Today we are going to talk about one of France’s most beloved and most stunning sites: Rocamadour. Located in the southwest of France, in the Lot départment of the Occitanie region, Rocamadour is a centuries-old religious pilgrimage stop, a UNESCO world heritage site, and a remarkable example of medieval building.
What Is Rocamadour?
Rocamadour is a tiny village in southwest France, built over the Alzou River gorge. Although Rocamador has only around 600 inhabitants, it receives a million and a half visitors each year. There are many reasons for this, including the fact that it is one of the most picturesque sites in France, it seems to both cling to the side of the mountain and thrust up toward the heavens at the same time. It is also an amazing example of medieval architecture and engineering. And finally, it is a major pilgrimage site, and has been so for over a thousand years.
Who Built Rocamadour
The earliest legends surrounding Rocamadour purport it to have been the shelter of an early Christian hermit named Zaccheus of Jericho as early as 70AD. Some say he was the husband of Saint Veronica and a lover of rock (“roc amator”) and that is how the village was named.
What is more certain is that in the early 12th Century the first buildings constructed under the direction of Eble de Turenne, Abbot of Tulle, and the first miracle announced. From there the village’s fame grew as a pilgrimage site, with donations from pilgrims funding the construction of the religious buildings.
In 1166, legend has it that an intact body was discovered in a tomb, and this was presented as Saint Amadour, who was reputed to have been someone close to Jesus. Some say that Saint Amadour and Zaccheus were one and the same.
Why Was Rocamadour Built
Rocamadour is one of the oldest important sites of French Christianity. It belongs to the Camino de Santiago de Campostela (Way of Saint James), the extensive pilgrimage path stretching across Europe sine the 9th Century.
Rocamadour houses the Basilica and the crypt of Saint Amadour or Saint Rocamadour, which lies some 216 steps above the village. Pilgrims climb these stone steps on their knees while reciting the rosary.
There you will also find seven separate chapels (Parvis of the Shrines) built into the mountainside. Among these is the “Chapelle Miraculeuse,” or “Lady Chapel,” home of the famed Black Virgin (or Black Madonna), which has been venerated for over 1000 years. The roughly carved statue of dark (“black”) wood boasts surprisingly distinct facial features and is thought to date back to at least the 12th Century.
Although the monks left in the early 14th Century, and the religious buildings, artifacts, and relics were damaged during various wars, Rocamadour continued to survive as a pilgrimage site. The stunning layout and medieval buildings have led to its popularity as a tourist destination in the past century, and today some million and a half visitors climb its steps each year.
Can You Stay in Rocamadour?
Rocamadour is built on three levels. The lower level has shops, restaurants, and hotels on its main street, the Rue de la Couronnerie. From there if you head up you will find the religious buildings, including the Parvis of the Shrines, and the steps that lead to the Shrine of Our Lady in the Chapel. As you head farther up you reach the ramparts of the castle that was built to protect the religious building, and there you will find amazing views of the village and the Alzou River below.
How Do You Get to Rocamadour
Our newest culinary vacation in France will feature a visit of Rocamadour, and certainly the easiest way to visit is by having one of our expert drivers take you there! But if you are traversing France on your own, you can reach Rocamadour by car. There is public parking available and you can explore from there.
Interested in learning more about our newest itinerary in the Dordogne region? Contact us for a complete tour itinerary, or to customize your visit to this beautiful part of France.
By Peg Kern
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