The commune of Balazuc spreads over 1,890
hectaires on either bank of the river Ardèche. The village overlooks
the river on the left bank. Opposite and upstream nestles the hamlet of Servières.
Downstream is the hamlet of Vieil Audon, whose ruins have been largely restored
by groups of young people.
The major part of communal territory, its sub-soil made up in Jurassic limestone, consists of woodland, scrub and rocks, especially the " Gras ", a plateau lying between the river and the Aubenas/Joyeuse corridor. The fertile areas near the river are planted with vines and fruit trees (Boudenas, les Salles and les Louanes) or at the foot of the hills rising to the east, les Costes.
THE MEN WRITE HISTORY
100,000 years ago Neandertal man lived here In the Barasse cave, on the right bank of Ardèche, opposite the village, were found silex tools and bones of wild animals abandoned by Neandertal man. During thousand of years he hunted above all ibex and also reindeer, the Great stag (Megaceros), chamois, wild horses, wooly rhinoceros, all animals that lived in a cold climate.
They inhabited the Gorges of the Ardèche betwen 35,000 and 15,000 B.C. They left behind silex tools, engraving and painting on walls of caves such as " Grotte Chauvet ". There is no trace of them around Balazuc.
The first sedentar farmers 5000 years ago
These came from the south. Around the
village can be found vestiges of their homes , amonst rocks and caves containing
potteries, stone and metal objects .They kept large troups of sheep and goats,
buried their dead in collective tombs, Chamberd tombs and dolmens. Research
in the last 50 years has shown that large numers of them dwelt on the "
Gras " of Balazuc.
Around 2,500 B.C. they knew copper, brought in the form of beads and tools for piercing leather (bradalw). From 2,000 B.C. bronze objects, axes and beads, were imported via the Rhône Valley and from the Languedoc.
Important change at the
end of the Bronze Age
From the 11th B.C. onwards, tribes from eastern France, excellent farmers made up the first terraces on the hillside slopes so as to plant crops of them. Advanced metallurgy provided them with bronze for tools and jewelry. Their dead were buried in individual tombs, or incinerated, the asches being placed in urns then put in the earth.
In Balazuc itself, there existed a ford for crossing the river, a little downstream from the actual bridge ; it is dated in the 8th century by a votive axe set down in the river.
From the 6th century B.C. onwards at the beginning of the Iron Age, the first great invasions with horsemen that used breeding : nomads cohabiting with peasants, they are mainly known by their tombs beneath tumuli of stones, for example at Grospierre, a village in the Chassesac Valley.
The Gauls, another nomadic people of cattle breeders followed in 3rd century B.C. settling down to cultivate the land. Their presence still lives in local place-names.
In fact, the most ancient document mentioning Balazuc dates from 1077, where it is called " Baladunum ". In the gaulish tongue, dunum means height, a heigh place, and Bala meaning rock.
Legend tells us that there was once a pagan temple on the rocky promontory overlooking the river but nothing remains to prove this.
The Roman road
The two big cities of Nimes (department of Le Gard) and Alba (in the Viverais) were connected by an important road during the reign of Antonin the Pious in the 2nd century, during the Pax romana (Roman Peace). This road is still marked by the remains of a bridge on the river Auzon at St-Germain, and by milestones at Pradons and St-Germain, and by a cult to Jupiter at Sauveplantade. From St-Maurice-d'Ardèche (cult of Mercury) the road passes near the hamlet of Les Salles and by Lestrade (strata : road). Then downhill to the chateau of La Borie (boarium : where there are cattle) which is on the bank of the Ardèche, and then to Ruoms.
The " villa " and the Gallo-Roman sarcophage of Les Salles
Nothing remains to show that Balazuc was inhabited during Gallo-Roman period. But there had been a large establishment at Les Salles there, as shown by the quantity of roman tiles, columns and ceramics found on the site. In the 6th century this was a property of a certain Marius, who built the first church at St-Maurice, where there had once been a cult to Mercury.
