Najac Conundrum: the Answer

Strange protuberance

In my recent post about Najac, I posed a conundrum. What is the protuberance on the side of the building above, about three metres up? I received some interesting suggestions.

They included:

  • a loo – a reasonable guess, and the most popular suggestion, since the spaces between houses were often used as sewers. But it isn’t a loo. If you look closely, you’ll see there isn’t an exit hole, which would have been rather necessary!
  • a chestnut store – an intriguing idea, inspired by the fact that Najac is surrounded by chestnut forests and chestnuts were an important part of the local economy. Sorry, wrong again.
  • a hidey hole – not beyond the bounds of possibility, given Najac’s turbulent history at times. But it isn’t that, either.

I can report that the correct answer is a bread oven. I have never seen one like this. Mostly, they were either separate buildings or semi-circular structures tacked onto houses at ground floor level. Unfortunately, since this is a private residence, we couldn’t go in and look at it from the inside. However, our Tourist Office guide assured us that it is indeed a bread oven.

Since space was at a premium in a place like Najac, it’s reasonable that they built it where they did. An even more powerful reason is that householders were taxed on their ground floor space. As I explained in the post, this is the reason for the upper floors jutting out so far over the streets – to give the inhabitants as much untaxed floor space as possible. So this might be why they put the bread oven at first floor level.

I would be very interested to know if anyone else has come across a suspended bread oven like this elsewhere in France, and if so, where it is.

I waited until today to reveal the answer since we have just returned from a week in Corsica. More about that to follow. We were without email or Internet access – deliberately, since the SF says I spend too much on the Internet and he’s right. So, now that I’ve given you the answer to the conundrum, it’s back to dealing with the 125 emails that arrived in my absence…

Copyright © 2012 Life on La Lune, all rights reserved

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About nessafrance

My husband and I moved to an 18th-century farmhouse in SW France in 1997. I am fascinated by French history, rural traditions and customs and enjoy seeking out the reality behind the myths. I run my own copywriting business and write short stories and the occasional novel in my spare time. My husband appears here as the SF, which stands for Statistics Freak, owing to his penchant for recording numbers about everything.
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8 Responses to Najac Conundrum: the Answer

  1. Deborah says:

    Makes sense (in a French kind of way…) when you’re told, but no, I would never have guessed! I would probably have gone for some medieval defence structure and look-out.

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  2. Sue Whatmough says:

    I remember being told once that the upper floors of houses might jut out beyond the lower floors so people could walk safely along the street without risking the fallout from chamber pots above! Back to loos! Hope you had a lovely break in Corsica – look forward to hearing about it.

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  3. amelie88 says:

    Oh wow I would have never guessed that! I had no idea what it could be.
    And for a second I got confused when you said “first floor level.”
    Before remembering that the rest of the world seems to confusingly refer to the ground floor of a building as zero and the second floor, the first floor. We Americans never did grasp the concept of using zero as our ground floor. Ground floor is the first floor in the US!

    And you went to Corsica! I’ve always wanted to go there. 🙂

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    • nessafrance says:

      Sorry to have confused you. I did have a fleeting sense that this might be contrary to what you folks in the US call ground floor and first floor. Anyway, from the picture, you can see that it’s up in the air and therefore not on whatever we might call the zero floor. It’s pretty unusual.

      Corsica is wonderful. This was our 4th visit in 9 years. I plan a few posts on it over the next couple of weeks.

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  4. Wow, I wasn’t even close!! Fancy it being a suspended bread oven. But as you say, it makes sense and why not?

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