Padirac or Gouffre de Padirac is a cave located near Gramat, in the Lot département, in France. The chasm itself is approximately 99 m (325 ft) around its rim with a diameter of approximately 35 metres (115 ft). Visitors descend 75 m via a lift or a staircase before entering the cave system. The cave, at a depth of 103 metres (338 ft), contains a subterranean river system that is partly negotiable by boat. This cave system is regarded as “one of the most extraordinary natural phenomena of the Massif Central”.
During the first explorations of the chasm, speleologists were surprised to discover tracs of civilisation at the bottom, such as small stone wall and fireplaces. They then discovered untensils, which are now on display at the entrance. All thought to date back to around the 14th century. During the hundred year war, the vill;age of Padirac was destroyed by the English and all the inmhabitants disapeard. Some of these are to believed to have taken refuge in the chasm. Tradition has it that after the hundred years war thwe English hid treasures down in the chasm. The tradition was so strongly believed that when it was sold, the new owner M. Martel had to agree in the contract that if treasure was ever found it would be shared.
The first expedition was organised around 1865-70 under the direction of Count Murat and Mr de Salvagnec, however upon reaching the bottom, they didnt discover the entrance to the lower caves and returned straight away to the top of the chasm. In 1889 it was agian expolred however this time they discovered an opening through which he reached the underground river. Upon further explorations, they discovered the Great Dome Chambre. When visiting today, you go as far as the chambre, the most beautiful part of the underground river.
In 1898, Padirac Chasm was opened to visitors and has been equpped accordingly for tourists. To enable the descent into the chasm without spoiling the view at the entrance, a lateral stairway was created which gives access 16 metres down to a natural terrace protected by the curve of the rock You then take two lifts to finish the descent and 56m beneath the opening. A further 21m down you come to the bottom of the chasm, from here as E.A.Martel describes:
The impression is fantastic. We could be looking through a telescope with a circular piece of blue sky as a lens.
The trip from here leads you through numerous other rooms, gondala rides as well as seeing the statue of Edouard Alfred Martel. The entire trip is spectacular and well worth a visit.
It is understandable that the size of Padirac Chasm and its uniqueness that legends of its existence will come about. The most famous of these and believed is…..
Saint Peter had been wondering over the rocky Causses plateau looking for souls to save and his quest was hardly successful. Suddenly his horse took fright and would not carry on. Before the beast and the saint who were both terrified, stood Satan in person. The latter gleefully showed his sack of souls of Causse inhabitants destined for hell, in mockery of the saint. With Bravado the master of darkness proposed a singular challenge. Striking the ground with his foot, he made an enormous hole appear `the chasm of Padirac` “If you jump over the obstacle, he said I will give you my sack of souls” The saint made a large sign of the cross, mounted his beast who made such a leap and jumped so high, that on landing on the other side it left the hoofs on a large stone, still visible today. Sorely vexed, the devil returned to hell through the hole he had made and the Saint saved the many souls of the Causse inhabitants.
Other Caves across Europe:
- Baradla-Domica Caves, Hungary
- National Show Caves, Wales UK
- Grotto del Vento, Garfagnana, Italy
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