volunteers rebuild Besançon’s dry stone walls

A former town with vineyards and orchards, Besançon, in the Doubs, saw its hills occupied by terraces and dry stone walls. Volunteers from the association “Terrasses des collines bisontines et d’ailleurs” are rebuilding this heritage in ruins. SOUND DIASHOW.

A light clearing interrupted the rain. At the foot of the Rosemont hill in Besançon, the street bears the beautiful name chemin des œillets. After a hundred meters of steep ascent, it becomes a path. The sounds of the city disappear. Replaced by birdsong.

At the entrance to the forest, a dozen volunteers are at work, in a large hole, at the edge of the path. Near them, heaps of stones. A sign mentions the school site of the association Terrasses des collines bisontines et d’ailleurs.

Soon, instead of the chaos of stone and earth, there will be the harsh beauty of a dry stone wall.

The atmosphere is diligent and relaxed at the same time. You need to reconstruct what looks like a three-dimensional puzzle. A tribute to patience and slowness.

“It’s a matter of logic, the theory is quite easy, slope, counter-slope, technical terms, but which are easy to understand”, explains José Maj, a young pensioner and volunteer in the association. In practice, this is a completely different matter:

The longest is to find the right stone in the right place, it’s awful! it can take an hour to find a rock!

José Maj, association volunteer

At the construction site, not the smallest bag of cement. This is the rule of the game, the traditional know-how about the thirst wall. The Estrmade by piling stones up from the ground. Without mortar to hold them together, and without cutting them.

The technique has been used for centuries to preserve and cultivate land on terraces.

Report: Raoul Advocat, edited by Stéphanie Chevallier

Jean-Paul Bouju is the owner of the plot where the school grounds are held. He wanted to restore the old wall that adjoins the property, along the path. A wall that is overgrown and partially buried in the ground.

As a retired surveyor, he helps volunteers conduct reliable topographic surveys. These statements make it possible to dismantle and then rebuild the walls while respecting the original shape.

Jean-Paul Bouju is too “Schoolboy from school” as he likes to say. A schoolboy who admires the work done by the former inhabitants of Besançon.

I have deep respect for these people! When you see how hard it is to build 25 meters of walls … They removed the stones from the ground, they piled them up, they maintained the walls for centuries.

Jean-Paul Bouju, volunteer in the association and owner of the land

Building this wall is an invitation to time travel. How were the hills around the town of Besançon? The archives testify to this: until the beginning of the 20th century, there was no forest as there is today. But an agricultural landscape, with farmers and winegrowers.

There were vines on this slope orchards. It was attachment farms that people had to produce, so no forest!

Jean-Paul joins the group of volunteer builders. He listens to the advice of Muriel Loriod-Bardi. Together with her husband, Luc, she is the cause of this whole adventure. She remembers: “One day we had a drink facing one of the hills and we saw regular lines. Someone said it must not be a stone but a dry stone wall.”

She adds:

It’s incredible we’m going on holiday to the Ardèche to see this, and at home we have this legacy and we’re in the process of letting it fall apart!

Muriel Loriod-Bardi, the Terraces of the Bisontine hills association and elsewhere

Muriel teaches newcomers the rules of construction. Each stone must be placed completely stable with 3 or 4 support points on the underside and the sides. Forgetting a rule would weaken it all. However, the will of these heirs is to build walls that will last at least two centuries!

“It is important to make something of quality”says Muriel, “It’s heritage, it has a value. Respect for know-how is one of the association’s values.”

We may be children, we love it! We are in nature, we forget everything, we are focused on what we do. This heritage is beautiful, it makes people happy!

Today the association Terraces of Byzantine hills and elsewhere has about 60 volunteers. It multiplies the restoration sites. Replanting old vines as on the Bregille hill is also part of the association’s projects.

By replanting vines, the association revives another forgotten legacy. The Besançon vineyard, like all the others, had been destroyed by the phylloxera more than a century ago.

Who knows, maybe one day the rebuilding of a wall will be celebrated with a bottle of local wine “Terraces bisontines” …

Until then, it is with rainwater that the volunteers of the carnation trail end their day. They meet the next third Sunday of the month.

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