|Subject: French Travelogue 12|
Day 25: Day Trip
The day dawned bright and sunny. Decided to do some washing before we set off.
Our first stop of the morning was to be the Chateau de Hautfort. The chateau can be seen from a long way off. We arrived at the chateau at 11.35am, and was disappointed to be told that the last tour for the morning was in progress. The first tour in the afternoon was scheduled for 2.00pm. We were not prepared to wait that long so we paid 20ff just to see the gardens. The gardens were spread over an area of some 72 acres. We derived great pleasure from wandering around and photographing the a variety of trees, rose plants, and covered passages of conifers. There was also a magnificent topiary garden. We photographed the exterior of this huge 16th century castle. To enter the castle a drawbridge has to be crossed and then through a gatehouse which is flanked by two watch towers, dating back to 1588. The main section of the castle is flanked by two round, domed towers.
We left the chateau early in the afternoon and proceeded to the rock settlement of the Roque Saint-Christophe (Rock of St. Christopher). We arrived at the Rock and had something to eat which wasn't too good but it was filling. (The cliff of the Roque St. Christophe is one km in length, rises 100 metres above the road and overlooked the Vezere river. The cliff face contains five natural levels, which were carved out during the Ice Age some 600 million years ago. Evidence found on these levels proved that Neanderthal man inhabited this area, over 72,000 years ago. Approx. 40,000 years ago Cro-Magnon man, present day mans' direct ancestor, also lived on the Rock. Archaeological evidence also showed that the cliff was occupied, in the Neolithic period (about 9,000 years ago), in the Bronze Age (about 4,500 years ago), and the Iron Age (about 3,000 years ago) The discovery of a Roman furnace proved that they had also been here. In 1066 a fortress was built on this site to repel Norman raids. During the Hundred Years War the fortress became a stronghold against England, who at the time ruled over a lot of the immediate area. In the 16th century the Huguenots (protestants) held this fortress and in 1588, during the Wars of Religion, the catholic king, Henry 111, ordered the total destruction of the fortress.) We entered via a narrow ledge which was the original entrance of the fortress. There used to be a drawbridge at this location, but has since disappeared to be replaced by a fixed platform. Above us, the cliff face has been hollowed out as a sentry post where rocks and hot tar were dropped on attackers. We carried on and came to an area where houses were constructed. During the early periods only crude methods were used to create shelter but in the middle ages a proper community was created. The rock face itself formed the rear of the dwellings and hollows in the rock can still be seen where horizontal beams of timber were inserted. They in turn were secured to the wooden uprights. In pre-historic times the walls would have probably been covered with wattle, but by the 15th and 16th centuries, stone was being used. The rock face had numerous channels carved out of it, this enabled water to be collected and what was not needed was drained off. Small and larger chambers were hacked out of the rock and used as cupboard space. The floor contained pits which were used for the storage of water and grain. As we proceeded along the Roque Saint-Christophe we noticed many rings, on the ceiling as well as the walls. The ones on the ceiling were there to hang simple dish shaped oil lamps and the ones on the rock walls were there to tether the animals. We then passed through an area that was used as a slaughter house. There was a stone chopping block, as well as a stone sink and channels that drained away the blood. Next to the slaughter house was the smoke-curing chamber. We saw a chimney and many more stone rings where meat fish and meat could have been hung. As was common with all the shelters along the rock face, the front of this chamber would once have been enclosed. We then walked up some stone steps to another level. On the way up a perfectly shaped crevice in the rock face was used as a wall safe, with shelf supports and a locking device. We then came to a very important part of the rock shelter. Over 400 metres long this was the biggest Abris (rock shelter) in Europe. We were then approx. 30 metres above the river, and back in time, 30 houses would have stood along this ledge. Above and below we saw two more ledges, the upper ones are not open to the public, making five levels in all. Those five levels sheltered approx. 1000 people. Scientists unearthed evidence that as well as stone steps connecting these levels, private dwellings had wooden ladders connecting other houses on different levels. We came to an area that was used as a church, with crosses carved into the rock face, tombs hacked out of the stone floor and more oil lamp rings in the ceiling. The back wall had been hollowed out, probably to improve acoustics. On the edge of the cliff was a replica of the original device used to bring up supplies. This machine weighs more than 1000 kilos, a diameter of 3 metres, and was operated by one person, walking the drum, very similar to a mouse in a treadmill. By using this method, material weighing up to 500 kilos could be raised. Only three people were needed to operate this crane, one walked the drum, one guided the cable and the third operated the brake. The fort had an ingenious early warning system. We could see across the valley, a hollow or a small cave and from where we were standing a horn would have been blown and the sound picked up by some-one standing guard, in the lookout post across the valley. He in turn would have done the same to a similarly sited look-out post. This was carried out along 22 look-out posts over a distance of 18km's, and would have taken about three minutes to complete the warning. The system probably dates from time when Viking raids took place. A recent experiment proved that this early warning system did in fact work. The last area we visited, served as the garrison kitchen in the middle ages. We saw a central hearth, cupboard carved into the walls, a stone sink, a chopping block, a grain measurer and a flour mill. On the far wall was a carving of a fish and a Madonna. We exited the Roque saint-Christophe via stone steps, which had been built fairly recently, the original ones are still visible but are in a dangerous condition. To drive out we had to pass through this gap in the rock which narrowed down quite considerably, and guess what we encountered on the way through, a bus, we had to, along with all the cars behind us, reverse out to let the bus through.
