|Subject: French Travelogue 13|
Day 26: Domme - St.Cirq Lapopie
Rachel filled a baguette with ham, tomato, lettuce and mashed egg. Although we are booked for seven days in the gite, we decided to sacrifice one night, in favour of staying at Saint Cirq Lapopie. We left the gite at 9.00am and headed for Cahors. On the way we stopped at Cenac and purchased some fruit. The Gaelic tribe of the Cadurci were the first peoples to build in Cahors. The name of their town was Divona Cadurcorum, shortened to Cadurca and eventually became Cahors. The Romans came and mixed with the Gaelic population and in time the people became known as Gallo-Romans. Extensive remains, like baths, villars, temples and theatres, were found in Cahors In the 12th century Cahors had a population of 40,000 inhabitants. During the Hundred Years War the people of Cahors remained faithful to the king and his cause, but were abandoned by the monarchy and subsequently became an English possession. Most of the fortifications were erected during these violent times. The barbican, flanked by two squat towers were just part of the ramparts that blocked the narrow isthmus at the neck of the river's loop. The 16th century saw the advent of the Wars of Religion. Cahors surrendered to the protestants and suffered terribly at their hands. We followed the road signs to one of Cahors famous tourist sights, the Valentre Bridge. Spanning the Lot River downstream from the town, the bridge was built as part of the fortifications and defended the great loop in the river. This bridge was considered to be one of the finest and one of the best examples of Middle Age military architecture. Cahors was an attractive target for all sorts of rogues and they nearly all used the river as their mode of transport, so it was the river that needed the protection. Construction of the bridge commenced in 1308, and even during the Hundred Years War no force has ever managed to take this bridge. The three large square towers that adorn the bridge, are over forty metres above the river, and all three are protected by parapets, battlements and machicolations. Included in the fortifications are the barbicans at either end of the bridge. The pointed battlements, which extend above the bridge and are anchored on the river bed, face upstream, and are there to protect the huge piers. There was some restoration undertaken in 1879. There is a legend concerning the building of the bridge and it goes something like this. The architect responsible for the building of the Valentre Bridge decided that the construction was not going ahead at a fast enough clip, so he called on the Almighty to help. When his prayers were not answered he decided to enlist the help of The Prince of Darkness. Satan was more than happy to help. He struck a deal with the architect, when the construction of the bridge was completed, ahead of time, he would get his soul. Although work on the bridge was well ahead of schedule, the architect started to have second thoughts, about roasting in hell. He came up with the idea that we would have the devil go and get water to mix his mortar, using a large sieve as the receptacle. Try as he might the devil could not complete his side of the deal, and so, true to his word, he had to admit defeat. But was the devil beaten, every time the last stone was placed at the top of the great tower, it promptly fell to the ground. The devil, struggling to to dislodge the topmost stone, has been etched into the top right hand corner of this tower. It was time to have the baguette that Rachel had prepared, prior to leaving the gite. After dinner we went and photographed the huge barbican that was part of the original ramparts. Our tourist guide suggested some dwellings that are worth a look: At number 117 rue Lastie, we saw a fine 16th century house with large arches and ornate windows on the first floor. At 156 on the same street, a half timbered, three storied house, with a corbelled facade, was seen. Another dwelling that interested us was the Roaldes House, a large half timbered residence with an open gallery just under the roofline (soleilho). Flanked by a tall slender pepper-pot tower, this dwelling was where Henri 4th stayed during the siege of Cahors in 1580. We photographed the impressive 11th century St. Stephens Cathedral which was originally built as a fortress. Its facade and the towers on either side of the main building gave the appearance of a formidable keep. Next to the cathedral and sheltered by a high wall are the magnificent Gothic cloisters, with their delicate architecture. They had virtually gone through the siege of Cahors, unscathed.
