Graveyard sheet steel

cemetary in La Vernarède
cemetary la Vernarède
According to different sources the little used french word “cabistous” is a regional term used in the Ardèche department meaning lean-to, small cabin or garden shelter. In the coal mining area around Alès, in the 19th century, many “ardechois” came to work in the booming coal industry. Towns were created where none existed before, and the ardechois settled in, bringing their regional expressions and their families.

In the mining industry, sheet steel was readily available, but marble gravestones would have been costly for modest families. As a result, many cemeteries (eg. those in Portes and in La Vernarède) contain small sheet steel structures standing over family burial plots. These structures were called “cabistous”. Some were very finely decorated, while others remained simple and basic. Many have been abandoned by the families who have no doubt left the mining area to seek fortunes elsewhere.
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Nineteenth century coal and the “plans inclinés”

information panel at les Pinèdes
information panel at les Pinèdes

Coal mines, railroads, businessmen and engineers

The story of the “plans inclinés” starts around 1853. Coal mining was already in progress in the Alès basin and coal was found in a number of localities, including La Vernarède – an off-the-track village in the shadow of the Portes castle. The village found itself in the middle of a coal mining boom when several deposits of coal were located in the Broussous valley. Mining coal is one thing. Getting it to market was quite another.
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The Eschino d’Azé and the Cham des Bondons

Hiking distance : 16 km ; Hiking time : 05:00

On the western end of Mount Lozère a limestone plateau known as the “Cham des Bondons” bridges the space between Mont Lozère and the Sauveterre Causse. The Cham is interesting for a number of reasons.

Cham des Bondons landscape
Cham des Bondons landscape
    • The plateau is sprinkled with an estimated 150 prehistoric monolithic standing stones. Over time, many have been knocked over but many are also still standing or have been replaced upright in modern times. The meaning or purpose of the stones is unknown. Religious significance, waymarkers for travellers, burial markers… ? Christian prelates, however, considered these monoliths to be a symbol of paganism and so some were voluntarily knocked down to signify the dominance of the Christian faith. These monoliths are all granite and have therefore been quarried elsewhere – presumably on Mount Lozère – and transported to the Cham to be erected. The Cham has the largest accumulation of these monoliths in southern France. No one knows why prehistoric peoples would have gone to all the trouble so the monoliths represent a cultural heritage yet to be explained. To the best of my knowledge, however, there are no upright monoliths along this particular route.

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Bell gables

bell gable, Pas de Bres, Ardèche
bell gable, Pas de Bres, Ardèche
A common feature of Romanesque churches in south-central France is the bell gable. These constructions may have stacked rows of “eyes” in other regions, but in south central France, I have never seen any. All the ones pictured here are single level. While these gables may have 4 or more eyes on a single row, the eyes are not all necessarily equipped with bells. Continue reading “Bell gables”