One of the principal factors in my passion for travel is that it provides me with unlimited fodder for my obsessive-compulsive need for knowledge. After each journey I have embarked on an immersive study such as :
1) Native American tribal customs, mythology, spirit dolls (including my own stash of kachina dolls:
2) Egyptian hieroglyphics and pharaonic lineage:
3) Australian Aboriginal Art
4) China- just about everything-
My October trip to Paris and the Loire Valley was no exception – upon seeing that part of the itinerary was a visit to Anjou to see the tufa carved cave dwellings of the local Troglodytes I instantly knew I had found my next obsession. Previous to this trip, my knowledge of Troglodytes referred to:
1) The menacing, light-fearing, Eloi-eating Morlocks of H.G. Wells’ 1895 novel, “The TimeMachine.”
2) The original name of the 1960’s rock group The Troggs whose hit “Wild Things” ranked #25 (ah hear’s my little hashtag from my previous post) in the Rolling Stone Magazine’s “500 Greatest Songs of All Time.”
First, the obligatory etymology. “Troglodyte” is a Greek word that literally translates as “someone who lives in a hole.” The Troglodytes of the Loire Valley date back to the 9th Century when caves were created from the tufa (soft limestone) quarries used to make building materials for the magnificent chateaus of the Anjou region such as the Chateau d’ Azay-le-Rideau:
. Once the workmen finished digging out the tufa with amazingly simplistic tools,
a little additional renovation produced a home fit for 8 people which was cozy in winter and cool in summer. Additionaly, these caves also provided perfect conditions for storing wine and cultivating the delicious champignons (mushrooms) that are a major product of the region. For those of you who read my Travel blog, you saw many varieties of mushroom in the caves we visited – I may upload that blog into this site at a later time.
These caves also turned out to be a major strategic defense system prompted by the Norman invasions – on our visit we were led through the elaborate maze of passageways that had hidden rooms where a defender could easily heft a spear through a hidey-hole made just for that event and hopefully impale the intruder.
Although not my taste in domiciles, the caves are still in use today, having become residences for artists and secondary homes for city folk who desire a very rustic style of living. Along the banks of the Loire there are entire villages of these caves and some of these homes are rather “modern” with electricity and the requisite wifi antenna:
The Loire Valley is not the sole location where Troglodytes made their homes – there was and is a world wide array of cave dwellers that span thousands upon thousands of years starting of course with the very first pre-human species – homo neanderthalensis, homo erectus, etc. I have come across a good many of them in my travels across the world. Here are a few of my favorites:
1) China – Southwest Guizhous Province – The village of Zhongdong (“middle cave”) is a cave dwelling thought to be the only current;y inhabited year-round settlement in China that was naturally made over thousands of years by wind, water and seismic activity. The Chinese Government in 2007 actually tried to move these Troglodytes into concrete housing, but the people refused, believing the concrete homes to be “substandard.”
2_ Turkey – Capadocia – An elaborate system of cave dwellings in a harsh and rocky topography brings to mind a lunar landscape, these caves were originally carved out by “Anchorites,” believers in the new Christian religion who wanted to leave the distractions of the world for a place where they could meditate and pray. In the 7th and 8th Centuries Arab persecution of the Christians in the region forced these Troglodytes to literally go underground where they built intricate subterranean churches and an entire underground city.
3) United States- Sedona, Arizona – Montezumas Castle – Little did I know in 2003 that my visit to the Canyonlands of the States would afford me my final example of cave dwelling (This is actuallly a recurring theme in my travels- finding similar notions across a myriad of countries. This will definitely be a blog topic in the future).
Montezuma’s Castle is one of the best preserved cliff/cave dwellings. The site consists of two stone pueblos that were inhabited by the Sinagua , although its name was given by Spanish explorers who thought it had been erected by the Aztecs. The Sinagua were a group that occupied the region form about 500 to 1425 AD. Their name as you might have guessed is Spanish for “without water.” The explorers discovered that the moutainous region did not have perennial rivers flowing from them as was common in Spain.
The Sinagua’s occupation of Montezuma’s Castle abruptly ended in 1425 for reasons unknown, although one could surmise that drought and warfare with other tribes in the area such as the Yavapai were factors. Also the caves were not particulalrly accessible homes, IMHO
This is only a tiny portion of the cave dwellings that are all around, but I am beginnig to feel a bit claustrophobic so will end my tale now and go have a cocktail in the glass-enclosed terrace of my top floor apartment with an expansive view of the Long Island Sound.
“DON’T FENCE ME IN.”
“TIL WE MEET AGAIN.”