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Farewell to the Dordogne

semi-overcast 20 °C

Religion played a significant role in French daily life in the past and churches and monasteries were often built with fortifications in case the 'neighbours from hell' came calling. The cistercian abbey of Cadouin was begun exactly 900 years ago in 1119 and suffered badly during the religious wars in the 13th and 14th centuries. The abbey is on the El Camino to Santiago de Compostela because a cloth said to be the facecloth from Jesus's tomb was kept there from 1214. These are the cloisters where millions of devout pilgrims assembled to view this precious relic for more than 700 years...

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Unfortunately for the abbot's money box, in 1924 some smart-ass scholar realized that the wording on the cloth was actually Islamic and had nothing to do with Christ. (Although the pilgrims still come).
The builders of the monastery and church in Rocamadour, another stop on the Camino, took defences to new heights when they built high up on the cliffs above a steep gorge...

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The church, several chapels and various monastic buildings cling precariously to the rock face and appear only to survive through the grace of God and the spiritual power of the Black Virgin whose statue is worshipped here...

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Luckily for us an elevator and a funicular transported us to the top otherwise we would have had to follow the pilgrims up several giant staircases from the pretty medieval village in the valley below...

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Our time in the Dordogne has come to an end and we are now headed north to Orleans and the Loire Valley to visit the chateaus of the Bourbon kings. We are leaving behind a land steeped in history where we have walked in the footsteps of cro-magnon people: humans, not dissimilar to ourselves, who left their paintings and marks in Lascaux Cave never thinking that we would be marvelling at their skills twenty thousand years later. The Dordogne area is riven with caves: many containing the the artworks of ancient man and many that have been occupied by troglodytes for thousands of years. Here in the steep cliff face above the riverside village of Laroque-Gageac it is possible to see the cave houses that once protected the villagers from war and marauding animals...

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The medieval houses that are strung along the riverside under the cliffs seem to be in peril of rock slides but they have survived for hundreds of years...

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The river, the houses and the cave pocked cliffs at Laroque-Gageac create a postcard scene...

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But there are also many caves that have remained completely hidden from time immemorial and have only been discovered by luck. The most famous painted caves at Lascaux were only discovered in 1940 because a teenager's dog chased a rabbit down a small hole in the hillside. Les grottes de Maxange were unearthed by a local quarryman just a few years ago when he was blasting the cliff face and he unearthed one of the most spectacular cave systems we have ever seen. Because of the unique conditions within the limestone cliffs near Cadouin the calcite stalactites and stalagmites have grown in all directions – they are known as eccentrics...

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There are millions of these incredibly beautiful eccentrics, and probably millions more in parts of the caves yet to be explored, and it is difficult to believe that nature created them over hundreds of thousands of years. Many of them look more like artistic glass creations of Chihuly...

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There is still much to see and do in the Dordogne but on we must go – maybe next time. Tomorrow, one of the most magnificent chateaus in France – Le Château Chambord.

Posted by Hawkson 09:19 Archived in France

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Comments

The world is so full of beautiful things, that we should all be as happy as kings. (from my autograph book in Grade 5)....You seem to be finding so many of them!

by Joyce

A very satisfying destination on all accounts. Thank you.

by Sue Fitzwilson

This is an extraordinary place. Dangerous and beautiful.

by Janet

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