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Visiting Cahors, France: architectural gem from the Middle Ages

Updated on August 17, 2016
Flag of France
Flag of France | Source
The famous, monumental, Medieval bridge at Cahors
The famous, monumental, Medieval bridge at Cahors | Source
Cathedral of St. Etienne, Cahors
Cathedral of St. Etienne, Cahors | Source
Map of the Lot department of France where Cahors is situated
Map of the Lot department of France where Cahors is situated | Source

Abounding architectural, religious and secular heritage

Step into the city of Cahors in the French department of Lot, and it is like a step back into the Middle Ages.

The Valentré bridge has linked the two banks of the Lot River since the 14th century. It is probably Cahors's most famous landmark. (I recall road vehicles driving over it, although during my last visit to Cahors traffic was being diverted away from this Medieval, architectural treasure.)

The monumentality of its Medieval St. Etienne Cathedral has dominated the centre of the city for many centuries.

Pope John XXII (reigned 1316-1334) was born at Cahors in 1249. A university, chartered by John XXII , was in existence at Cahors between 1331 and 1751. This university was one of France's first.

In the 16th century French conflict known as the Wars of Religion, both sides were represented by prominent people from Cahors.

Another aspect of Cahors' religious heritage is the fact that the Renaissance poet, Clément Marot (1496-1544) was a Cadurcien , as local people are known. Among his many distinctions, Marot is known notably as translator of the Psalms into French, in an edition widely used by French Protestants.

City of Léon Gambetta

Having mentioned these historical connections, some of a religious nature, with which Cahors abounds, the city also possesses striking memories of a rather different, and secular, nature. One of Cahors's most famous sons was Léon Gambetta (1838 - 1882). Of Genoese extraction, Léon Gambetta was born at Cahors and lived in the shadow of its lofty cathedral, before pursing the law and politics. He was briefly French Prime Minister in the early 1880s, but in another sense and in the longer term his rôle was probably even more profound given his championing of republicanism, particularly after the end of the Franco-Prussian War, when France found itself at somewhat of an institutional crossroads. Gambetta was also active as a progressive lawyer under Napoleon III's Third Empire, and was deeply associated with the Commune of Paris in 1871. While some leaders such as Adolphe Thiers espoused a republicanism of a fairly conservative nature, Gambetta was a strong secularist, and his vision of the French republic was one in which the state and religion had their separate rôles. Nearly everywhere one goes in France has a street or monument named for Léon Gambetta , such is the profound influence that his tireless ideological efforts — but also adeptness at tactical manoeuvring — exercised on the history and institutions of France. The result being, that when many French people think of Cahors, they think of it as the city of Léon Gambetta .

Also worth seeing

Saint-Cirque-Lapopie (distance: 26 kilometres) is an ancient, cliff village reputedly occupied since Gallo-Roman times.

Montauban (distance: 61 kilometres) is an historic town on the Tarn River , with remarkable architecture, including the Ingres museum and the arcades of the place Nationale .


How to get there: United Airlines flies from New York Newark to Paris (Aéroport Paris-Charles de Gaulle ), where car rental is available. (Paris-Cahors distance: 576 kilometres). The French railroad company SNCF maintains services from Paris to Cahors. Please check with the airline or your travel agent for up to date information.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada.


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