Monday, 25 May 2020

A 14th-century tower in the Paris suburbs

In the southeastern suburbs of Paris, Créteil is off the tourist track - but it does have a hidden treasure. The Colombier de Créteil is a dovecote which has survived here since the fourteenth century. It's the last trace of a noble estate owned by the Treasurer of France - the administrator of the royal finances. Today, it sits incongruously among modern high-rise housing.


The fifteen-metre tower was built of local stone in about 1375. Such large pigeon lofts were a privilege of estate owners, and this one was certainly large. There is a downstairs room (now used to screen films of the dovecote's history to visitors); but the farmer would take a narrow flight of steps to the main loft.


It held 1500 pairs of pigeons, each with their own boulin or niche. Its cleverly-made rotating ladder allowed access to their niches; the ladder could be turned from below and is cleverly angled to move freely within the curving walls. (The current woodwork and ladder were reconstructed, and the dovecot restored, with the help of plans drawn by Eugène Viollet-Le-Duc in the nineteenth century.)


This might seem like a relatively humble, agricultural building but it was actually something of a status symbol. The building of colombiers was carefully controlled; they had to be in proportion to the amount of land held (since the pigeons would need food, and are fond of seed and grain). Large, freestanding structures such as this one were the privilege of seigneurial lords. Unsurprisingly, they were far less popular with nearby peasant farmers who found them a threat to newly-sown crops.


However, the most extraordinary thing about the colombier is not its size, its siginficance, or its ladder. This whole building moved 45 metres in 1972! The desire to preserve a historical monument, and the need to build housing and a swimming pool on its original site, came together in a brave project to move the structure from its original location. It was not dismanted and rebuilt but moved in its entirety - an ambitious, but thankfully successful, undertaking.



Le Colombier de Créteil is not generally open to the public, but occasional visits are arranged by Explore Paris and led by Les Amis de Creteil.  







1 comment:

Hels said...

The dovecote, from the outside, looks very much like the martello towers and coastal forts around the world - similar shapes, building materials and interior spaces. I am assuming your building came first, by centuries in fact.

Thanks for the fascinating link
Hels
"Martello towers and maritime forts across the globe"

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