At Les Salles, a white marble sarcophagus was unearthed in the 16th century. This was probably made in the Arles' workshops at the end of the 4th century or the beginning of the 5th century. It is decorated by a Bas-relief showing scenes from Old and New Testaments. This rare object of white marble veined with black was unfortunately much dammaged during the Wars of Religion. It was kept in the church of St-Maurice-d'Ardèche until 1847, but now can be seen in the Museum of Gallo-Roman Civilisation in Lyon (see its replica near the Town Hall of Balazuc).
Did the barbaric invasions of Alamans, Alains,Visigoths, Vandals, etc. who invaded the Rhône valley reach Balazuc ?
In year 613 the Viverais was the property of a Frankish king, Clothaire 2nd, father of the famous king Dagobert.
During the next centuries, the Gallo-Romans north of the Loire became more and more French, through contacts with the Merovingian in the northen and eastern France.
The first lords of Balazuc
Around 732, after Charles Martel put an
end to the Arab invasions at Poitiers, the Saracens began to retreat to the
south of Provence where some groups settled.
According the legend, some of Emir Youssouf's men founded a colony of fishermen and hunters at Balazuc. No trace of such an occupation can be found in the builbing of Balazuc. Charles Martel did not reconquer the south until 739.
To reward his leaders, Charles Martel gave them posts and advantages in various places in Europe. Thus the silver mines of Largentière and his region were given to "Wilhem Hastafracta", Guillaume of the broken spear, a noble general from eastern France. This was the origin of the lords of Balazuc. Many of his descendance were called "Guillaume" to perpetuate his memory.
Charlemagne leaves this province to the Burgundians. The people take advantage of weakness of successors to free themselves from their authority, which was too far away.
In year 1037 the Viverais became attached to the German Holy Roman Empire during the reign of Henri 1st, known as the protector of William the Bastard who became William the Conqueror .
Pons de Balazuc
Born in 1060, he was the son of Girard de Balazuc, lord of Lanas and St-Montan (see map in the last page) and is the most famous and best-known of the ancient lords of Balazuc.
Knight of Raymond, Count of Toulouse, he take part in the First Crusade under his command. He make friends with a provencal knight, Raymond d'Agiles, canon at the cathedral of the Puy-en-Velay, and together they decided to write an account of their adventures. And thus was written the "history of the French who took Jerusalem " (Historia francorum qui ceperunt Hierusalem).
After the fall of Nicée and Antioch, Pons was one of the crusaders who claimed to have discovered the Holy Spear. But in july 1099, during the siege of Arcos (actual Tripoli in Lebanon), he was hit on the head by a large stone and died.
During the 12th and 13th
Few documents of this period exist. We only know that in year 1189 the lord Pierre de Balazuc married Catherine de Vierne who, with her son Guillaume, received homage of her vassal Aldabert de Vogüé.
The building of the romanesque church, now known as the Old Church, took place in the 12th century, as well as the first rampart, limited to the centre of the village.
New prosperity in the 13th century made possible the construction of a new rampart, encircling a larger village, with a solid tower rivalising those of Montréal. Rich families settled in fine houses known as "knights' houses".
Guilhem de Balaün
In 1200, the master of the domaine was a curious personnage, Guillaume, great great son of Pons ; today at Balazuc is called Guillaume le Troubadour because he was a troubadour at the court of Toulouse's counts. But not confuse him with the well-kown Guillaume le Troubadour, duke of Aquitaine and of Gascogne, the first poet writing in "langue d'oc" (language of southern France) in the 11th century.
During a period of coolness with his lady-love, the lady of Joviac, so as to be reconcilied with her, he wrote a song for her and tore out a finger-nail, which he sent her as tooken of fidelity. Much occupated with his passionate love affair, he neglected his inheritance and had to sell the mines of Largentière to the bishop of Viviers.
In spite of this loss, his heirs, notably Guillaume de Sanas, remained important nobles, living at Balazuc with a veritable little court of followers, pages, cavaliers, a man of law, a judge and had even a judges champion who has charged to ensure the execution of sentences.
