Miscellaneous: Pif, paf, pouf in the woods

(August 2011) When tourist stand before one of the huge constructions of ancient times, e.g. one of the famous European cathedrals, Aztec pyramids in Latin America, a house of worship in India or China’s Great Wall, they never fail to ask themselves: how, in heaven’s name, did they do it?

For some time now a project in France has been trying to find this out. Since 1997 in the Guédelon woods in the province of Burgundy a building is being reconstructed using only the technology and materials available at the time.

The aim of the project, subtitled „Chantier Médiéval“ („medieval building site“), is experimental archaeology in action: by reconstructing a building, historic accounts are scrutinized and tested for practicability.

Almost theatrically, people go about their chores in medieval clothing – neither motors nor the noise of heavy machinery can be heard: every step is carried out in manual labour including such tasks as shaping clay for roof tiles or weaving baskets for transportation.

Only the pounding of the blacksmith’s hammer or quarry work give off a certain level of noise: Limestone is dislodged with the help of wedges and subsequently transported to the building site with the help of sleds or wheelbarrows. Larger blocks are moved with the help of horses.

What sounds like hard work is, in reality, gruelling. Good stone can be found only at the foot of the cliff necessitating the carrying off of great masses of stone to get to the material needed. But the culled stone is also used e.g. as landfill inside the building

Stonemasons have developed a special terminology: hard sandstone is called „pif“, slightly softer stone „paf“ and porous, soft stone „pouf“. This is the sound the stone gives off when worked – the terminology has found its way to a number of children’s’ games and comic strips.

The castle is set to be finished by 2025. Until then, schools and visitors are welcome. Tours are held in French, English, German, and Dutch. The site is open to visitors from April until the end of October.

Chantier Médiéval de Guédelon