La Carrière d'Aubigny


Useful Information

Location: Taingy, Puisaye-Forterre land, département Yonne, Burgundy.
A6 motorway, exit Auxerre Sud. A77 motorway, exit Saint Fargeau. National Road N 151 to Courson-les-Carrières, then D9.
(47.604607, 3.423714)
Open: APR to JUN Tue-Sat 10-12, 14:30-18:30, Sun, Hol 14:30-18:30.
JUL to AUG Tue-Sat 10-18:30, Sun, Hol 14:30-18:30.
SEP to OCT Tue-Sat 10-12, 14:30-18:30, Sun, Hol 14:30-18:30.
Cutting Workshops:
APR to JUN Sat 10-12, 14:30-18:30.
JUL to AUG Tue-Sat 10-12, 14:30-18:30.
SEP to OCT Sat 10-12, 14:30-18:30.
[2022]
Fee: Adults EUR 9, Children (6-16) EUR 6.50, Children (0-5) free, Students EUR 8.50, Apprentices EUR 8.50.
Groups (20+): Adults EUR 8.50, School Pupils EUR 5.50, Guide per Group EUR 65.
Cutting Workshops:
Per Person additionally EUR 6.50.
[2022]
Classification: SubterraneaRock Mine
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension:
Guided tours: D=45 min.
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: Jean-Bernard Letertre (2016): Les Cathédrales cachées des Maîtres Pierreux - La Carrière Souterraine d’Aubigny, self published, price 18 €.
Address: La Carrière d'Aubigny, 89560 Courson-les-Carrières, Tel: +33-386-523879, Fax: +33-386-528987. E-mail: contact
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

81 quarries open during the Gallo-Roman period.
1850 the quarries of Forterre employ 1000 workers.
1940 mining ceased as stone was replaced by concrete and breeze block.
1992 opened to the public.

Description

The Carrière d'Aubigny (Aubigny underground quarry) is one of several underground rock mines in the area. This is a huge underground quarry where rocks were mined for sculpting, for buildings and for churches. The rocks from Aubigny were used for various famous buildings in Paris, for example the Opéra Garnier, the Hôtel de Ville and the Conservatoire National des Arts et Métiers. Even the basements of the four legs of the Eiffel Tower wre built with this stone. The site was reopened as a tourist site and offers courses to work with rock and learn a little sculpting and stone cutting. It has an exhibition of masonry tools and of the results, various cut and sculpted works.

The mining of the rock started in the Gallo-Roman period. We know this because excavations in La Carrière d'Aubigny and in the nearby Merovingian village of Jeuilly have uncovered Roman coins. One of them was bearing the image of Domitian II, Emperor in 81. At that time the rock was used for religious purposes, sculptures and stone sarcophagi. One of the rooms contains two Roman coffins, which were obviously never completed and thus stayed in the quarry.

Sixteen underground quarries have been opened over the centuries. The exact beginning of their exploitation remains unknown. After being abandoned for centuries they were reopened and exploited during the Middle Ages and the Renaissance period. La Carrière d'Aubigny had its heyday during the 18th and 19th century, at the time of Baron Georges-Eugène Haussmann. He was restoring Paris and needed huge amounts of rocks. In 1850, the quarries of Forterre employed 1000 workers. The end of the quarries came in 1940, after the stones had been replaced by modern building materials like beton.

The rock is a very compact, white, fine-grained limestone, which stonemasons call semi-firm. It is oolitic limestone from the Upper Jurassic, about 150 Million years old. The region is called Forterre, and there are actually two theories about the origin of that name. One is that its Latin name was Terre Forte, meaning land of Gallic fortified villages. The other says that the soil is very hard and thus farming was very difficult, which is why it was called Forte Terre, the hard earth.

Rock is generally not mined, because mining is difficult and expensive, and the value of rock is too low to be profitable. But when the limestone reaches the surface, the water in the pores of the rock evaporates taking dissolved limestone and other salt with it. The minerals are deposited on the surface forming a sort of protective layer, a calcite crust which is called cullet. This protective layer is quite important for buildings and sculptures, but this works only with the rock which is mined underground. The rock on the surface has already lost its pore water and by sculpting the protective layer is removed. That's why the rocks were covered and kept damp on their long journey, so they could dry out in their final place. Actually the restauration of the 1960s, which was aggressive and removed not only the dirt but also the protective layer, caused a lot of damage.

The underground mining left numerous traces on the walls. The rock was cut since the Iron Age using two tools, the aiguilles (needles) and the lances (lances). The lance is a heavy iron bar which is pointed at one end, suspended by a chain from a support. The needle is smaller, without support. To extract a block from a rock face the worker dug two vertical slices to a depth of one meter using the lance. Then he cut a horizontal slice on top using the needle. And finally he cut a horizontal slice at the bottom called four (oven) using the lance again. The block was now disconnected from the rock in front, at both sides and above and below, but it was still connected at the rear. This work on a 5 ton block took about five to six days.

The rear was not accessible with tools, so a second stage of the extraction followed. First chandelles (candles) were placed in the slice at the bottom. The worker embedded wedges of dry wood into one of the vertical slices. As the humidity in the quarry was about 80 % the wood absorbed the ambient humidity and swelled. The pressure pushed the bloc to the side cracking the rock at rear end of the slices. Dislodged from the rock it fell down to rest on the chandelles. With bad luck, or cracks in the rock, the rear was not regular and the block was smaller or in the worst case worthless.

The ancient quarrying technique was replaced by a new one in the 19th century. The scie crocodile (crocodile saw) was used to cut the rear, which resulted in a well-dressed rear face, reduced the risk considerably, and sped up production.

The rock was now pulled on iron rollers using a winch called a crapaud on a fardier (trolley). The blocks were transported by waterway or in mule convoys to the customer.

The quarry is used by sculptors to create artworks on site, many of them can be seen on a tour. It has become a centre of stone-carving skills and a meeting place of the elite stone carvers of France. The most spectacular is probably the Escalier de L’Ascension (Stairs of the Ascension), a huge spiral staircase which was created by a group of 60 members of the Union Compagnonniques des Devoirs Unis. The masons, stonemasons, sculptors, engravers, blacksmiths worked for 10 years right in front of the visitors each year at Ascension and All Saints day. The spiral staircase has a hollow core and two helical stringers with ornamentation. It is 9 m high, has a diameter of 4 m and weighs 25 tons.

The quarry is used by up to 10 different species of bats. They stay in the quarry during winter for hibernation and some stay during summer and use it as a nursery.