Monton troglodyte dwellings in Puy-de-Dome
The origins of Veyre-Monton
Veyre-Monton is located to the southwest of Clermont-Ferrand.
This picturesque medieval village is nestled on the bank of the small river Veyre and at the foot of a southwest facing curved cliff.
The Butte de Monton peaks at some 500m above sea level.
The gigantic statue of the Virgin Mary that stands on its top can be seen from afar.
The Knights Hospitallers founded the commanderie of Monton during the 14th century.
They fortified it a century later during the Hundred Years War, and turned the village into a bastide.
Monton is indeed built on a grid plan with lanes that cross at right angle and lead to the main square.
All that left of the Commanderie is an imposing circular tower that still dominates the village.
The fortified village has already fallen into ruins when the French Revolution broke in 1789, but the villagers took refuge in the cliff's rock shelters.
Monton troglodyte dwellings' origin
La Butte de Monton has been inhabited for millennia.
Neolithic populations indeed inhabited the natural rock shelters formed in the hard volcanic rock and the tufa (softer sedimentary rock).
Locals enlarged these shelters and converted in 'proper' dwellings during the Hundred Years War and created an entire village!
Monton troglodyte dwellings indeed spread over four levels and the site was known as Roche Donnezat until the 15th century.
Troglodyte dwellings' layout
Medieval folks indeed took advantage of the cliff's natural shape.
They converted entire panels of tufa into facades and opened them with windows and doors.
They dug anchor points in the face of the cliff in order to fix support beams for the roof of their dwellings.
The imprint of the long gone beams and walls in the rock are still visible.
They widened, transformed and adapted their dwellings’ floor-plan.
They carved small alcoves in the internal walls of the cliff in order to create cupboards, shelves, pantry, safes, benches, seats, even bedrooms with built-in beds!
Sometimes they converted existing natural partitions into walls.
The caves located at the lower level are deeper.
Some are indeed 13.50 m deep and consist of several rooms placed in a row.
That said, these dwellings are never larger than 50m2.
The height of their ceilings - which was always horizontal or arched - varied between 1.70 m and 2.80 m.
It appears that ancient local populations were shorter than today!
Ruins of masonry found at the foot of the cliff show that buildings once flank the rock and allowed access to the caves with ladders and stairs.
All these remaining architectural features and the traces of soot on the walls today allow to differentiate the caves reserved for human habitation.
The other caves were used as cellars, barns, dovecots, water tanks and even bread oven.
Monton troglodyte dwellings, listed as a picturesque site
Monton troglodyte dwellings were inhabited until the 18th century.
However some families remained there until the early 20th century.
The last inhabitant was a weaver who lived there until 1914.
Most dwellings have since fallen in ruins, but the site is in a fairly good state as it is undergoing restoration.
The site was indeed listed in 1987 in the inventory of the ‘Sites et Patrimoines’.
Related article: Discover why a statue of Our Lady stands next to a WWI German gun
Department of Puy-de-Dôme
Coordinatess: Lat 45.677714 - Long 3.169051
Credits: photos and source text by Jean Piludu - Translated and edited by and for TravelFranceOnline