Parcours Troglodytique Souzay-Champigny


Useful Information

Location: Souzay-Champigny, Loire. 6km east of Saumur on route D947 Saumur/Montsoreau.
(47.237711, -0.010656)
Open: no restrictions.
[2020]
Fee: free.
[2020]
Classification: SubterraneaCave House
Light: electric
Dimension:  
Guided tours: self guided
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: yes
Bibliography:  
Address: Parcours Troglodytique Souzay-Champigny, Tel: +33-, Fax: +33-.
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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History

10th cty begin of rock mining.
11th cty Rue de Commerce opened.
16th cty end of mining.
20th cty cave houses abandoned.

Description

Like all towns along the Loire, Souzay and Champigny are located at the river escarpment where cream Tuffeau stone is found, It was quarried for building houses and the nearby castles, starting almost 1,000 years ago. The result are several huge underground quarries in the limestone, starting at the river to the south. Those quarries have various huge openings in the ceiling which form a sort of inner courtyard. Obviously a pretty good place for transforming the caverns into houses, there was amble space, it was warm in winter and cool in summer, and the courtyards provided air and light. This started immediately after the end of the quarrying and some parts of the cave were used almost 900 years as cave houses.

One of the best examples was the Rue de Commerce, an underground shopping alley which was a market for fruits, vegetable, fish and meat since the 11th century. It is characterized by interweaved arches and small shops, covered by ivy. Unstable vaults were stabilized by gothic arches and columns. Caverns were transformed into houses by simple walls in the entrance. There is a part called ancienne épicerie (old grocery store) which is well preserved. There is also a public well which could be used by the whole street. The commercial road was in use until the early 20th century.

The village Souzay is located at the river, with only two or three rows of houses along the river. But there are numerous roads into the underground. The village Champigny is located on the plateau and has vines, the wash house, the windmill, and the lime kiln. The villages were merged to form the commune of “Souzay-Champigny” in 1930.

A group of cave houses which is called Le Château (The Castle) from the 15th century was home to Marguerite d'Anjou (Margaret of Anjou, 23-MAR-1430 to 25-AUG-1482). She was married to Henry VI of Lancaster, was Queen of England and nominally Queen of France. She was part of the Wars of the Roses, a sort of political civil war between the house of Lancaster and the house of York. At the end she lost and lived her last seven years impoverished in the castle of Dampierre-sur-Loire. Dampierre-sur-Loire is the town 400m to the west, hence the name.

But the specialty of the caves of Souzay-Champigny are the Parcours Troglodytique. The town marked several quarries with explanatory signs in French and they are open for exploration by foot. One of the trails is actually a mostly underground bicycle trail.