Alpe d’Huez hosts an important and little known archaeological site, classified as a historical monument. Les Brandes, the highest medieval village in Europe, linked to the exploitation of a silver mine, ensured the fortune of the Dolphin dynasty.
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It is a journey through time that dates back to the 12th century. On the mountain of Huez, the flag flies of the Dauphin dynasty who reigned over Isère, Drôme and Hautes-Alpes.
The village of Brandes is the highest medieval village in Europe, perched at 1 800 meters above sea level. He made the fortune of the lords of the Dauphiné for two centuries. These are the oldest known silver mines in the region.. However, they are still unknown to the general public.
The excavations of this important archaeological site, classified as a historical monument, began in 1977. Marie-Christine Bailly-Maître, historian, author and archaeologist director of research of the CNRS, knows the smallest details and the most hidden corners.
“Each tank we see corresponds to a building of the time, to a workshop for the processing of the mined silver ore, or even to the homes of the miners and their families.girls “, he explains, describing: “There are almost 80 foundations, vestiges or walls spread over more than 900 meters in length, all in the basin“.
Semi-buried constructions in the ground, from North to South, for a good reason: to protect themselves from the harshness of the climate. The architecture was not sophisticated, but the layout was clever. Made of stacked stones collected from the mountains, they were topped with wooden frames and a rye thatched roof, “excellent thermal insulation“.
The village of Brandes had up to nearly 250 inhabitants. Families even built their own church there. dedicated to their patron Saint Nicholas. “People settled gradually starting in the early 12th century, says our historical guide Marie-Christine Bailly-Maître. First they built a small chapel.
Over time, between the 12th and 14th centuries, the population of the town grew, so much so that the miners endowed their church with a square in front.
For two centuries miners have been digging the mountain, up to 3 000 meters above sea level, in search of the precious silver ore. There are still today the remains of their work, mining sites in the open, but also underground.
Unfortunately, their story has slowly fallen into oblivion. Yet it was they who contributed to the wealth of the Dauphiné lords, who were able to afford the construction of a monumental chapel in Grenoble, which became the church of Saint-André.
Silver money was minted with the precious mineral, reference currency in the medieval West. The first university works dedicated to the Brandes site date back to 1930, led by the geographer of Gap André Allix.
At the same time, the historian Marc Bloch too interested in what he considered “the curious story of the Brandes mines ” which remained active in Oisans until the mid-fourteenth century. Since then, the researchers have continued the work of their predecessors, and they dream of finding out more. “hidden treasures “.