Our next stop was the thee medieval town of Sarlat.(The following is a short account of the history of Sarlat). (Sarlat is the most visited site in the Dordogne region. Over 1 million tourists visit this town every year. Although Sarlat mainly caters for its visitors, there is some industry represented, mainly food processing plants, many of which produce foie gras (duck products) Although Sarlat has many 13th to 16th century buildings in the old town, she cannot claim a distant past. During the Hundred Years War Sarlat was never taken by the English, in spite of the plague which ravaged the defenders ranks. Half the towns residences were rebuilt between 1450 and 1500 in an early Renaissance style. The majority of the towns architectural masterpieces date back to this period. In spite of the new plague epidemic, from 1521 to 1522, claiming 3000 lives, the middle of the 16th century saw sarlat grow and prosper. For the first time in sarlats' history, she was taken by military force, namely Geoffroy de vivians (leader of the protestant army) A few months later it was re-taken by papal forces. If it wasn't for an act of parliament, in August 1962, the old part of sarlat might have become ruinous. Great renovation and restoration was carried out, as from 1964.) One of the most famous houses we photographed was the house of La Boetie. This magnificent house with its highly ornate facade was an exceptional piece of Italian renaissance architecture. Mullioned bay windows in the Italian renaissance style decorated the upper stories. On the left hand side of the main entrance, and set into the steep stone roof, was a superb dormer window, decorated at the sides with ornate scroll work. (Etienne de la Boetie (1530-63) was born in this house on the 1st November, into a respectable family of magistrates and traders. He was a brilliant student and many considered him to be one of the great thinkers of that time. He wrote many poems and a book, which was considered by many to be full of heresy. The book was circulated in secret and was only published after his death. The plague broke out in Sarlat in 1563 and La Boetie died on the 18th August 1563). We photographed the large, Saint Sacerdos cathedral. The construction of the cathedral was commenced in 1504. and because it was not completed until the 17th century, the facade shows the architectural layers of three centuries. The main part of the cathedral dates back to the 16th century, - the immense nave supported by flying buttress's. The belfry is topped with an unusual bulb shaped tower roof. Just a short distance away we came across the conical shaped edifice called the graveyard lantern. The use of this 12th century building is unknown and its shape reminded me of a rocket ship. The Presidial, former courthouse was established by Henry 11 in 1552. In the 17th century it accommodated up to 10 prosecutors and 13 barristers. This building has two open sided galleries and its facade is partly covered by some sort of creeper. There is a strange looking turret on the roof. This building was certainly attractive and we took many photographs. Another building to take our eye, was the Musee des Mirepoises (Museum of arms, armour, furniture etc). This 17th building was originally a convent. Being a museum we assumed it would be open but the entrance was closed and locked. with no times of entry posted. On the Place de la Liberte (Liberty Square), in the centre of Sarlat, stands the splendid town hall. The town was built in 1615, and on the ground floor there are covered arcades and the first floor, a balustraded balcony crowned by a frieze. Although the weather looked threatening, it wasn't raining, so we sat down at a table in front of the town hall and had an enjoyable coffee. Opposite town hall is the house named Vienne House with its 18th century facade. This building looked like a mini chateau with its square turret and renaissance portal (doorway) This house has five stories and each level is set back from each other. In the top left hand corner there is corbelled bartizan. One of the most picturesque buildings is the L shaped Vassal House with its steep stone roof and the double corbelled bartizan. An interesting building is Plamon House which was originally built in the 14th century, but has been added to over the next few centuries. The ground and first floors have fine 14th century pointed arches, while the second floor has 15th century bay windows.The porch and the stairway date back to the 17th century. I have described only a few of the buildings that Rachel and I photographed. Sarlat can quite rightly be described as being probably the best preserved medieval town in France. We would describe as a must See The weather was looking threatening again, and we had the washing out and so we made dash back to the gite. We made it before the skies opened up.
More Later Richard Christchurch, New Zealand