La Roque Saint Christophe, Dordogne; an amazing troglodyte town

Photo of La Roque Saint Christophe

Visit La Roque Saint Christophe

On a cliff overlooking a tranquil section of the River Vezere is the remains of a large troglodyte town. The cliff has evidence of use as a shelter for Neanderthal man (50000 BC), Cro-Magnon man (25000 BC) and since then up until the Renaissance in 1588 when the trogolodyte town and fortress that had grown up was destroyed in the Wars of Religion.

The town occupied 5 terraces in the cliff face using naturally hollowed out caves in the limestone cliff. Three hundred feet above the ground and more than half a mile long the Roque Saint Christophe really is a remarkable troglodyte development.

Exploring the Roque Saint Christophe

Exploring the site it is possible to get a feeling for the size and structure of the medieval town and fortress that had grown up here.

Steps lead up to the original entrance of the fortress which was the only entrance into the town and therefore was an integal part of the town's defence system. The entrance is narrow and has a look out post from which rocks etc could be thrown down at invaders. It also had a strong door and a drawbridge to further prevent attack.

La Roque Saint ChristopheThe next section of the cave shows clearly how the caves were used as the basis for the buildings in the town. Holes were hacked into the rock to support beams which were then used to construct ceilings and roofs. The fronts of the houses were built in the traditional half-timbered style common in medieval times. Roofs were covered in flat stones called lauze. The cave walls have evidence of holes hacked out of the rock and used as storage areas and also stone 'hooks' were created which had rope threaded through them to tether animals.

The visit continues through 20 clearly marked parts of the town highlighting different areas such as the cowshed, the slaughterhouse and next to it the smokehouse for preserving the meat, the church , the forge etc.

One section is a massive long area where the rock above overhangs a 275 meter long area and this natural shelter was the main part of the town. This is the biggest natural shelter in Europe and really is extraordinary. From here you can see below two of the other terraces which were also used for buildings. At its peak the town held hundreds of houses and about a thousand people.

Further along the Roque St Christophe various machines of construction have been built as replicas of the winches, scaffolding, cranes and capstan that would have been used in medieval times for building the town. Whilst I was visiting a guide was demonstrating, with the help of a number of willing volunteers, the use of the capstan to pull heavy loads. Apparently using this 10 people could drag loads of one to two tons!

Another key sight is the 'great staircase'. This is hewn out of the stone and is one of the largest monolithic staircases in Europe. This staircase leads to the fifth and highest terrace and evidnece of medieval war machines suggests this terrace was a key part of the town's defences. From here rocks and stones were thrown down at enemies invading from below. Next to the staircase there is a room cut out from the rock that was used by the town's warriors for shelter. Higher up there is another smaller hollow which was a lookout point.

La Roque St Christophe opening hours and practical information

address: La Roque Saint-Christophe, 24620 Peyzac-le-Moustier, tel:05 53 50 70 45

The troglodyte site is open all year round.

January, November and December: 10.00-17.00

February, March and October: 10.00-18.00

April, May, June and September: 10.00-18.30

July and August: 10.00-20.00

The visit takes place without a guide, but with an explanatory booklet, and lasts about 40-45 minutes. In July and August guided visits are available.

A visit costs 8.50 for adults and over 13s and 4.50 for 5-13s

Places to Visit Nearby

This is the heart of the area of Dordogne caves and others to explore nearby include the Font de Gaume caves and the Grotte du Grande Roc. Font de Gaume are some of the oldest caves of prehistoric paintings still open to visit and the Grotte du Grande Roc is a wonderful cave of stalactites and stalagmites. More troglodyte dwellings can be found in the town of Belves

See also:

Photos of La Roque Saint Christophe

Click any picture to start the gallery

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Map of La Roque Saint Christophe and places to visit

La Roque Saint Christophe places to visit