In the 14th century
In 1303, an assembly was held in Montpellier to prepare the reunion of " Etats Généraux " (States General). The lord of Balazuc at this time was Guillaume des Eperviers whose shield is carved over the entrance to St-John's chapel. He was one of the 14 noblemen who affirmed by their presence their loyalty to Philippe le Bel, in his conflict with the pope Boniface 8.
In 1345, Albert de Balazuc married Pelette of Montréal and his domaine grow larger with the property of Montréal, Croze, Uzer, and Montbrison.
Years ago, during the Hundred Years War, the ramparts of Balazuc offered protection to its inhabitants and neighbours. The lords of Balazuc took part in the struggles with the groups of bandits, kown as " the Routiers " who were devastating the countryside : for example in 1381, Albert of Balazuc, lord of Montréal and of Cros, promised Abbot of the monastery of St-Etienne-de-Lugdarès, some soldiers to protect the monks.
In the 15th century
At the beginning of the 15th century, the lord was Guinot of Balazuc. Like many of his predecessors he had important financial problems. This suited the Counts of Vogüé ; Guinot as obliged to cede them his rights at Rochecolombe, the cradle of his family. The "estime" (legal document drawn up at authority of tutelage) drawn up by an officer of the chateau of Balazuc, gives us the first exact description of the village. We learn that the ancient dwelling of the lords kown a "Chastel Vielh", behind the Old Church was in ruins. That in the lane below the church could be seen a forge, a carpenter's workshop partly built in a hollow, a natural shelter under the rock. Balazuc had three times as many inhabitants as Uzer but ten times less than Aubenas. The population was estimated at 500 or 600. The "mas" of Servières already existed.
In the 16th century
Since a long time the lords of Balazuc are no longer descendants of Pons. In the beginning of the 16th century, they no longer live in the village which they have abandoned for the chateau of La Borie, 3 km apart (actually in the nearly commune of Pradons).
But they had not completely abandoned Balazuc because at the same time the " Chastel Vieilh ", also known as " la Roquette ", was rebuilt in Romanesque and Renaissance style.
When the Reform spread through the Viverais, Balazuc became a Catholic stronghold, although many neighbouring localities were on the side of the Huguenots (Uzer, Lagorce, St-Germain, Villeneuve-de-Berg, etc.).
The abside of the Old Church raised to form a defensive tower in the year 1566.
On the 12th january 1576, at the château of La Borie, the lord of Balazuc received the negociators of the paece treaty between regional Catholics and Protestants, treaty which was respected until 1585.
During the following years, the head of the house of Balazuc, Jean, better known as "Brave of Montréal" fought at the head of the Viverais Catholics. Later, when Louis 13th and Richelieu began to hunt the Protestants in southern France, his son, Guillaume was one of their chief lieutenants.
But these Balazucs are no longer the lords of Balazuc. At the most they own property in the village ; their descendants leave the Bas-Viverais and take root near Le Pouzin and Chomérac in the Ardèche with the name of Balazuc-Montréal.
In the 17th century
In the early 17th century, the Barony of Balazuc belongs to the Bornes des Laugères, who also own land at Gras and St-Maurice-d'Ibie. Their heiress, Jacqueline de la Borie, married in 1643 the Marquis Charles de Lafare, " Lieutenant Général des armées royales ". She devotes her long life to embellishing the chateau de la Borie. She continued restauration undertaken She furnished it luxuriously, received notable guests such as Madame de la Sablière, a parisian writer..
Her son Charles-Auguste is Captain of lifeguards of Philippe d'Orléans, brother of Louis the 14th.
She did not neglect Balazuc where she used to be carried in a sedan chair for important religious ceremonies.
In the 18th century
Jacqueline's grandson, Charles-François de Lafare, was doubless less attached than she was to the family patrimony. In 1728 he sold all his rights to a young parisian speculator, Bonnier de Mosson, son of a rich banker from Lyon. In 1738 this Bonnier sold it all to Count Cerice-François de Vogüé for the considerable sum of 360,000 pounds. The latter was delighted with his acquisition as his forefather had for a long period vassals of the lords of Balazuc
Meanwhile Balazuc had a serious alert with the bubonic plague of 1721, which stating at Marseille, swept through the south . All the inhabitants of the hamlet of Audon except one, died, but the epidemie was stopped on the right bank of the river where armed men were hastily placed to prevent anyone crossing.
