Bells, Shutters and Stone Traditional Architecture in Provence
Church Bells of Bonnieux
Recently, we stayed in the hilltop village of Bonnieux in Provence’s Luberon where we were treated to a singular sensory experience. We reached out to Vincent Gils, the only carillonneur (bell-ringer) left in the Vaucluse area and one of few left in France.
Vincent’s father, Bernard, taught him to ring the bells. Before him, his father was the custodian of this church, at the summit of Bonnieux, with 900 years of history. Nowadays, churches in France have automated bells. However, in Bonnieux, bells are rung by hand for marriages, baptisms, funerals and religious festivals. Vincent has been doing it for the last thirty years. Continue reading here to see Ashley’s beautiful photos of the church in Bonnieux.
When the mistral stops blowing, there’s a sense of relief. The calm is almost surreal. In France, the mistral is a forceful wind that typically blows from the north or northwest. Mistral the name for this wind means “masterly,” and it definitely lives up that reputation. The mistral typically blows hard, with gusts at times up to 100 km/hour as it accelerates down the Rhône and Durance rivers towards the Mediterranean.
The mistral has impacted architecture in Provence for centuries. The typical farmhouse or Mas was built to face south with its’ back to the wind. As Ashley mentions, church bell-towers have openings allowing the wind to pass through without ringing the bells. Heavy stone walls and interior courtyards are design for privacy and some minor relief from the wind.
Additional read: Why Visit Fontvieille and its Windmills in the Alpilles?
Discover this beautiful book where photographer Rachel Cobb captures Mistral: The Legendary Wind of Provence.
Bories Building with Dry Stone
Long before modern conveniences, inhabitants of the South of France used the building materials that they found. Author Mary-Lou Weisman writes,
Provence has a heart of stones. Dry stones. Pierres sèches, to put it French-ly. In Provence, stones do speak. Fences, roads, churches, roadways, ramparts, and houses, are all made of them. They tell the story of Provence from as far back as Neolithic times and perhaps even the Bronze Age–and they’re all in plain view.
They visited Enclos des Bories outside of the village of Bonnieux. The site is open to the public daily from April through mid-November. Roughly 20 stone enclosures were discovered in the cedar forest on the outskirts of Bonnieux. This collection of buildings are the remains of an authentic hamlet where shepherds lived with their families and livestock. These bories were not relocated from other parts of the region but rather exposed from the forest growth.
The Shutters of Provence
It’s not surprising that social media platforms are plastered with photos of shutters in the South of France. These shutters provide a bright contrast to the stone that is typical of most of the residential architecture in Provence.
However, there are practical reasons for these shutters as they provide a non-powered, eco-friendly way of heating or cooling a house. They also block out external light, insects, wind and even some noise. Today, heat-cool units are reasonably standard in homes. However, in traditional houses, it was with shutters that one regulated the internal temperatures.
Shutters are one common aspect of residential architecture in Provence. Contemporary building materials such as energy-efficient windows eliminate or at least reduce the need for shutters. However, some villages require shutters as part of their building code to retain the traditional Provencal residential look. Some communities go to the extent of dictating the acceptable colours of the shutters.
Traditional Building Materials
When Ashley and Robin restored an old house in Maussane les Alpilles they encountered a few surprises, discovered some hidden gems and learned why some centuries-old traditions are best suited for the climate. Ashley wrote this about plaster walls:
We’ve recently painted the upstairs with chaux/lime wash. We wanted to apply a wall covering that respected the age of the building. It’s important that old walls breathe in order to reduce trapped moisture. We quite liked the texture of the traditional lime wash (peinture à la chaux). Knowing the ingredients, but not the quantities, there was some trial and effort involved.
Buying and Renovating
Buying Property anywhere should cause one to pause and reflect on the investment. However, in France, there are some nuances to the way the residential real estate market operates. In addition, there is associated terminology that is specific to the real estate transaction process that you should know before buying a property. Here are some of the critical French real estate terms when dealing with real estate transactions.