Pierre aux Neufs Gradins on Puy Maria

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Pierre aux Neuf Gradins

La Pierre aux Neuf Gradins is located in the municipality of Soubrebost.

This monumental cluster of granite boulders spreads atop a wooded hill known as Puy Maria or La peira daus nòu esbalets in local Patois.

The name literally translates into Pierre aux Neuf Gradins – Stone with Nine Steps.

Puy Maria delineates two green valleys.

It boasts spectacular views over the surrounding countryside in autumn and winter when the trees have lost their leaves.

Characteristics of La Pierre aux Neufs Gradins

Natural erosion produced this amazing cluster of granite boulders.

The boulders initially stood on friable land, which was eroded over the millennia.

A massive 4m high boulder stands upright and hides three boulders.

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The nine steps

Visible tool marks show that these three boulders were carved by man.

Three steps were crudely carved into the first – round and 1,50m tall- boulder.

These steps lead to La Pierre aux Neuf Gradins, a 2.50 m tall boulder carved with nine 1m wide by 10cm tall steps.

A overflow channel or gutter runs down from the top of the boulder.

It then runs under the highest step and disappears to the rear of the boulder.

The top of La Pierre aux Neuf Gradins is perfectly flat and leads to the third stone.

This third boulder was visibly cut in order to form an elongated trapezoidal platform with two interconnected bowls.

Witches’ cauldrons

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Witches’ cauldrons

These natural bowls were also produced by natural erosion.

They are locally known as marmites de sorcières – witches’ cauldrons.

Rainwater, trapped in the bowls, produced a series of chemical reactions with minerals, such as feldspars, present in the granite.

Feldspars indeed contain clay, which dissolved and thus expanded the size of the bowls.

Some bowls can have diameters of 40cm!

Plants debris, that accumulated in the stagnating water, produced high levels of acidity.

As this acidic water overflowed, it hollowed channels that expanded over time and formed what we would call ‘gutters’.

La Pierre aux Neuf Gradins’ legends

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Gutter

La Pierre aux Neuf Gradins is very unusual.

It is recognized as an ‘archaeological enigma’, however is neither classified nor protected!

We know that the marmites de Sorcières were naturally formed and that the nine steps were once carved by man.

However, the identity of these ancient stone-cutters and the purpose of the carved boulder still remain a mystery!

That said, La Pierre aux Neuf Gradins present similarities with other known sites in Western Europe.

Some believe they were an ancient places of worship dating from the Paleolithic and later used by the druids for ceremonies and sacrifices.

The double mystery surrounding La Pierre aux Neuf Gradins obviously triggered the emergence of many local legends.

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Platform…or altar

Ancient folks indeed believed that the water contained in the bowls had healing properties.

They believed it would cure scalp rash and fever if they threw a coin in it before drinking.

Women also believed in the witches’ cauldrons’ magic properties.

They placed one of their hairpins in the water, then drink it in order to ensure their husbands’ fidelity!

How to get there?

A steep trail signposted from the D60 road north of the town of Pontarion accesses the site.

Location: Department of Creuse – Limousin department

Coordinates for Pierre aux Neuf Gradins: Lat 46.012567 – Long 1.862338

Photos via Wikimedia Creative Commons: Photo #1Photo #2Photo #3Photo #4Photo #5 by Philippe hirou are licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0