Provence was dotted with ice houses that produced and stored giant cubes of ice needed in city centers to store perishable goods.The Glacière de Pivaut located in Mazauges at the foot of the Sainte Baume mountain pictured above was fully functional until the late 1780s and recently restored. Like it’s counterparts it was built on an incline so as to be able to load on one end while taking ice out from another.
Some of these ice houses date back to the 1650s and follow a similar construction. Built on a hill in a shaded forest and made of dry stone, these ice houses were approximately 25 meters high and 20 meters in diameter. Exterior and interior walls were built and clay was poured between the 2 walls to provide additional insolation. Ice houses were always located next to a stream from which water was channeled to the ice house to make the ice. The floors were covered with large pieces of timber so that the ice never came into contact with the earth that could heat up during the summer months. A run off channel was dug so that no excess water remained inside the ice house.
Ice was made by pouring water into giant molds that were lined with the shoot of grape vines in order to be able to unmold the ice more easily. Each block was then lined up to create a low layer in the ice house. The first layer was covered with straw and the next layer was built.
The ice was produced during the winter months and could stay frozen for up to a full year. The Glacière de Pivaut provided ice to the Port city of Toulon during the spring and summer months. It was transported at night to take advantage of cooler temperatures. Unmolded and loaded onto carts the ice was covered with straw or foliage so as to prevent them from melting too quickly. Over a 100 men worked to load the ice and the trip from Mazauges to Toulon would take about 12 hours on mule driven carts.