Narrow house

A French house with 550 years of history

Jeanne’s house has stood on a street corner in the small town of Sévérac-le-Château in Aveyron for half a millennium, but it was only recently that she became something of an internet celebrity.

The public can visit the interior of the building in July and August and attend reconstructions and events retracing its medieval history.

Built on several floors in a narrow and uphill lane, the house was built with a wooden frame and cob walls, a natural material composed of earth, water, straw and sometimes lime. The exterior was originally clad in stone.

Its upper floors overlook a smaller ground floor, and this design was linked to contemporary local tax laws, which were calculated by the amount of land covered by the ground floor.

Below this pell-mell structure is a vaulted cellar containing mangers, suggesting that the first occupants lived closely with their animals.

“The [construction of the] The house is traditionally believed to have been somewhere in the 14th century,” Christophe Perrault, who heads the scientific historical research center Center for Dendrochronology Studies and Ecological Research in Besançon, told Le Figaro.

“However, dendrochronology [a technique that enables more accurate dating through the use of wood samples] reflected trees felled for several years until the spring of 1478”, under the reign of Louis XI.

Jeanne’s house is located in Sévérac (Aveyron) Pic: kherrazi / Shutterstock

The building takes its name Jeanne’s house from its last occupant, a local artist and painter.

Uninhabited for 70 years, it was obtained by the town hall of Sévérac in 1995 to be opened to the public.

A hit on social networks

In 2017, an American tourist shared a photograph of the house on image-sharing site Imgur, where it was liked two million times in 48 hours.

At that time, the house was in need of restoration and seemed on the verge of collapse.

Many social media users were fascinated that it was still standing after so many years and some started falsely claiming it was the oldest house in France.

The Aveyron tourist office confirmed this was not true, despite being the oldest in town and one of the oldest in Aveyron.

Yet a tweet posted as recently as May 14 once again bestowed the title of oldest house on Jeanne’s house, garnering 29,000 likes and 4,000 retweets.

In 2018, the facade and roof of the building were restored, slightly altering its old appearance, but also ensuring that it would remain standing for years to come. You can see the house as it is today in the image at the top of this article.

The four oldest houses in France

In fact, the building believed to be the oldest house in France was built nearly 1,000 years ago.

The ‘Maison Romane’ at 20, rue du Merle in the monastic center of Cluny (Saône-et-Loire). It is believed to have been built in 1091, and is joined by several other houses in the area which date back at least to the 12th century.

Further south in Cahors (Lot), a house located at 71, rue du Cheval Blanc was partly built in 1190 or 1191 by a 1995 study. However, various elements of the house had been added around 1255-1260, then again in the 17th century.

The Maison des Petits Palets in Dol-de-Bretagne (Ille-et-Vilaine) is also believed to have been originally built in the 12th century. It extends over two floors and is distinguished by its three stone arches on its exterior facade.

However, if the house appears in surprisingly good condition, it is because it was rebuilt in the 17th century.

Finally, the Maison Fenasse or Hôtel de Fenasse in the Tarn, also from the 12th century, is one of the only buildings dating from this period in Occitania.

It originally belonged to the Fenasse family, before being passed on to the brother of the Bishop of Albi, Béraud de Fargues, nephew of Pope Clement V.

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