A stunning bridge in Cahors. This is a 'Devil's Bridge', legend being that the Devil was tricked into helping build it. The photos were taken using my sunglasses as a filter for maximum pretentiousness. Despite that, it's a must-see for bridge fans.
If you are staying you will have time to take a look at the old secular buildings in town. The finest on is behind the Cathedral down at the river. Here is the+mansion the Hotel de Roaldes built at the end of the 15C. It is half-timber and brick and has an upstairs gallery for enjoying the good weather (like in Venice). It also has a tower. Henri IV is said to have stayed here during the siege of 1580. A nearby house has remnants of a Renaissance face with a fine doorway and window (no details) and nearby in a square is a charming very old fountain with a pack of hounds spouting water from their mouths.
There is little left to study in the church. In the Apse are some fine 14C Stained Glass windows. The chancel is covered with murals and is totally painted. It is an attempt to simulate the medieval pilgrimage appearance (we think), but did not impress us. There were two chapels that were preserved in their original styles but we have no notes on them.
Since the church was initially Romanesque it is surprising to find that it is tall, wide and adequately lit. It is without aisles, but tall chapels were let in the walls later. Instead of using a potentially combustible flat wood roof cover, the nave is vaulted by two large domes on pendentives. (This new approach is found on a few churches in Aquitaine nearby and in Palermo). This roof-type was immediately rejected elsewhere for the arched vaulting of the Gothic style just beginning. In the west dome is a 13C mural of the Stoning of Stephen with 8 radiating Apostles (really need binoculars for this). The Rose window in the West Front is obscured by the organ. The apse was redone and vaulted in Flamboyant Gothic in the early 14C. The remaining interior details will be another Tip
The cloister was added to the Abbey complex in the beginning of the 16C. It is Flamboyant Gothic. When we visited, it had been long neglectedand restoration had just begun. The arches, doorways, ribbing and bosses will all look more handsome when finished
The medieval bridge is the identifier of Cahors. It was started in 1308. It has three defensive towers. The outer towers had barbicans and porticulises and the central tower was a sort of keep. Its spans have enormous sturdy piers sunk into the river. It has never been taken in warfare. Viollet-le-Duc restored it in1879 and in line with an ancient legend sculpted a devil which he placed at the top of the central tower which in its lower levels houses a small museum. (We did not feel young enough to climb the stairs). It is a mysterious looking night shot.
St. Stephens' Cathedral was built over much of the 12C. It undoubtedly received some of the mason-carvers from Moissac (See Our Tips there), since it was on the Pilgrimage Route after Conques (again see Tips). This is manifest in the North Door which was installed in the West Facade but was immediately moved here. The South Door of the church was finished in 1119 and the chevet was not completed until the 13C. The importance of the door was that it housed the newest devotional attraction: a Tympanum (finished in 1135). It starts with a large outer arch which comes to a slight point at the top. It is composed of alternating flat stones and carved bands that descend onto small applied columns with heavily figured capitals. Surrounding the arch are sets of 3 blind arcades decorated with large carved rosettes. Similar sets of arcades and rosettes fill the porch. (Apparently there were no advanced stone carvers available to do large bas reliefs or statues of some type). The facade is built upward to a shallow ledge supported on fanciful modillon heads. Further up at the roofline (and along all other horizontal lines) are a profusion of more heads. Stepping back one can see the unusual thick domes that cover the nave. If you look carefully at the outer Arch you can see small figures climbing up in the groove; they are small carvers working diligently and anonymously on the church (most unusual!).
The South Door of the Cathedral was finished in 1119 and has a trilobed shape, almost Oriental in feel, made of brick and stone. The late Renaissance arcading above in similar materials harmonizes nicely (almost Venetian). The West Front (14C) is built of 3 fused towers with a central belfry and looks as military as the Pont Valentre (probably with good cause). It has a Gothic doorway and a Rose window and other little touches to lighten the severity. From here the two domes covering the nave can be sen. The chevet (14C) is Gothic with large windows sustained by applied buttresses. The military stance is lightened by two arcaded balustrades above.
The tympanum is dated 1135, making it one of the first ones extant (See our Moissac Tips in this Region, for the first one anywhere dated "before 1115"). This one is an Ascension and features a standing Christ in an almond-shaped mandorla with Angels at each side. Above his head 4 cherubim come out of clouds to greet Him as he rises. Th Apostles are in blind arcades below watching the miracle with Mary at their center pointing upward at Him. At the middle on the sides are two levels of panels of scenes from the life of Stephen ending with his stoning and the Hand of God reaching out to him. The lintel is undecorated. To enter the church one descends a flight of steps to the nave.
The main reason to visit Cahors is to see this beautiful bridge. Interesting to note that the GR65 - Chemin St Jarques (Camino de Santiago de Compostela) passes over this wonderful medieval structure. At night the bridge is floodlight further illustrating its appeal.
It is certainly worth your while to go to the bridge. It is so medieval and gives you a real sense what it was like back then, trying to defend your village. The views you get down the river are also beautiful!
The Valentre Bridge, which is the symbol of the town, was begun in 1308 and completed in 1378.
A legend holds that the architect had a pact with the devil to help complete it. When the bridge was restored in 1879, the architect Paul Gout made reference to this by placing a small sculpture of the devil at the summit of one of the towers.
There is parking nearby although quite squeezed in and you can sit and picnic alongside the bridge.
Opposite, and by the parking, there is a foie gras shop where as long as you have some bread and a knife you can provision yourself very nicely.
Every Saturday morning the Cathedral Square fills with the produce of the region. Whever it be goat's cheese from Rocamadour, sage grown on the towns outskirts or donkey meat sausage the farmers market has it all to please your culinary desires. Prices are reasonable and there is a huge variety of the seasons bounty.