Auvergne-Rhône-Alpes

Grottes de Jonas – Ancient troglodyte village

This page was updated on: Wednesday, January 8, 2020 at: 12:41 pm

Grottes de Jonas - cave dwellings

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

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.

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 repayrium - minor 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!

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.

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.

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
Picturesque village of Auzon, Petite Cité de Caractère in Auvergne

November 15 2019

Auzon, Petite Cité de Caractère in Auvergne

Auzon, a picturesque medieval town of Auvergne boasts an exceptional heritage that earned it the ranking of Petite Cité de Caractère
The Pont du Diable's largest arch - Saint-André-de-Chalencon i

March 17 2019

Pont du Diable medieval bridge in Chalencon

The Lord of Chalencon built the Pont du Diable – Devil’s Bridge in the 10th century to ease the transport of goods between his castle and the Rhône Valley
Chateau de Herisson

March 14 2019

Herisson, a medieval walled village ranked ‘small town of character’

Herisson, a picturesque medieval village nestled at the foot of the vestiges of the castle of the Dukes of Bourbon and ranked 'small city of character'
Puy de Sancy - Les Monts Dore

March 11 2019

Les Monts Dore, ancient volcanoes of the Massif Central

Les Monts Dore, a group of ancient volcanoes in the heart of the Massif Central, whose highest peak, Puy de Sancy, is France’s highest volcano

Sign up to our newsletter

Travel France Online will use the information you provide on this form to keep in touch with you and to provide updates via our newsletter. By selecting the boxes on the form you confirm your acceptance to receive our newsletter.

You can change your mind at any time by clicking the unsubscribe link in the footer of any email you receive from us, or by Contacting Us

We will treat your information with respect. For more information please visit our privacy policy page