Visit to Rocamadour
4 Sep 2012
|Leaving Domme was a bit sad, as the towns we'd had seen were all incredibly beautiful, and both of us wish we could have spent more time there. In terms of how pretty the area was, I thought that it was nicer than the Loire Valley, and it didn't have all the pretentiousness of that area. Alas, we had booked to stay in Toulouse for a couple of nights, with tonight being the first of those two, and the room was quite pricey. We couldn't waste that accommodation.
The countryside between Domme and Rocamadour is quite beautiful and quite rugged. We past several farms which supposedly produced fois gras, including one yard which was full of birds. If they only knew what lie ahead of them.....
The other thing that we saw a lot of were beautiful hills and valleys of every colour green you could imagine. It's like a painter was mixing colours for a lifetime to find the right colour green he wanted and couldn't get it precisely they way he had it in his mind and we get to reap the benefits.
We also passed through several small towns, or nearby to them, including one which had a large church on the top of the hill it was built on. However, after we went via those towns, we were taken through some fairly isolated roads. To give an example, the roads in France are coded. A class roads are motorways or tollways. B class roads are usually main roads with traffic lights etc. C class roads, well, not sure we went on any, but they are more the wider country roads. D class roads, well they are the types of roads that you drive on when heading to Rocamadour.
The road itself was not very wide. Just enough room for 2 cars to go on, and for them to pass each other. We were heading into Rocamadour, so we were on the right hand side of the road, which for almost all of the way, was the road on the edge of the mountains. We found the road very windy, and from what I was told, the edge was quite steep. I wasn't sure what it looked like, as I made sure that I took every ounce of concentration and used it on the road itself. The speed limit along here was 100 km\h, but I don't think I got the car about 50km the entire way. This was annoying to some of the locals, who got caught behind me on the drive, but I did my best to get out of their way.
It took quite a long time to get close to Rocamadour. It was meant to be a 1 hour drive from Domme, but I think it was closer to 2 hours. Just when we thought we'd come through all of the narrow twists and turns we could face, we came out into a big flat piece of land. There was a car park there, so we stopped and decided to get out, as there was a heap of people standing near the edge taking pictures. We were curious what was causing people to look and stand there for so long.
We got out of the car and walked over to the edge of the hill, and there it was. In front of us was a sheer rock face. At the top was a smallish castle, and along the cliff wall below it, was a small town. It's hard to explain, but the town itself is built on the side of the cliff. One building after another is ABOVE the next building. It was quite a breath taking and beautiful sight.
We took some time to take some pictures, and Ali said something to me, although for the life of me I cannot remember what it was. It did however, get another couple to ask a question of where we'd come from. They heard Ali's accent, and the english language. Before I knew it, we were deep in conversation with this couple. They were from the UK, I think outside Manchester, but I could be wrong. They loved coming to this area of France for holiday, and I heard all about their life. How they use their combi van to drive all over Europe, and how they spend time canoeing down the Dordogne.
The husband questioned me about where we were going, and told me that we shouldn't go to Toulouse because it was a big town. "Oh you gotta stay here the night, this place is amazing" No doubt it was, but we'd already booked for the Grand Hotel de l'opera. I wasn't going to forego a hefty rate to stay in this town, regardless as to how pretty it was. He chewed my ear off for about 30 minutes, although it felt like 2 hours. I just wanted to get going, and try see some of the town. He did tell us some useful things, but I was very eager to get moving.
The town of Rocamadour has a very long history. The story starts in 1166 when the preserved body of a hermit, reputed to be Saint Amadour, was discovered in what was to become Rocamadour.
Saint Amadour is reputed to be Zaccheus, the inn keeper who climbed a tree to see Jesus and whose wife St Veronica wiped the face of Jesus with a handkerchief whilst he carried the cross. After the death of his wife Zaccheus came to Rocamadour as a hermit. He built a sanctuary in the rock and locals called him Amadour (’the lover’) because of his devotion.
Hence Rocamadour was named after the rock of Amadour. Not long after the body was discovered, many people claimed that they were miraculously healed from their ailments. It became a city of pilgrimage, as many wanted to come and see the remains. A shrine was built, and a statue of Mary was put inside, which was sculpted from wood. Some claim that the statue was built by St Amadour himself, and has similiar healing powers. The statue is made from a dark wood, and is considered one of the many "Black Virgins" or "Black Madonnas" in France and Europe.
Rocamadour is one of the towns which worships the "Black Madonna". Black Madonnas are not what they sound. They are statues of the Virgin Mary, but made from things like marble, or carved out of dark wood, which give Mary a black appearance. It is more an indication of the colour of the idol that is being worshiped, than an indication of Mary's heritage or skin colour.
Another significant thing about Rocamadour is that, built into the granite cliffs (yes, they are granite apparently, not limestone like our British friend said) was a very long stair case. It had over 200 steps. The staircase had several concourses, each representing one station of the cross. The town has been for a very long period of time, a place that has attracted pilgrims. It is said that King Henry II came to the town, and his illness was cured, so in gratitude he donated a significant amount of treasure to the town.
Nowadays, the town still attracts many pilgrims, who reenact the walks that the Kings, Barons and counts used to undertake along the 12 stations. It is said some, in the ultimate act of penance, undertake the entire staircase on their knees.
We both took some more pictures after learning some history, and headed back to the car. We realised we didn't have any time to go investigate the town, but we would go down into the valley, and then up the otherside to try take some pictures as we went. There wasn't many places to take pictures, just a very small car park on the side of the hill.
You can't drive into the town itself, although there are 2 car parks. One of which is for guests who are staying the night in the town, who can then catch a shuttle bus into the town. The other car park is right in the bottom of the valley, for those who are day visitors. We drove down to the car park at the bottom, via a very narrow tunnel. The tunnel only allows one direction of traffic at a time, so I had to stop and wait whilst a traffic controller radioed to the bottom of the hill to ensure no one was coming the other way. We took some pictures from the car park at the bottom, and dodged the tourist train (yes another one). We went back up the otherside of the valley, and stopped on the tiny little car space to take a picture or two. We drove out, slowly, as neither of us wanted to leave after such little time.
We took a bit of time to get out of the valley, as it was similiar to the drive in, and we wanted to savour every view of the town as we could get. It was truly an amazing site, and one I've put in the memory banks. If I ever get back to France, I'm going to Rocamadour, and staying the night, or for a couple of days. I felt a little cheated that I didn't get to stay longer, but that's one of the side effects of booking an entire holiday in advance, and not rolling with the flow day to day.