Archive for August 2013

Pigeonniers / Colombiers / Fuies / Dovecots de la Dordogne

DSCF0530The Dordogne has a wonderful variety of pigeonniers  (dovecots in pigeonnier sketchEnglish)…introduced to France by the Romans, they have been a source of food, manure, status and architectural flair for almost 2000 years. Until the early 14th Century , anyone in France could own a pigeonnier, but during the middle ages, they were restricted to people of high status with many rules and regulations determining their physical size and capacity. The higher the social order of the household or church, the larger the pigeonnier could be. The typical pigeonnier has an open interior with small nests suitable for a pair of nesting birds, some of the largest pigeonniers could house up to 2300 pairs of pigeons, I wouldn’t want the job of cleaning out their boxes !  For the poor peasant farmer trying to sow his crops,  swarms of pigeons ( generally owned by the aristocracy ) descended on the freshly tilled and sown soil and devoured his valuable seeds. Up to the French Revolution, many of the ‘ citizens complaints ‘ to the local governor were related to this issue, after the French Revolution,  in 1789,  the laws were changed and  again, anybody could breed and own pigeons, but there were regulations decreed to enforce the containment and feeding of the birds during certain DSCF0515periods of the year, including sowing and harvesting time. The name colombier and fuie is used to describe a pigeon house in early writings but  in later centuries, a colombier tended to be  a stand alone building and colombine was the very rich and nutricious manure  produced by the pigeons. In the Middle Ages, the possession of a colombier à pied ( on the ground and accessible by foot) constructed seperately from the main house was a privilege of the seigneurial lord. He was granted permission by his overlord to build a colombier on his estate. For other constructions / designs the rights or permission ( droit de colombier) varied between provinces. They had to be built in proportion to the importance of the property, placed in a floor above a henhouse, a kennel, an oven, perhaps their wine cellar ( thanks to Wikipedia for some of this info). Today many of the larger pigeonniers have been converted into stand alone accommodation or become part of the main household building. I’ve photographed a few from around the local area of Maison Porte del Marty

DSCF0527DSCF0524pigeonnier interieur

Pigeonier interieur

Eglises de la Dordogne / Churches of the Dordogne

DSCF0386Like most of France, the Dordogne has a wide variety of beautiful small and large DSCF0443village churches.  Most have been built since the 11 century as the Vikings made frequent raids up the Dordogne River plundering and burning many of the Roman churches .  During the War of Religion ( 1562 – 1598 )  many Aquitaine  churches were destroyed or damaged in the  fighting between the Catholic and Protestant  rulers . But fortunately, most were rebuilt and today  retain their charm, peacefulness and simplicity.

The Dordogne Valley was one of the many pilgram paths to  St Jacque de Campostelle / St James of Compostella  in Spain with literally millions making the pilgrimage to Compostella during the middle ages.  Many came through the Dordogne Valley and the Church had  Abbeys  and hostels along the way to offer a simple meal and a bed for the night to the weary travellers. Cadouin, today a World Heritage Site claimed the ownership of the Shroud of Jesus until 1934 when it became apparent the Catholic Church supported the existence of  perhaps too many ‘ Shrouds of Jesus ‘ .    This particular shroud came from the fall of the ancient Eygptian city, Antioch in the year 1098 and was a death shroud, but not of Jesus. This shroud was brought to Cadouin by Knights of the Templar who were a very influential  in ancient Aquitaine.  Testing by an Arabic Scholar in 1931 confirmed the shroud was engraved with Arabic symbols and writings of the 9th century. The Turin Shroud was also brought to Turin by Knights of the Templar.  Their piety and devotion to their Christian beliefs was the strength of their order. The wide variety of attractive local church architecture  creates an opportunity to spend  a leisurly day driving around the area and enjoying  the scenery of  the villages. Today, some of these villages are almost empty with no school or boulangerie, yet judging by the size of their local church, in past years these villages supported a large and wealthy local population.



Tobacco, the (ex) cash crop of Dordogne – Things to do and see from Maison Porte del Marty

DSCF0453 The Dordogne has experienced great wealth in  past centuries. JustDSCF0409 looking around at  the large number of beautiful Chateaux, country estates, very substantial and attractive  farmers houses, often with their own church and multiple staff quarters, you are talking real money. Since the end of  WWII, successive governments have proved very efficient at slowly taxing these properties out of the hands of  their family owners. With a wealth tax on assets  over 1M€ (and there are no property or family trusts in France)  plus death duty above a very low starting point, through necessity, many of these properties end up being sold, often to international owners. In the past 150 years our immediate area has enjoyed real wealth from high quality paper manufacturing and tobacco growing, both industries have now collapsed. Quality hand made writing paper has been replaced by mass produced printer paper  and a change of ownership of the Gauloise and Gitanes cigarette brands sent the growing of the tobacco and manufacture to Spain, home of the new owners. Bergerac was the production site for DSCF0454the cigarettes and the local Dordogne farmers grew, harvested and dried the tobacco for theDSCF0452 factory. It was big business and a very high value crop that created a lot of wealth and work in the region. The surrounding area now has  100’s of empty tobacco drying sheds, many are now a barn, some converted to holiday homes, others just derelict.  Until 2012, there was a modest subsidy to keep some tobacco growing in France, but with smoking  officially discouraged, a government subsidy was hardly supportable, so the photos attached are probably one of the last crops that will grow in the Dordogne.



Châteaux of the Dodogne / Châteaux de la Dordogne

DSCF0422Château / Châteaux can be a confusing word for English speakers. It’sDSCF0368 associated with vineyards, but it is also a term to describe a grand home, manor house, castle, or the British ‘ hall’.  In France a fortified castle would be more correctly called a Château Fort,  a modern Château a ” Château grand “.  Generally a Château should have gardens, farm land, outbuildings and  be self sufficient in produce , poultry, meat, fish etc. A very grand city house could be called a Palais or Hôtel particulier, but this does not translate directly to Palace as in the English sense.  In France a medieval period Château would have been built as a heavily fortified property as protection from the dangers of the time, after the 19th century, in safer times, many of the outer protective walls were removed and the properties opened up.

DSCF0407The Dordogne has many many 100’s of beautiful properties that areDSCF0393 called a Chateau, but in an English sense are a Manor house , fortified Castle,  Grand Country home,  Country Estate…..and so forth. Many properties are ruins that remain from the  ” 100 year war ” of 1337 to 1453 and the Wars of Religion 1562 to 1598. Generally the  older houses built around these ruins are built from the stone from these old Châteaux, this is ancient recycling ! Our Maison Porte del Marty is correctly called a Maison de Maitre  (a Master’s House) in English, this is  a Manor House. The 1st known building on our site was a Roman Fort, the 2nd building was a fortified Chevaliers or Knights  Chateau and the village and inhabitants were his property and he would have been known as the Lord of his domain.

The photos here show a range of properties all within 15 minutes driveDSCF0402 of Maison Porte del Marty, as you can see we have a fairytale castle,  the more gothic Château de Lanquais, some handsome village Châteaux plus ruins remaining in Banueil, Sauveboeuf and Cause de Clerans. All help create the atmosphere of living in this beautiful region.