Saint-Emilion – Gardens and quarries along the rue des Douves

Running around Saint-Emilion’s town wall almost 11/2 kilometres (1 mile) long the defensive ditch is about 20 metres (65 feet) wide and it was originally 8 to 10 metres (25 to 30 feet) deep).

Despite the name of the road (“Douves” means “moat”), this ditch was never full of water. Quite the opposite, Saint-Emilion people had their gardens in it, and in the Middle Ages, it even served as an alternative route to serve the storage areas on the ground floor of the houses built against the perimeter wall. Wooden gang planks, withdrawn during wartime, enabled people to go down into the ditch.

From the 18th century, the ditch had no further defence purpose and was used as a starting point to dig many quarries that run under the town and outside. More than a hundred kilometres (60 miles) of galleries, some above others in up to four levels, have been listed under and very close to the town. The rubble resulting from the excavation of the stone gradually began to partially fill the ditch.

When the stone quarries were abandoned at the end of the 19th century, many galleries were converted for mushroom production and used up to the middle of the 20th century, while others were used for ageing wine. Older Saint-Emilion inhabitants remember this enormous underground maze that they cycled through, some with mopeds and others even in their cars!

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