The Fort de la Roque Gageac: visit to a dizzying refuge

La Roque Gageac
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The Fort de la Roque  ...

Look up, above the Dordogne, beyond the superb dwellings nestled against the cliff, to admire the Fort de la Roque Gageac. Perched at 120m high, it dates from the 12th century and its 180-degree panorama is directly linked to the reasons for its location: it is to ensure the protection of this part of the Dordogne Valley, to block river traffic and to see the 'attacker arrive from afar, that this impregnable defensive system was imagined. After several years of closure to consolidate and secure this fabulous heritage, come and visit the Fort de la Roque Gageac, to learn more about its history and enjoy a breathtaking view!


Photos of the article © Guide du Périgord


The Fort de la Roque Gageac
The Fort Troglodyte de la Roque Gageac in all its splendor, with a small independent fort on the left of the photo.
View from the Terrace of Fort de la Roque Gageac
One of the most beautiful views of Roque Gageac and even of the Dordogne Valley

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A rock shelter placed at a strategic location...

The Fort de la Roque Gageac was built in a crevice of the limestone cliff. Imagine that in this place, in the Upper Cretaceous (some 80 million years ago…), successive marine sediments gave birth with pressure to this yellow limestone, characteristic of the Périgord Noir. The sea having receded, the bare cliff suffered the bad weather, it cracked, the water infiltrated and with the temperature changes in this friable rock, rock shelters are born. The many small springs (there are no less than 13 in the village) form natural cavities as they flow. Humanity found a perfect natural refuge there, near the nourishing and merchant river (later…), with enough panorama to see the enemies arriving.


La Roque Gageac
The privileged location of La Roque Gageac
Fort de la Roque Gageac
A perfect support for the Fort: the cliff and its natural rock shelters

A strong defense, to take refuge in the event of an attack

In the 12th century, a real fortress was built here, impregnable! The Roc de Viguayral (the cliff) is located 40m above the roofs of the houses, directly above them and the river. We will use the naturally present rock shelters to build an impressive defensive system. All the arsenal of protection of the time is put into service: a vertiginous wooden staircase, followed by a flight of steps carved in the rock, which give on a ditch to cross before passing a first door (doubled by a stunner), a walkway used by sentries, thick walls with arches, loopholes and gunboats… Who will dare to attack the Fort?

What can we find around and in the Fort? A stately castle, with the knights' house, all around is the Castrum de Gajaco. If we are talking about a defensive system, it is because we cannot say that the Fort is a dwelling: the primary vocation of the Fort is to monitor, to guard against attacks and keep an eye on the surroundings, but also to take refuge in the event of a siege. There is the river, then the houses of the village, well aligned and tight against each other, separated by a maze of alleys difficult to access... The Fort located at the top is the last step where to retreat if necessary, to the shelter behind the walls (enhanced and completed by lookout towers in the 17th century). Because there was trouble in the Périgord Noir and during the Wars of Religion, the Bishop of Sarlat took refuge in La Roque Gageac. In the 17th century, the village and its Fort experienced a beautiful period of prosperity with the development of river trade. The Dordogne is a wood exporter and specializes in cooperage.


Staircase Fort de la Roque Gageac   Staircase Fort de la Roque Gageac
The initial stairs were made of wood, followed by several steps cut into the rock, before arriving at the first door.
Walkway Fort de la Roque Gageac
The covered way, preceded by a ditch, today surmounted by a secure wooden footbridge, but at the time, the attackers had to cross it before reaching the Fort!
Murderer Fort de la Roque Gageac
"Murderer, discovered in February 1995 in the pit-trap"

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Adapt to the whims of the rock

If visitors are now able to discover the remains of this very special Fort, it is thanks to nearly 10 years of work to secure its architecture. In fact in 1957, a deadly landslide on a section of the cliff destroyed 6 houses and a barn, killing 3 people and preventing traffic on the road directly above the village. In 2010, the roof of the Fort collapsed and a 320-ton rock threatened to fall in turn: after moving the worried villagers, a net was laid to protect the village and major works. carried out by engineers were undertaken: so that the geological reality is not an obstacle to the discovery of this troglodyte jewel, 18 retaining columns consolidate the cavity, instruments for monitoring rock movements and thermal sensors are installed on its entire length.


