Rocamadour is a truly impressive village on north bank of the Alzou river (l’Alzou), built onto the side of the high cliffs towering over the river gorge.
Rocamadour is in the Lot department of the Midi-Pyrenees, near the eastern border of the Dordogne department. Situated in the Causses du Quercy Regional Natural Park, Rocamadour receives more than a million visitors – tourists and pilgrims – each year. And has a population of 600.
Although the history of the village dates back to prehistoric times, it is as a medieval pilgrimage destination that Rocamadour is best known, with the first church here being constructed in the middle of the 12th century.
The village is really a magnificent site, with houses and castle built onto the side of the vertical cliffs. Quite logically this has become an extremely popular tourist site, and the approach to the village along the top of the cliffs is a collection of souvenir and curio shops and the attendant commerce and nice restaurants.
There were significant prehistoric sites at Rocamadour, which is easy to understand when you see the deep river valley and the tall cliffs here. The Grotte des merveilles at L’Hospitalet (eastern edge of Rocamadour) had engravings and prehistoric wall paintings. A dolment and tumulus were found at the area called “Les Places”, just 1.5 km southwest of Rocamadour, and several other cave-type sites (gouffres, grottes).
Rocamadour is a medieval village, and full of great medieval buildings, sites, and interesting remains. The adjacent hamlet of L’Hopital have the remains of the Hopital Saint-Jean, founded in the 11th-century to welcome pilgrims. The Hopital Saint-Jean was rebuilt in the 13th century and restored again in the 14th century.
On entering the village of Rocamadour park near the chateau and pay the two euros to walk around the ramparts to get a view of the village down below. From here walk down the Chemin de Croix, a shady walk down the hillside where you can see the Stations of the Cross as you make your way down. Alternatively there is a lift for those who need it.
At the bottom of the footpath you arrive at the religious centre with its seven sanctuaries. As an ensemble this has a very italianate feel with lots of arches and stone balustrades. The Basilique St Sauveur is the largest of the seven churches and inside one of the walls is the cliff face. It has a wooden gallery at the back.
Rocamadour is just 15 minutes from the magnificent cave system of the Gouffre de Padirac. This is the most visited cave in France and for good reason – don’t miss it!