These are places for keeping and breeding pigeons in and are quite common in France. I was wondering about the origin and why there are two different names. Is one for bigger constructions and one for smaller units? So I decided to do a bit of research. If you have any more information or information which disagrees with what I say then please contribute a comment.
Now pigeons are a domesticated version of a rock dove and have the scientific name Columba livivia so here is our first clue Columba and Colombier. This is probably a Rock dove, it was a photo I took in Scotland at a place called Tantallon Castle which is a bit of a ruin on the east coast near Edinburgh.I say probably because you are never really sure if they a pure bred Rock doves or just domestic pigeons which have gone back to being wild
Rock doves nest on rock faces and in the entrance to caves so from the time of cave men, man would have been living in close proximity to these birds and given that they are quite tasty and fairly defenceless especially when young it is certain that they formed part of the diet of cave men. There are many references to pigeons which go back many thousands of years.
Over time their use has extended from simply being food. It was discovered that they have a homing instinct though one wonders why primitive man with all his day to day pressures for survival would have bothered to take a pigeon some distance from its roosting place to see if it could find its way back. However this was discovered and that led on to them being used as a way of carrying messages. Also this ability to find their way home has also led to the sport? of racing pigeons.
Finally some people have found the look of pigeons pleasing and to have a calming effect on the soul and so different breeds have been developed , some are pure white and would be known as doves, some will fly in a peculiar way and are called rollers and tumblers ( sounds like a blues classic) and others have odd shapes that some people like such as Pouters and Fantails.
All of this has led to a need to house the little chaps and so in Britain we have Dove cots and these vary in size, shape and construction materials. In France they are housed in Colombiers and/or Pigeonniers. This is a photo I took recently near Civray and it is obviously a building with facilities for pigeons at the top, probably best described as a pigeonnier.
In France the pigeon was not kept for any reason until the Romans invaded and they had kept them for food and the buildings they kept them in were called a Columbarium. Over time this became the French word Colombier.
‘But what is the difference between a Colombier and a pigeonnier? It is a question so often asked. In fact, the Colombier is the Rolls and the Pigeonnier is the bicycle. We could say more clear that the Colombier is an ancient round, square or octagonal tower built in stone while the pigeonnier is usually made of wood and small. Also one finds dovecotes composed of a simple niche in the gable of a house or a wall. In all cases, the Colombier is often medieval, while the pigeonnier is more contemporary. ‘ This is a rough translation from a French web site with lots of photos of Pigeon houses. it is at http://cfpphr.free.fr/colombier.htm so you can check it out yourself.
So there you have it ….no clear distinction when does a pond become a lake? when does old become ancient? The next three photos are from Aulnay where there is an ancient and very large construction, certainly in the Rolls Royce category. From the outside it is not so impressive but inside you can see the enormity of it, places for approximately 2000 nests. Also from the information it suggests that it was also once called a Fuye.
Another good French site with lots of info on these buildings which seem to take on different shapes and features in different regions is at http://pigeonniers-de-france.chez-alice.fr/historique_534.htm and this too is well worth a look.
So now you know…… I think.