Secret history of French villages: Village des Bories

True story of the farmers’ stone houses of Bories...This month we explore the real, hard-life history behind the very pastoral stone huts built by peasant farmers in the Vaucluse

21 March 2020
By Connexion journalist

The Village des Bories, close to Gordes in the Vaucluse, is made up of around 20 dry stone buildings which were lived in by peasant farmers for part of the year up to the 19th century when rural populations left for the towns.

It is rare to have so many dry stone huts so close together, and the deserted hamlet is now open to the public as a tourist attraction.

There are 15 small huts, no doubt used for storage, and five bigger constructions which would have been lived in.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, because of population growth, impoverished farmers needed more land which would often be a long way from home. In this area the hills were forested and they had to clear the woodland to create fields.

They also had to dig out the small slabs of limestone they found everywhere in the soil, but this hard work left them with building material to create the shelters they needed when they were working in their fields far from home.

They would employ people with building skills to create the bigger and more complex constructions and build the simpler walls themselves.

The most difficult task was building the corbel arches which were built up to form the upside down hull like roofs characteristic of the huts in the area.

The stones were placed horizontally or even slightly tilted outwards to prevent water from entering. Each row slightly overhangs the row below.

Large flat stones were placed along the ridges to finish the hut.

In the commune of Gordes there are a total 400 individual dry-stone huts scattered through the area, but this is the only place where there are so many grouped together.

The word borie is the contemporary name most commonly given to dry-stone huts and comes from the Provençal word bori meaning a farmhouse, which in turn comes from the medieval boveria or boria meaning a livestock barn.

However, the term that purists prefer is cabane or hut because it is the name the older generations used.

Laure Alonso welcomes visitors to the village. She said life would have been extremely hard here: “The main crop was olives and they would have come for the harvest between October and December.

“They would have had a few vines and come for a few weeks in the summer and for the harvest in September.

“There would also have been a few grain crops. We have no written record of life here, but we think the huts would have been furnished with just a simple wooden table and chairs and straw stuffed mattresses to sleep on.

“They would have worked outside from dawn to dusk and we think they would have been delighted to eventually return home to the towns.”

The Village des Bories (see the website: levillagedesbories.com) was left abandoned for almost a century.

It was saved from ruin by a poet, writer and traveller, Pierre Viala, who fell in love with the bories when he discovered them in the 1960s. He bought the ruins and restored them with the help of local stonemasons (you can read more on this, plus see photos, on the website).

In 1977 the village was classified as a Historic Monument and in 1983, it was bought by the commune of Gordes.

It is now one of the most visited sites in Vaucluse.

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