|La Roque Gageac. 8 km south of Sarlat.
|Incandescent Electric Light System
|No, 140 steps and more steep parts
|Fort Troglodytique de La Roque Gageac.
|As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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|cave castle erected.
|destroyed by using it as a quarry.
|rock slide destroys part of the town.
|cave castle renovated and wooden staircase constructed.
|part of the cave ceiling collapses and destroys 12th century fortifications.
|the danger of a rockfall causes the evacuation of inhabitants and the closing of the road for seven weeks.
|cave castle closed for the public.
The Fort troglodytique (Underground Fort) at the small town La Roque Gageac is a ruined fortification built into the overhanging cliff face of the limestone rock behind the village. It offers a breathtaking view on the Dordogne River, the wide valley, and the small Medieval town wedged at the foot of the cliff. This cliff face is an undercut slope of the Dordogne, which means the meandering river is changing its direction because the hard rock is in the way. This produces a lot of energy eroding the limestone at the foot and producing a steep cliff. It also produces terraces with shallow caves while the river cuts deeper. And typically the river bend is pretty close to the cliff in such places.
All those facts were used in favour of the small town. The narrow passage between the rock and the river is now the location of the town, which thus controls the traffic along the river. The town is protected on two sides, by the river and the cliff, and enemies can only come from the two other ends of town, which are small and rather easy to defend. And the cliff offered the possibility to build a fort into the vast river caves.
The cave castle with the creative name Fort troglodytique (Cave Castle) was built in the 12th century some 40 m above the town. The natural caves were closed by walls, the caves enlarged and modified to create storerooms, passages and parapet walks. It protected the town and was continually expanded, until the 17th century. During the 17th century the castle was modernized with a great effort. The cave castle was absolutely impossible to conquer, the town could be saved just by positioning archers on the walls. This brilliant strategy worked so well, the castle was never conquered, they never even tried. Even in the 100 Years War the town was never besieged. Then in the 18th century it was not only abandoned, it was destroyed by using the walls as a quarry.
To reach the cave castle a lot of walking is required. Cars can only access the main road along the river. From here it is necessary to first walk uphill along narrow passages to the narrow upper road. From here a wooden staircase, which was erected when the castle was renovated in 1992, leads up 140 steps in front of the vertical wall. The staircase is pretty exposed and many people have difficulties with the height, but it is safe and the view rewards for the effort.
Unfortunately the cave castle is closed to the public because of security reasons. Obviously the cliff above the town imposes the danger of rockfall and of rock slides. This danger became reality 1957 when a part of the cliff collapsed, destroyed six houses and killed three citizens. The road was closed for weeks and the place is unused until today.
A similar development started with a rockfall in 2010, which destroyed a part of the cave castle. Later in the same year, engineers discovered, that a rock formation of 320 tons was in danger to fall down. A part of the village was evacuated and the road closed for seven weeks to secure this part of the cliff with steel and concrete supports and a net to hold loose rocks. At the same time the cave castle was closed for touristic visits, as further rockfalls are expected for the next years. At the moment it is not clear when or if the cave castle will be reopened.
La Roque Gageac is nevertheless worth a visit. The Renaissance building Manoir de Tarde is rather impressive and the whole town is famous for the tropical plants which grow here pretty well. This is also caused by the south facing cliff, which collects warmth during the day and heats the town during the night. It also protects the town from cold winds from the north. As a result the climate is exceptionally mild. This is officially one of the most beautiful town of France, as it was selected by Les Plus Beaux Villages de France (The most beautiful villages of France), an independent association, created to promote French villages of quality heritage.