Morlaix is fortunate in that it has managed to retain approximately one hundred and twenty 15th and 16th century timber framed buildings. La Maison du Pondalez is a typical Morlaisian house, built in the 16th century and then inhabited by a nobleman.
La Maison du Pondalez is located in the heart of Morlaix, in the street called “la grand rue”. It was, and still is, a commercial street where, in the past, the linen traders were found. In those days the harbour in Morlaix was very active and the trade in linen contributed towards the great wealth of the town, and the area.
The 14th century “War of Sucessions” made many noblemen poor. Those who wanted to trade in linen, to earn money, had to give up their noble titles in order to do so. By surrendering their nobility they also gave up many privileges but felt ashamed to have to do this.
In order to make themselves feel, and appear, more important they built themselves splendid homes, whose architecture was inspired by their rural manor houses. The interior designs of these houses are unique in the world, and a very special feature.
These timber framed houses are called “maisons a pan-de-bois” or “a columbages”. The space between the timber frames is rendered with a mixture of clay and straw, or sometimes horse or cow hair. The outside face of this is covered with a lime wash to help keep out rain water.
This house has three floors, and each floor projects forward in front of the one below and is called corbelling.
Do you know why corbelling is used in the design? ≈ It serves as a form of protection for the house, reducing solar gain, by creating shadow, and it helps to stop rain water running down the face of the building.
The distance between similar houses on either side of a street is about 5.8m at ground floor level and only about 3.3m on the top floor. Some timber framed houses have had slates hung on their facades to keep rain water out. La Maison du Pondalez house does not, however, it is possible to see many nearby that do.
On the front of this house there are many sculptures and it is possible to imagine how wonderful this street must have looked when all the houses had such statues.
On the first floor there is the statue representing “L’Annonciation” or “Lady Day”, with the Angel Gabriel on the left and the Virgin Mary on the right. The two statues in the middle represent two angels playing music. Together these represent both themes normally found in sculpture, namely religion and feasts.
On the second floor there are the statues of St Jacques, St Laurent, St Nicolas and Ste Barbe. Sainte Barbe is the protectress saint of the town of Roscoff. Sainte Barbe is also the patron saint of firemen So the sculpture of Sainte Barbe on this house acted as a good luck charm against the possibility of fire. Wooden houses, built so close together, burn very easily, however, the designers incorporated stone walls between each house to prevent the spread of fire.
Inside La Maison du Pondalez the unique architecture is split into three parts:
1. The Booth (shop) was where business was done. Goods or commodities were presented for sale on a stall. When the shop was closed for business the stall became a shutter. This one was restored completely a few years ago The stained glass windows have been restored too, using the original methods of construction. It is made up of little pieces of blown glass set into lead cames (H shaped pieces of lead that clamp the glass between the wings of the H).
The original windows opened outwards, unlike most windows do in France today, and the hooks are still there that fixed them open and served to prevent them from banging.
2. The Manor Room was a common space, inspired by the design of the Breton manor houses. This space is unique as it provides a central atrium running up through the house from ground floor to the underside of the roof. There are spiral staircases linked by little bridges called “pont d’allees” or “pondalez”. This Breton word means “landing” or “corridor”.
3. The Back Room was either a bedroom or cellar. It’s exact function is not really known.
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Maison de la Duchess Anne
Anne de Bretagne, who was born and lived in Nantes, was crowned Duchess of Brittany (Duchess Anne) on 10 February 1489. Duchess Anne was twice Queen of France, having married Charles VIII in December 1491 and then Louis XII in January 1499.
In June 1505 she decided to visit her region, and when she visited Morlaix she was received with acclaimed and made most welcome.
This house is called “the Duchess Anne House”, not because Duchess Anne stayed here, she did not, but the house was new when she visited Morlaix, and has been known by this name ever since.
We can see many sculptures on the front elevation, representing one of the most common themes: “the feast”.