The oldest house in France is thought to be Maison de Jeanne - or House of Joan. The house is notable for its unusual appearance where the upper floors look large compared to the first (or ground) floor. The Maison de Jeanne is more than just an old house, it is a living reminder of a very different life of a world gone by.
While in southern France, take the time to discover the unusual cliff-hanging houses of Pont-en-Royans. These are also very historic French homes that are stunningly set at the base of the French Alps (check out the unusual Museum of Water there too). If one is interested in ancient Roman ruins, then the Pont du Gard in the south of Franch is an ancient Roman aqueduct bridge and is often considered the most spectacular still standing today.
Age of The Maison de Jeanne
It is considered the oldest house in Sévérac-le-Château, Aveyron, France - and possibly the whole country (it is difficult to exactly date many of the oldest buildings). It was built sometime in the 1300s and was dated using a dendrochronology analysis (where corings in the timbers in the structure were analyzed).
- Age: Built during the 1300s - Around 700 Years Old
The Hundred Years War between England and France raged off and on between 1337 and 1453. That means the Maison de Jeanne was built before or during the Hundred Years' War before France was truly France. It was already built by the time the famous French heroine Joan of Arc came and lead the French to victory against the English (lived around 1412 and 1431).
The Unusual Design Of The Oldest House
The reason why the ground floor is a little smaller than the upstairs is that in medieval France one only paid taxes for occupied land. In the French province of Aveyron, the taxes of a home were calculated by the amount of land that the first floor occupied. So use as little land as possible but make upper stories and make them larger to cut down on taxes.
- Taxes: Used To Be Paid In Accordance With the Land the Ground Floor Occupied
- Design: The Upper Stories Are Larger To Avoid Paying So Much Tax
The home is named after its last occupant - an artist called Jeanne (so it is unknown what the first owners were called).
The Maison de Jeanne is built with a timber frame and the walls and constructed out of cob. Cob is a building material made from subsoil, water, straw, and sometimes lime. It was useful for being fireproof, able to withstand earthquakes, and cheap. But it was also a very labor-intensive source of building material.
- Built Of: Cob With A Timber Frame
- Animals: The Home Residents Likely Lived With Their Animals Inside The Building
The house has two stories and has a vaulted cellar that contained feed troughs. The feed troughs suggest that originally the homeowners lived with their animals on the lower floor. It is also known that the building's exterior was clad in stone.
The entrance to the house is by steps that are sheltered by the overhanging first floor. Observers will also note the small size of the windows (one of which is oval).
Renovation And Seeing The Maison de Jeanne
Hopefully, Maison de Jeanne will be standing for many more years to come. In 2019 repairs and renovations were cared out on the building. The roof was originally made of slate titles. Each of these titles was taken off, carefully measured with new replacements cut and sized. Inside, authentic lime plaster was used.
- Renovated: In 2019
- Address: n° 10 rue de Belvezet is on the corner of Passage de l'Hospice
If one is passing through southern France, take time to detour and see the country's oldest building and the story it tells. Imagine a time when people lived with their animals inside the building and where upper stories were larger to avoid tax.
If one can visit, one can enjoy a virtual tour and introduction to the house on YouTube in a show 2-minute video (the narration is in French).
There are guided tours of the house and one should check the calendar before planning one's visit. The Maison de Jeanne holds medieval events in July and August (the doors are open to the public on these occasions).