It was time to move on and we headed towards to St. Cirq Lapopie. The way to the hotel was well signposted and we passed through a fine Gothic arch called Rocamadour Gate (Pelisseria). We stopped the car, where we probably should not have, and took in the fine views out over the lower village which is dominated by the imposing church. Here we noticed how the village virtually clung to the edge of the cliff, while the Lot river, many metres below, gently meandered along. We continued on down this narrow road, for a short distance, and stopped outside the hotel, I got out with the luggage and Rachel drove backup the hill to park the car. The road that we just drove down is, rue de la Pelissaria, (Pelissaria is the old name signifying skin or hide). All the buildings in this immediate area, used to be occupied by leather merchants. La Pelissaria is a three star, 13th century, hotel, with amazing views out over the lower village of St Cirq Lapopie. Although our room had only one small window, with virtually no view, there was a small private patio outside which was well lit up at night. The room was a good size, clean and tidy and the beds comfortable. Breakfast is the only meal available, but as usual we did not bother. The car park is some distance away and is not secured. We did not converse with the staff a great deal, but they appeared to be courteous and friendly and spoke English. The car parking could be a bit of a worry, but we enjoyed our one night stay in this hotel. La Pelissaria St. Cirq Lapopie Phone: 0033 5 65312514 Fax: 0033 5 65302552 We drove into the upper village and parked the car in an area provided, above the village. We walked down to Grand'Rue with houses that had beautiful half timbered facades. We then entered rue de Fourdone, which we considered to be one of St Cirq most picturesque streets. This cobble-stoned street, well adorned with flowering shrubs, crossed a vaulted passage which appeared to join two sections of a house. A small private bridge gave direct access to this house. We retraced our steps and headed towards Sombral Square, Sombral takes its name from the word Solombrail which means shade. Shade to me meant trees, and although there were a few umbrellas scattered about, there were very few trees to be seen. The tourist office and the town hall are situated in what is the largest square in the village. Up above Sombral Square was a large rocky mass, overgrown with secondary plant growth, on which the castle of the lords of St Cirq Lapopie once stood. Nothing much remains of this fortress, which was slighted by order of the protestant leader, Henri de Navarre in the 16th century. We climbed to the top, up some stairs which were the remains of the ramparts, and were rewarded with magnificent views out over the Lot valley and river. Although there was a strong metal fence which enclosed the top of the hill, the sheer drop over Bancourel Cliff down to the Lot river, still gave me a queer feeling in the pit of my stomach. We proceeded down the very narrow rue de la Peyrolerie with its many old craft shops. This was once a very busy street, where Gothic arches used to give access to their workshops. These arches are now closed in. On the corner is a large building which is now the post office but was once a convent. From here we took photographs of the remains of the former feudal castles, not to be confused with the fortress that was raised, and the church. We headed towards the car and back onto Grand'Rue and turned into Place du Carol In this small square stood Andre Breton's house with its large, (dare I say it) almost ugly square tower. The facade featured some fine Gothic windows.(Andre Breton was a writer who in the 1950's used this area as his base. He stated: More than many other sites, St Cirq Lapopie has enchanted me forever. I no longer wish to be elsewhere) Just across from the Breton's house was the walls of the La Gardette. There was a path that looked like it led there, but it appeared to follow the edge of the cliff. As I have stated before, more than once, I do not have a head for heights and so we back-tracked through Grand'Rue. La Gardette was used to house soldiers but after extensive restoration, it has been transformed into a museum, where numerous art exhibitions had been held. This is one of the few buildings, in Saint Cirq, that can be visited. One of the final homes that we photographed was called the Daura Home named after a famous painter that used to reside here. I understand that it was once used as a hospital. The facade is decorated with Gothic windows and the main door, with its wide Gothic arch, is off a small side street. Under the over-hang, we saw human heads carved into the edges of the beams. There are many more private residences which we have not mentioned, but are definitely worth seeing. A visit to this amazing medieval village is a must. Try and stay for a night, and if possible the months of July and August aer to avoided. We were there at the end of September, it was a bit cooler and was less crowded. That evening we walked back to the village centre and had a very nice simple meal. I had a buckwheat crepe with potato, ham and egg, and Rachel had a lasagne salad. We also had a side bowl of chips between us. We had a great day full of history and amazing architecture, followed by an enjoyable meal, and then back to good hotel, what more could we have asked for.
