The Lot department is in the former province of Quercy. Before the Revolution, it went all the way down to Montauban. Today, it borders the Corrèze, Cantal, Aveyron, Tarn-et-Garonne, Lot-et-Garonne and Dordogne departments.
It has 167,456 inhabitants living in three districts – Cahors, the capital, Figeac and Gourdon – 31 cantons, 27 intermunicipalities and 340 towns.
Historians say that the Quercy was already inhabited some 40,000 years ago, as the Val du Celé and Pech Merle caves in Cabrerets attest. In the days of the earliest pilgrimages to Santiago de Compostella, Cahors was a major stop on the Via Podiensis and several hospitals were built there, the first near present-day Place Galdeman.
Cahors, which connected Toulouse (115 km to the southeast) to Paris, was probably founded in the year 51 and was one of the last bastions before Caesar.
A bridge, an aqueduct with water from the Vers, villas, temples and a 20,000-seat theatre attest to the remote past when Cahors exported woollen cloth to Rome. Theodore, the king of Austrasia, burnt the town down in 571. Saint Didier, a bishop, raised it from the ashes and had the first cathedral built in 650. The Saracens sacked Cahors in 732, and it later fell victim to the Vikings and Huns.
People still come to Cahors, the birthplace of Léon Gambetta, for the benefits of its “divine” spring, the ancient Divona Cadurcorum. It owes it origin to the Chartreux fountain, which still supplies the town with fresh drinking water.
The water might have divine virtues, but the rugby club, Le Rugby Cadurcien, has fallen so low it would need a hand from almighty God to climb back up the to the top rungs. A pharmacist, who opened the rugby section, as they called it in those days, founded Le Stade Cadurcien in 1908. Le Stade played its first championship game in 1912 and, as the years went by, reached the First Division, where the team stayed for a long time.
Le Stade’s forward was Alfred Rocques, affectionately called the “grandpa from Quercy”, who was born near Cahors in Cazes Mondeverd and died in 2004. A great international, he formed, with Jean de Grégorio and Amédée Domenech, the front line in the 1960s.
More recently, Denis Charvet, also an international, was born in 1962. He scored three goals in the 1985 and 1989 finals, including one after running 80 meters! François Mitterrand was so impressed that he asked the team’s president, Albert Ferrasse, to select him for a tour in New Zealand, which he did!
Cahors also trained Mommejat, Fite, Auradou, Sylvain François, Benazzi, Benetton and Quentin Delkatourbe.
Alphonse de Poitiers, the lord who gave the Frau lands to the inhabitants, founded Lavercantière. The 17th- and 18th-century château was listed as a national historic monument in 1991.
The monument to First World War dead by the sculptor Emile Mompart is a masterpiece depicting a woman with her head bowed, her hands clasped in prayer and two soldiers on either side. This beautiful pacifist monument carries the inscription “pauvres drôles”, which in the local dialect means “pauvres enfants”, or “poor children”.
Cenac et Saint-Julien, which was formed when Cenac and St Julien de Castelnaud were joined together, takes pride in its exceptional plane tree planted in 1750. It is 7.60 m in diameter at 1.30 m above the ground, stands 45 meters tall and measures 33 meters across at its widest point!
Famous people from the village include Albert Cahuet, born in the hamlet of Fondonnier, who came here on holiday. A journalist and lawyer, he was born in 1877 and died in Lyon in 1942. Cahuet wrote several novels, the most famous of which is Pontcarral. A movie based on the book was called Pontcarral colonel d’Empire starring Pierre Blanchard and Annie Ducaux.
Beynac and Cazenac no longer have the 12th-century castle where Richard the Lionhearted once stayed. The valiant, intrepid Simon de Montfort dismantled the building in 1196, and any vestiges that might have remained have completely vanished over the centuries.
La Douze, the gateway to Black Périgord, was built during the Palaeolithic and Neolithic periods. The castle belongs to the Abzac family, which found the place’s name: “Douze” comes from the Occitan word doza, itself from the Celtic dotz, which means bubbling fountains.
Saint-Laurent-sur-Manoire is home to the Roland Dumas Museum, named after the former foreign minister, lawyer, and a member of parliament from his friend François Mitterrand’s UDSR (Democratic and Socialist Union of the Resistance) party.
The museum has many gifts and art works that heads of State and diplomats gave Dumas on his trips around the world.
Boulazac is famous with philatelists because it is where French postage and tax stamps have been printed since 1970.
