Monday, January 03, 2011

FIGEAC area: Rocamadour



There’s a village hidden deep in the valley…

Rocamadour is the cliff of St Amadour, a place of pilgrimage for many centuries, partly because it houses one of the hundreds of “Black Madonna”paintings found throughout Europe since the 12th century.


My first sight of the cluster of chapels and monastery, with the town below, was from across the gorge. From there it looked for a moment like a toy town glued painstakingly onto a papier-mâché hilltop on an elaborate train set.

We drove down, down to the public parking area, and from there could look up as noon-day bells rang out and bounced around the gorge.

All the chapel bells were ringing in the little valley town…

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I had to wonder at this pedestrian-only sign that blocks the beginning of the path up to the town. It’s clearly not negotiable by a vehicle. Even worse is the matching sign at the top end, which would be very difficult to walk around if you were not sure footed.


From below, one first encounters the commercial street, mostly closed this Sunday even with tourists in plentiful supply. The main stairway up to the chapel complex is being repaired, so there’s a choice between paying 3 euro for a three story elevator ride, or marching up a kind of dirt goat track and crawling under a small bridge at street level above. At the time, only the latter option was visible, so a-crawling we went.

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As the diagram above shows, it really is like a religious cineplex, as if there were nothing to do for 500 years but build more chapels and pray for an internet connection.

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All of the buildings on the cliff side just merge into the rocks. Below you can see multiple intersecting planes of brick and rock around an elevated mural. Suspended over one of the little plazas is a sword fragment attributed to the medieval knight Roland (sometimes rendered as Orlando) who fought under Charlemagne and became an all-round hero for centuries of folk-tale, verse, opera and so on.

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At time it feels like you’re walking around a regularised version of an Escher print where stairs dart off at every angle.


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This is the largest of the chapels, altar facing (above) and the rear melting into the cliff face (below, left).

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The composer Francis Poulenc has an association with this place since visiting in 1936 and composing his first religiously-inspired work: Litanies à la Verge Noire (Litanies to the Black Madonna). There is a museum dedicated to his name here.

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1 comment:

  1. It's a cool place. Looks like it wasn't too overrun when you were there. Don't go in the summer!