The Loire Valley is the number one region in France for subterranean dwellings. Along with with the Materra in South of Italy and Andalusia in South of Spain it is the most important place in Europe for exploring troglodyte living.
There are around 40,000 troglodyte dwellings in the Loire Valley and this does not include smaller spaces (dependancies), plus the many underground-refuges, and works such as troglodyte vaults and churches, semi-underground passages beneath castles & châteaux, etc. This subterranean living goes back hundreds and in some cases thousands of years.
Historically, the majority of the population in Loire Valley lived under ground and all levels of society were represented. In fact a number of communes along the Loire only saw their first house being built at the 19th century. Underground life was active until the beginning of the 20th Century. Today the majority of troglodyte sites across France (some 90 – 95% of the dwellings) are no longer occupied.
The potential of these historic spaces is enormous. Many are still used for storage, week-end homes, picnic/Bar-B-Q areas, etc. At Saint-Rémy-sur-Creuse, just over the River Creuse from Descartes, there is a museum Ethni’Cité, set in the heart of an entire troglodyte village. The museum has eight themed rooms open to the public, a primitive technology centre and shop.We love visiting and showing our visitors and friends around.
As well as covering pre-history and early history interpretation at the museum also covers the period from the 12th Century through to the 18th and late 19th Century when the occupation of the villagers was hemp weaving. The staff at the open-air museum are very helpful characters who will assist you and chat with you pointing out the local features ~ or just sit and look over the flood plain of the Creuse valley.
Not that all the village is purely a museum. Some of the troglodyte dwellings and still inhabited and, in face, some are still being renewed and added to. Below are some, images from a visit I made with my eldest brother in 2010.