeback as architect
design modernized cave dwelling in France as weekend getaways (Kempe 151). However,
the bulk of the traditional cave dwelling winegrowers left that life in the
mid-1920’s for economic reasons. What they left behind are several well-preserved
villages and a bevy of tourist-centered restaurants, such as
the Rochemenier Troglodyte
Physical Structure of Rochemenier
The land is initially flat, covered in trees
and vines, with a grass-covered
ground that would little lead one to suspect the network
of caves below.
Then suddenly a natural looking gully
appears, a large hole in the ground.
This is where the site commenced: thousands of cubic feet of dirt and rock
were relocated. This was the courtyard
, and it took the longest to dig.
From here, branching paths go into the ground from the quarry to make “rooms.”
Originally, the doors of these rooms would be as large as the rest of the
room, to facilitate the removal of dirt in large carts, but then an edifice
was built in the front to block out the elements. Each of these rooms would
extend about 50 feet back, so as not to be too far removed from the light.
Farmers discovered that digging any deeper would leave the livestock prone
to disease (light kills many microorganisms). The rock walls are sandy and
give way easily to the touch. However, they absorb moisture to leave the
interior safe for storing perishables.
The overall structural design of the complex is a branching one, first several
large rooms come from the courtyard, and then a smaller courtyard
to the first through a tunnel
, and more rooms branch off the second courtyard.
These courtyards would often double as grazing ground
and then places to relax after a long day’s work. These cave
networks were generally owned by extended families, large-clan
that would improve the dwellings over generations.
Each room took four to seven years to build, depending on size and quality
so it comes as no surprise that they were such a valuable inheritance
Advantages and Disadvantages of the Rochemenier Village
The primary advantages of the housing style of the Mousseaux people were
ones. By living underground they obviously had more room for their
s above ground. Also, underground houses paid for themselves with
the rock quarrying done. Finally, it saved tremendously on heating costs
in the winter because the caves maintain a comfortable year-round temperature.
Of course, another cost-saver was the durability of the structures: they
last for hundreds of years, while the typical village—due to disasters such
—would have to be totally replaced every twenty years.
The low long-term upkeep became very attractive to families that envisioned
a long line of descendent
s. Modern cave dwellers have the advantage of
not having to pay tax
on underground structure: the surveying for tax purposes
is only done on above-ground structures (if this is now incorrect, please
let me know
Cave dwelling did have some disadvantages, however, that had to be addressed.
was a major concern, especially with the livestock
in various caves. Manure
had to be constantly removed to prevent disease.
Also, dwelling in caves tended to deprive one of light, but this problem
was addressed by the sheer number of hours the people worked out in the field
Kempe, David. Living Underground--A History of Cave and Cliff Dwelling. London:
Herbert Press, 1988.