The Chalaisians

the Order of Chalais
the Abbey of Valbonne
the village of Valbonne



Built in the form of a rectangle, with parallel horizontal and perpendicular streets around a central square, the village was situated at the northern limit of its commune. The buildings on the edges of the rectangle served as ramparts and there was a gate on each of the four sides. The village was placed next to the abbey, close to the River Brague, and designed by Don Taxil, prior of the abbey and a worker monk from the Lérins monastery, which was then in charge of the Valbonne abbey.

The village was created to provide homes for the workers needed to farm the abbey's land. Don Taxil devised an original method of funding, a Middle Ages version of a private finance initiative. He advertised for private investors to build the houses of the village and to purchase plots of land around it. These investors rented them out, against payment in kind, to the peasants needed to work the land. They were brought in from the hills further inland.

In an Act of habitation, dated 13 October 1519, the meticulous and cultivated Don Taxil spelled out in a document the rights and duties of the new occupants of the village and also the required specifications for the construction of the houses.

It is the same village, planned in such a rational way that exists, almost unchanged, today.

Around the central square, to which was added arcades in the 17th Century, five roads stretch between north and south and ten from east to west. They were laid out at right angles to each other, each one about four metres wide, in the form of a grid. This gives Valbonne, viewed from the air, its characteristic appearance of a giant checkerboard.

The same disciplined pattern was applied to the plans for the houses. The ground floor was to be used as a storeroom or a stable. Some of these rooms are today partially below ground level because the surfaces of streets have been raised. A narrow staircase mounted to the living room and kitchen, with its open hearth for cooking, on the first floor. Floors above contained the bedrooms and at the top of the house was the corn loft to which supplies were hoisted by means of a pulley hanging on the outside of the house. Some of these pulley wheels are still in place.

The abbey church became the parish church. It had a bell tower added in the 19th Century which was not in accordance with the Chalaisian tradition. The old town hall, near the centre of the village, was equipped with a bell tower and a clock.

From evidence dated 1609, it is known that in the village, or close to it, there were a communal oven, the establishments of artisans and tradesmen, and several mills that produced flour and olive oil. Nearby plantations provided flax for weaving and hemp for making ropes and sackcloth. Because of the need for watering, these were situated close to the river.

It was the lack of a proper water supply that was a major problem for the inhabitants of the new village, and would continue to be for a long time.

The River Brague and a reservoir built by the monks provided the only water for Valbonne. As the population grew, the sewage and waste water from the village flowed downhill and contaminated the reservoir. During the 16th Century, a fountain and drinking trough were installed below the village, supplied by a trickle of spring water. The privileged few possessed wells, but the majority of people had to make do with the inadequate supply from the river and the meagre flow from the spring. It was only in 1836 that the "new drinking fountain ", and next to it a trough for animals, both still in place today, were put in place in front of the old town hall.

Since the 16th Century, Valbonne has adopted a coat of arms of azure blue bearing a golden palm frond. The same colours, mimosa yellow and iris blue, are used to decorate the village for its annual winter festival of Saint Blaise.

(c) Abbyvalb - Les Amis de l'Abbaye et du Patrimoine Valbonnais - 2006