On the Grands Causses as well as in the Aveyron and Lozère Gorges and Valleys, there exists some lesser known, less visible built heritage – and yet it tells the entire History of the Grands Cuasses. A built heritage that is humble, popular and vulnerable – and worth discovering!
Sheperds took thier flocks up onto the heights of the Grands Causses
Here, they traced drailles (paths between grazing areas lined with dry stone walls), pruned buissières (boxwood tunnels) for protection from the cold winter winds as well as from the summer heat, laid out lavognes (stone water-pools) where the sheep could drink, built cazelles (small dry stone cabins) for shelter and jasses (stone-vaulted sheepfolds) for their sheep, and ewe enclosures as protection from wolves and stray dogs, dug out semi-troglodytic caves directly from the rock in order to transform the ewe’s milk into Pérail or Roquefort cheeses, equipped their dwellings with cistern roofs for collecting and storing rainwater.
History of stone
Wood is rare on the Grands Causses; limestone rock is therefore omnipresent: no wooden framework, but rather stone vaults, stone floors, roofs made of lauzes (stone roof-tiles) all go to form a habitat that blends seamlessly into its environment.
At times it is difficult to tell the difference between a hamlet or a ruiniform rocky chaos, « confusion » that has resulted in numerous legends and fadarelles (fairy stories)…
Some of the stone villages and farms that you are bound to encounter are the legacy of the Templar and Hospitaller Orders: La Couvertoirade (listed as one of France’s Most Beautiful Villages), Ste Eulalie de Cernon, La Cavalerie, St-Jean d’Alcas, La Tour du Viala…
Shepherds and farmers have also domesticated the sheer cliffsides of the gorges by building bancels (or faisses), little walls forming terraces suitable for growing vines, cherries, mulberry trees, quince trees, almond trees…
Who said anything about the Grands Causses being desert-like? Keep your eyes open – you’re in for a surprise or two!