Fort de la Roque Gageac
The bottom of the cliff, which has suffered the ravages of time and the landslides of the rock.
Retaining columns Fort de la Roque Gageac
The supporting columns, 18 in number to consolidate the rock shelter.
Fort de la Roque Gageac   Fort de la Roque Gageac
Sensors and measuring instruments, all of this is managed by engineers from a Toulouse research center

Visit the Fort Troglodyte de la Roque Gageac

Now that you know more about the past, let's go back to the present to visit the Fort Troglodytique de la Roque Gageac! The ticket office is located at the top of the village, after the Manoir de Tarde. It is the home of Jean Tarde who at the beginning of the 17th century was a canon of the bishopric of Sarlat, a native of Roque Gageac. He crossed paths with Galileo, who passed on his passion for astronomy to him (it is said that he gave him an astrological telescope, with which he observed the heavens from the terrace of the Fort). He is also one of the first cartographers in the region to have produced a map, visible on the site, of the diocese of Sarlat. You will find an exhibition recounting the research and illustration work of his great-grand nephew, Gabriel Tarde in a room, just before the climb to the Fort.


Roque Gageac   The Manor of Tarde
From the bottom of the village, you can see the Fort. Before arriving there, the Manoir de Tarde (or Château de Tarde), home of the family of Jean Tarde
Ticket office
The entrance to the Fort Troglodyte de la Roque Gageac, the ticket office
Map of the Diocese of Sarlat
Map of the Diocese of Sarlat, produced by Jean Tarde
Small Roque Gageac Museum   Vestiges Fort de la Roque Gageac
Small museum exhibiting remains found on the site, which is located after the shop

To access the upper terrace and enjoy the splendid 180 degree view, you have to earn it. It is at the end of an ascent of 140 steps (including 32 in stone, carved into the rock) that you will reach the covered way, with its ditch covered with a wooden footbridge. Don't worry, the climb up the stairs isn't as difficult as it might seem from below. The step of the steps is flexible, they are well made and there is little that the vertigo which can affect you (do not look down). Everything is secure, you can go up (but not with your eyes closed all the same).

Once at the top, you might enjoy the graceful ballet of the birds. La Roque Gageac is a village where we find many birds and raptors, thanks to the location near the river, the typical microclimate of the village (you will see many species of exotic plants) and its cliffs which are a hideaway of choice. You will come across Jackdaws in number, black kites depending on the season, Peregrine Falcons who scan the horizon with their piercing eyes, Gray Herons (rather near the Dordogne) and if you are an observer, the Tichodrome echelons with its outlined wings. of red.


The birds FOrt de la Roque Gageac
The grouped flight of birds, visible from the terrace
Fort de la Roque Gageac   Fort de la Roque Gageac
The supporting columns, decorated with illustrations of the great figures of the different eras
Fort de la Roque Gageac
A space of exploration (respectful), for the curious little ones

You enter an open space, which is dotted with gray columns, adorned with illustrations of great figures from the past, who have populated the village over time… These concrete pillars are deliberately of modern architecture, because they have the essential function of supporting the entire site, but also to contrast in style and enhance the rock that shelters them.

Take a walk in this rock shelter, read the information on the columns to learn more about the environment, history, flora and fauna... At the bottom of the shelter is a spyglass, which echoes with the astronomical telescope of Jean Tarde. With the help of the orientation table, you too can understand the landscape and have a point of view identical to that of the lookouts of yesteryear. Enjoy one of the best views of the Dordogne Valley.


Fort de la Roque Gageac   Fort de la Roque Gageac
A drawing to get an idea of the look of the Fort and its surroundings, of which only a few vestiges remain
Fort de la Roque Gageac
In the footsteps of Jean Tarde, we observe the surroundings and the birds!
Fort de la Roque Gageac
And here is the highlight of the show, the view and its analysis with the orientation table!
Fort de la Roque Gageac
Take the time to admire the perspective of the river and the buildings

The visit does not make a loop, you will turn back to return to the ticket office. Take the opportunity to take a tour of the shop, which is stocked with pretty original objects, appealing to nature and echoing the Middle Ages atmosphere of the site (books, children's games, objects). You now know more about one of the most emblematic places of Roque Gageac, continue your day with a walk in this pretty village on the side of the cliff, or by a beautiful ride in a barge: you will see the Fort from the waters!


La Roque Gageac FOrt Boutique
The Fort de la Roque Gageac shop
Fort de la Roque Gageac

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