Until 1958, the government had stamps printed on rue Brune, whose address was widely used for commercial correspondence with the post office. Every year the press prints four billion postage stamps, of which 3.6 billion for common use, 431 million for stamp collectors and 38 million for foreign post offices. Sports fans are familiar with the professional Boulazac Dordogne Pro B basketball team.
Périgueux, whose inhabitants are called “Périgourdins” or “Petrocoriens”, was created by the merger of two towns in 1240: Vesone, which dated back to Gallo-Roman times and was home to the bishop and the count of Périgord; and a hamlet of the town of Puy Saint-Front, with which the people of Vésone did not get along.
In the 19th century, Périgueux grew with the first railway line and locomotive and car repair shops in the time of the Compagnie Paris-Orléans, or P.O. This activity continues in the Toulon quarter with the repair and maintenance of Corail, TER and Téoz trains.
Périgueux is the birthplace of the novelist and essayist Léon Bloy (1863–1934).
Château L’Evêque, created by a decree of Louis Philippe in 1831, was called Preyssac d’Agonac until then. It has a 13th-century castle. This is where François de Boudeilles, the bishop of Périgueux, ordained the young Saint-Vincent de Paul in 1600.
Known as Poetou Chéente in Poitevin Saintongeais, the local dialect, or Peitau Charantas, in Occitan, the region includes Charente, Charente-Maritime, Les Deux Sèvres and Vienne. It has 1,700,000 inhabitants (the Picto-Charentais), 14 districts, 157 cantons and 1,464 towns. The history of Poitou-Charente started in 52 BC, with Vercingétorix’s uprising and the punishment of the Santons and Pictons.
In 732, Charles Martel stopped the Arabs in Poitiers. The Vikings first arrived in 799 and captured Saintes in 845. In the 10th and 11th centuries, the counts and dukes of Aquitaine ruled the present region. In 1790, Poitou-Charente was divided into four parts: Charente (formerly -Angoumois), Charente Inférieure (formerly Aunis Saintonge), Les Deux-Sèvres (formerly Haut Poitou) and the Vendée (formerly Bas Poitou).
The bridge between Oléron Island and the mainland was inaugurated in 1946, Futuroscope in 1984 and the Ré Island bridge in 1988. One of the last major events that took place in the Angoulême region was François Mitterrand’s burial in Jarnac in January 1996. In 2002, Jean-Pierre Raffarin became Jacques Chirac’s prime minister.
Probably called Soilis, Suellis, Soellis, Sotelum and, later, Sotum, Soyaux was Angoulême’s cemetery from Gallo-Roman to early medieval times.
The motto of the town, where Henry III was duke as a child, is “I draw my strength from the loyalty of my citizens.”
Angoulême is made up of an upper town with narrow streets in the north, a low town in the south and pedestrian streets in the east.
The upper town hasn’t changed since the 19th century; the best way to see it is to take a walk on the ramparts in a counter-clockwise direction from the Tourist Office to the Place des Halles.
On the ramparts, visitors enjoy views of the bridge, Faubourg Saint-Cybard and Charente Valley.
Paul Abadie, the architect of Sacré Cur, designed the Gothic-Renaissance style town hall, which was built on the site of the castle of the counts of Angoulême between 1858 and 1868.
All that remains of the castle today is the former 12th- and 14th-century keep, a polygonal tower that offers beautiful views of Angoulême. The town hall features a round 15th-century tower where Margueritte d’Angoulême, whom her brother, Francis I, called “la Margueritte des Marguerittes” (“the prettiest daisy of them all”), is said to have been born in 1492. She is famous for writing L’Heptaméron, a collection of tales inspired by Boccacio.
Angoulême is the home of the Comic Book Festival. and the CNBDI (National Centre of Comic Books and the Image), designed by Roland Castro, a magnificent stone and glass building with a forecourt of painted slabs.
The decor consists of deliberately unfinished drawings. The interior houses the CNBDI’s most beautiful permanent collections.
The comic book history museum traces the various periods of French and Belgian comics from the second half of the 19th century to the present, with tributes to the authors who wrote the most beautiful pages in comic book history.
The science and technology museum focuses on the various stages involved in creating a comic book and the natural history museum features an astonishing comic book bestiary with familiar and fantastic animals.
The ethnology museum recalls various comic book heroes, whereas the fine arts museum presents comic book trends and aesthetics.