Grottes de Jonas – cave dwellings

The Grottes de Jonas are a series of cave dwellings or troglodytes.

Grottes de Jonas
Grottes de Jonas

They are located in the municipality of Saint-Pierre-Colamine, about 50kms southwest of Clermont-Ferrand.

This exceptional site, now open to the public, was inhabited without interruption until the French Revolution.

The Grottes de Jonas are ancient caves formed by natural erosion, but enlarged and converted into dwellings by men.

The Celts were the first cave dwellings builders.

As soon as 400BC, they indeed dug the volcanic tuff to build a fortified village.

Grottes de Jonas - Bread oven
Bread oven

It is believed that cenobites monks, a religious community that lived in isolation, moved to the Grottes de Jonas in the late 10th century.

However, medieval religious communities were then dependent on the goodwill of the local lord.

As a result, many eventually disappeared.

The Grottes de Jonas monastery therefore disappeared during the 12th century.

The Hundred Years War forced the peasants living in the valley to take refuge in the rock shelters and fortify them in order to escape the English attacks.

Fortified Grottes de Jonas

Texts from 1316 indeed refer to the caves as castrum seu repayriumminor fortified place.

All that is left of these basic fortifications, though, is a small defensive building partly dug into the rock.

It partly overhangs the cliff and you can clearly see loopholes in the walls.

Manoir des Grottes de Jonas

It was indeed a ‘proper’ village with a chapel and even manor-house!

Grottes de Jonas - Romanesque chapel
Romanesque chapel

Medieval knights traditionally lived at the court of their lord.

However, in the 13th century they were granted fiefdoms and permission to built their own mansions.

The Grottes de Jonas and the land attached it therefore formed a knight’s fiefdom.

The Manoir des Grottes de Jonas started, though, as a large hall dug straight into the rock.

It was later extended with a building partly dug into the rock and partly overhanging.

A tower, an architectural feature reserved to the nobility, was also added.

Village des Grottes de Jonas

The village had about 60 houses linked by a network of corridors and tunnels.

They spread over four levels interconnected by stairs carved into the cliff face.

Grottes de Jonas - Frescoes in the Romanesque chapel
Frescoes in the chapel

The most impressive of these staircases is the helical main staircase, which has 89 steps!

A section of the Romanesque chapel collapsed in 1706.

However, most frescoes that adorn the walls fortunately survived through the centuries.

They are considered a masterpiece of Auvergne Romanesque art!

They represent five themes:

Peter’s denial, Jesus receiving the crown of thorns, Jesus’ body taken down from the Cross, the discovery of the empty tomb, and the Virgin with the child Jesus on her lap.

The chapel remained in use until the Revolution.

However, the troglodyte village and manor house were abandoned during the 17th century.

Grottes de Jonas chapel
Chapel

Some buildings were converted into dovecots, but most were left to fall in ruins.

The Grottes de Jonas has since been restored and open to the public.

Countless vestiges of everyday life are still visible.

You’ll therefore see the village bread oven, old dwellings interiors with their living rooms, bedrooms, attics and basements.

You’ll impressed to discover that it even had latrines equipped with a basic sink, a most unusual feature during the Middle Ages!

The Grottes de Jonas are round the corner from the Fairy Chimney in Cotteuges; you can visit both sites within half a day!

Department of Puy-de-Dôme – Saint-Pierre-Colamine – Auvergne region
Coordinates Grottes de Jonas: Lat 45.540112 – Long 2.992079

Credits: Photos and source article by Jean Piludu – Article translated in English and edited by and for travelfranceonline.com – Photo Wikimedia Commons: header

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