103 metres underground, legends and beautiful scenery come together to make the Gouffre de Padirac a truly amazing place to visit. Situated on the edge of the Dordogne Valley near Rocamadour, at the crossroads of Quercy and Périgord Noir, the cave has many galleries alongside 2,400m of the River Padirac.
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An extraordinary chasm 103 metres underground !
This huge gaping hole, which in bygone days both fascinated and frightened the local population, gave rise to all sorts of legends. One talks of Saint Martin and the Devil, while another says that treasure was hidden there by the English during the Hundred Years’ War.
From a practical point of view, the hole used to be an enormous rubbish dump for dead animals. The open air chasm was formed by rain water which hollowed out the ground over the centuries. In 1889 the ‘father of caving’, Edouard Alfred Martel, explored it and discovered the River Padirac, a tributary of the Dordogne. This intrepid adventurer, a lawyer by profession with a degree in geography and passionate about the underground world, was afraid of nothing and went down into the caves despite being unable to swim and almost drowned on several occasions !
His first expedition to the ‘Puits de Padirac’ as it was then known, took place on 9 July 1889 at the end of the afternoon. Going down into the bowels of the earth was quite an expedition which attracted all the people from the village. At Padirac, Martel was known as : «The gentleman who goes down holes». He arrived with loads of equipment and «sherpas» who accompanied him and organised the expedition for him. At first his equipment was quite basic : candles, ropes and a Berthon collapsible boat.
The explorer never went underground alone, he always had three faithful companions with him : Gabriel Gaupillat, Emile Foulquier and Louis Armand. The speleologist started to go down to the bottom of the chasm. He didn’t find the devil, but he did find treasure in the form of the river and its beautiful concretions ! During three days of exploration, equipped with candles and canvas boats, the explorers discovered most of what is seen on the visit today.