Our house, in the medieval village of Salignac Eyvigues in the Perigord Noir, is over 800 years old and was once linked to the Château de Salignac by underground tunnels. These houses were for the servants and villagers and are a curious mixture of size and shape. From the outside of our house you would think it a small dwelling, but in reality it is quite big leading around to a large “cave” at the back and a small courtyard . In our “cave” there is a large archway now covered over which would have led downhill to the entrance of the chateau.
A hundred years ago our street was a busy commercial thoroughfare with bakeries, haberdashers , hairdressers, a chemist and several cafés and hotels. Our house was a shop of some kind and is unusual because it is the only one with such a big archway. There are unfortunately few remaining vestiges of the old days, except for our fireplace which would have been an open fire and an unusual circular wall set into the back of our kitchen.
The château of Salignac Eyvigues itself dates back to 12th century and is rich in history during the Hundred Years War. Resounding to the troubadours’ songs, this féodal building was restored in the Renaissance period to conserve its splendour. It stands majestically on a rocky hillside overlooking the valley which descends towards Borreze. It is now in the hands of Swiss proprietors and being further renovated which will take at least 30 years to complete! The castle has a lauze roof which is particular to this region and the stones weigh a ton per metre.
Walking down the hill around it you can still see the ancient cobblestones which date from the end of the middle ages and are complex in their placement, with flat stones adjusted both vertically and horizontally. Larger stones edge the path and a central line of flat stones line the middle.
Going up the hill you will find a small square with a washing pool in the middle. This dates back to the 18th century and was where ladies called “lavandières” would meet to do their washing. It was the place where they could recount their woes but also to chat about anything and everything that made their washing day easier to bear. They would kneel by the edge of the pool on beds of straw, their arms bare to the elbow, the sound of the clothes being beaten on boards to rinse out the dirt. There are four washing pools in Salignac and some have been renovated. I know of one old lady who still goes to one of the pools to wash her underclothes!
One of the most distinguished buildings is L’Hotel Noble des Croisiers which was probably constructed in the 13th century. I know it as Le Couvent, but in fact the original Convent was further down the street and was demolished before this one was built. Le Couvent was a residence for a noble family within the entourage of the Count of Salignac. With its huge apartments it is now privately owned by a French family. I know them well and admire their wonderful decoration of the house. The huge fireplaces are incredible and they blend history with French family style of today that is unique.
Just opposite lies La Halle which is an open market hall and was the centre of the village in days gone by. Live stock was sold here, wooden carts and horses were everywhere and repairs of cartwheels were all done here. It is a beautiful building, with the golden stone that is prevalent in this village. As a ballet teacher I sometimes take students for lessons here in the summertime. Wherever they are from – America, Australia or Europe – everyone enthuses about this great space. Leading off the Halle was a street that was once the main access road of the town with bars, hotels, bakeries and an old post office. You can still see the old post box carved into the stone on one of the houses with its lovely attic window that is intricately engraved around the sides.
I have lived here for 14 years and yet I can walk around and still spot something I haven’t seen before and it is unfailingly fascinating to learn about the wonderful history of my very beautiful French medieval home town.
Fiona Alderman is a British Expat who lives and works in the Perigord Noir, find out more at: www.salignacfoundation.com