Shortly before the Revolution, Balazuc was known to be a poor village only producing a little corn, wine and oil, and breeding a few silkworms.
It is not therefore surprising that in 1789 in their " cahiers de doléances " (list of complaints) the people of Balazuc mostly complained of heavy taxes, especially the " Dime " paid to the clergy and the lords' exclusive rights to hunt.
At the appointing of deputies to the " Etats Généraux " to be called at Versailles, it was Count Louis-François de Balazuc who presided the reunion of the three orders of the Bas-Viverais at Villeneuve-de-Berg. But he lived at Chomérac and is only named Balazuc. In 1790, Balazuc became a commune of the canton of Vallon. But the river, still only crossed by a public ferry run by an agent, separated the hamlets of Audon, rebuilt on the plateau after the plague, and Servières from the village.
During the Directoire the woods bordering the Gras were a refuge for " royal " brigands who attacked convois of the Republic on the Aubenas/Joyeuse road.
In the 19th century
In the early 19th century, Balazuc enjoyed a certain development due to the increase of silk production. In spite of terrible epidemics, affecting mostly children, the number of inhabitants increased from 576 in year 1801, to 905 in 1851. But because of the resultant sur-population many were unable to profit from this new prosperity and continued to live in great poverty.
This was the time when Alexandre Tastevin, mayor of the village, rich land-owner at Les Salles, became notorious for his eccentricities. This the time of the "Confrérie de la vache", a chartable association which very year slaughered a cow and distributed its meat to the poors. But their annual ritual banquet became famous for drunkness so much that the parish priest put end to it in 1845.
In 1851 men of Balazuc took part in the Republicans march at Largentière, in protest of the coup d'État of 2nd december by Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte to instaure the Second Empire. Six of men were condamned.
During the following years, Balazuc, like many Ardèche village, suffered a double disaster, the pebrine (a disease of the silkworm) and the phylloxera which devasted the vineyards. For many this meant disaster, ruin and departure to the towns. The census of 1881 showed only 684 inhabitants in the commune.
However, little by little, silkworm breeding increased and the vineyards were replanted, while important realisations were undertaken. A railway from Le Teil to Alès was built and put into service in 1876. In 1884 a bridge over the river was inaugurated. Six years later this new construction withstood the enormous flood wave which on 22nd of september carried away like a straw roof of the old watermill.
With the bridge, communication between the two banks of the river was assured. Servières ceased to belong to the parish of Lanas, Audon no longer part of Uzer. With the increase of worshippers there was no longer room to receive them all in the Old Church. It became necessary to build a new and larger one. This was done in 1892. Another transformation, in 1897 a road was made through the village, by dynamiting rocks and the cost of destroying several medieval houses.
In 20th century
After the 1914/1918 war there remained only 456 inhabitants in Balazuc. Silkworm breeding decreased, the first fruit orchards were planted. In 1940 following the " exodus " dozens of Belgian refugees came to the village. In august 1944 the Resistance blew up the central arch of the bridge to prevent its use by reteating German forces. It was repeared the following year.
From 1950, gradully the tourist vocation
of Balazuc became apparent.
At years go by, attracted by its ancient lanes and by its sandy beach, more and more tourists from over France, from Belgium, Germany, Holland and Switzerland have visited Balazuc. Some buy ruined houses and restore them, others build new ones, so much so that in 1982 fifty percent of the houses are second homes, the highest proportion in the area. These holiday homes, holiday camp, camping sites bring hundred of extra inhabitants to the village during the summer months. But finds Balazuc peaceful once more, as autumn arrives.
The most recent census in 1999 shows the number of inhabitants as 339. There are more retired people than agriculturists. This is an important increase in the population since 1975, when there were only 213 and in 1982 when there were only 275.