Day 27: St. Cirq Lapopie - Domme
We awoke to find the whole valley was covered with a blanket of fog. Our first item on the agenda was to photograph Saint Cirq from the other side of the Lot river. Not much point to attempt this so we headed off to the Pech Merle Caves and hoped that the fog had cleared by the time we had got out. (Pech Merle Cave was discovered by two teenage boys. Open to the public since 1924, the cave contained 1.2 km's of galleries on several levels, with all kinds of stalagmites and stalactites, curtain draperies and the very rare Cave Pearls But in addition to all this , Pech Merle boasted as many as five hundred cave drawings, painted or engraved on the walls by prehistoric artists.) The Mammoth Chapel is truly remarkable, there were perfectly clear images of mammoths with crossed tusks, horses, bison and oxen, all had been drawn, in what is called the black frieze. A little further on we entered the Hall of Hieroglyphics. On the ceiling we saw many strange symbols, mammoths and a very large breasted female. Some of these were hardly discernible, while others were very clear. In the Hall of Disks early man has left us the footprints of a woman and a child. Probably the most famous of the cave paintings, we saw next. An artist used the natural shape of the rock, which resembled a horse's head, painted two horses back to back, and covered them with black spots. On the same wall the outline of six hands were drawn. We emerged from the mirky depths of the cave into bright sunlight. We went back to the village of Cabrerets, which nestles at the base of the high cliff of Rochecourbe. Built into a natural cleft on the cliff face is the Chateau du Diable (Castle of the Devil) This castle was built with stone of the same colour as the cliff face making it almost invisible to the naked eye. The main body of the castle is flanked by a huge tower with only two small windows built into its facade. It is not known when and by whom that this castle was built but during the Hundred Years War a band of mercenaries set up headquarters there, ruled with such violence and terror, from this impregnable stronghold, they gave Cabrerts a bad reputation. Also at some stage during this war, this stronghold was slighted for fear of the English taking possession. Downstream from the village, high above on the cliff edge, stood the Chateau du Gontaut-Biron, built during the 15th and 16th centuries. The main building, built from the same stone as Chateau du Diable, is flanked by a large round tower with a conical roof. A beautiful terrace, surrounded by an ornamental balustrade overhung the road. We went back and took the photograph of Saint Cirq Lapopie, from the other side of the Lot river.
As we had some spare time on our hands we decided to have a look at the fortress of Bonaguil. The road that followed the Lot river was very similar to the one that travelled along the rim of the Tarn Gorge, in that we passed through numerous tunnels and rock overhangs. Above the small village of Bouzies, at the entrance of one of those tunnels, and wedged in the corner of the cliff face, was some sort of fortification. In a lot of ways it was very similar to the Chateau du Diable, in that the facade was built with stone of the same colour and there was only one window. The name of this small castle is Chateau des Anglais, (The Englishman's Castle). (I could not find out why it was given that name, it appeared that the English had never laid siege to this castle) I was itching to climb the rock face to go and have a look at this edifice, but Rachel reminded me of my age and my bad knee. (Damn its hard getting old sometimes. LOL) We arrived at the huge and powerful Bonaguil Castle. The entrance fee included a map of the castle and we were on our own. (This castle was built by the powerful Roquefeuil family in the 15th century and was one of the last fortress's of its kind to be built. The name, Bonaguil from bonne Aiguille simply means good needle and that came from the narrow piece of rocky outcrop that the castle was built on. Bonaguils first fortified walls were raised around a bold pentagonal keep. Later a labyrinth of high interlocking curtain walls, along with the apartments and more large towers were added.) We entered the castle, via the drawbridge (this castle has seven drawbridges), through the barbican and on our right was the Grosse Tower (Great Tower) This tower measured 14 metres across and trimmed with a border of inverted pyramid shaped corbels that support machiclations. Inside this tower there are spiral staircases, secret doors, blind corridors and fine vaulted rooms. The Red Tower (Lords Apartments)which was joined to the great tower, has the sleeping quarters for the Lords of the castle. We met up with a group of English walkers who invited us to accompany them for the rest of the tour. One of their group was full of information about this castle. The Square Tower was protected by one of the drawbridges, plus cannon loopholes that were arranged in such a way a that murderous cross fire, as well as to the rear, was achieved. Its heavy door had a very ingenious but simple reversed central hinge which prevented the door from being forced with a lever. Probably the most cunning form of defense was called the Chicane. It led the poor unsuspecting enemy through a narrow winding passage, to the foot of the ramparts, where they immediately came under cannon fire. The keep had a very narrow spiral staircase that led to the upper terrace where great aerial views were had of Bonaguil and the surrounding country side. The defenses of Bonaguil relied heavily on cannon fire and muskets. Underneath the castle there was a series of tunnels which connected between the courtyard and the moat. Although there was cave before the castle was built, it was enlarged during the Middle Ages. These passageways had been used as both, a storage area and a safe get-a-way. It was getting late, we said our good-byes to our new found friends and headed off back to the cottage. I decided that a short cut would be in order, so off we went. We ended up in the town of Fumil in error, no problems I said to Rachel, Turn right at the next corner. This took us into a back woods area where two men discharged some shot gun rounds, not at us, and we ended up in someone's back yard. We had to retrace our steps and tried again. We finally ended up back near the castle and wasted 45 minutes. Great short cut EH. We arrived back at the cottage at 6.30pm.
More Later........ Richard (Christchurch, New Zealand) ricardo