GPS: 44.5124019, 04.3386956
Balazuc is a small medieval village among an elite group classified "The Most Beautiful Villages of France" and labelled "Ardeche Village of Character".
The village of Balazuc clings to the rocks above the Ardèche river, while the heart of the village captivates with its rich restored heritage, its maze of winding alleys, stairs, stone ramps and arches, which are full of discoveries all contributing to the charm of the village.
The best, and in practical terms, the only way of appreciating Balazuc is by foot for which the village has created a heritage tour which is thoroughly recommended. The cobbled streets make the character of Balazuc and have mostly been restored. One of the cobbled streets, called calade, descends to the bottom of the village. Made of local stones assembled without mortar, this traditional construction method withstands ground movements much better than our current concrete!
The Ardèche river
From Neanderthal times to the medieval village, man struggled to cling to the limestone cliffs of Balazuc. Apart from the beauty of the site and the defensive advantages of the escarpment, one of the particularities of Balazuc is to have a ford across the river. About fifty metres to the left of the bridge, you can see an old paved path that descends to the shore: this is the old pier, from where a ferry started.
At the end of the 19th century, with the Jules Ferry laws making school compulsory, the inhabitants of the right bank demanded a safe and free way for their children to go to Balazuc school. This is how the bridge came to be built.
The Romanesque church
The layout of this small Romanesque church is original to say the least, with its two naves joined! Rather than enlarging the original 12th century church, a second church was constructed a century later, intended for the personal use of the lords of Balazuc.
The Church houses interesting works of art. An old flat stone altar, dug into channels, was found under the church floor. Contrary to popular belief, this was not a sacrificial stone. The stained-glass windows of the contemporary artist Jacques Yankel immerse the place in a bluish atmosphere. Neither completely abstract, nor truly figurative, they invite contemplation. The stone statue of the Madonna and Child is simple and stocky, and partly retains some of its original colours.
The tower of Reine Jeanne
The tower of Reine Jeanne overlooks the Ardèche from the shore, opposite the village. Built in the 14th century during the troubles related to the Hundred Years War, it served as an outpost and defended Balazuc.
The Saint-Jean-Baptiste chapel
This funerary chapel from the end of the 13th century retains the beginning of a barrel vault. This is the burial place of the owner, Guillaume des Eperviers, lord of Balazuc in the 11th century.
The Saint-Nicolas-de-Lancier chapel
This building is said to be the oldest monument in Balazuc, built in the early Middle Ages, before the 10th century. Its name ("Lancier"), is reminiscent of the name of Wilhelm Hastafracta, "broken lance", who would have been mandated by Charles Martel in the 8th century to exercise royal power over the Bas-Vivarais.
The Château de Balazuc has been so altered over time that it is difficult to identify its date of original construction, it is widely assumed to be between the 11th and 12th centuries.
The square tower
This building, commonly called "the square tower" by the Balazucans, is the master tower and the only preserved element of an 11th century castle. At that time, the castles were simply composed of a defence tower and a lodge where the lord and his court resided. The original door of the square tower is several meters above the ground. It was reached by an easily removable wooden staircase in the event of an attack. The holes used to fix it are still visible. By looking carefully at the stones of the building, you will see that some are curved. This helped to deflect crossbows and crossbow bolts, but they also had an aesthetic dimension. The nearby rampart was opened in the 18th century to facilitate movement in the town.
The Hall sarcophagus
This Gallo-Roman sarcophagus in white marble was discovered in the XVth century in the hamlet of Salles. It is typical of the production of workshops installed in the city of Arles in the fourth century AD. Its presence testifies to the existence of a villa occupied by a Gallo-Roman dignitary who converted early to Christianity. There are six sculpted scenes which are all taken from the New Testament.