The Valentré Bridge, a majestic medieval bridge built in the 14th century (from 1308 to 1378), is one of the most remarkable bridges in southern France, either in terms of architecture or construction. It constitutes one of the major attractions and iconic monuments of Cahors, an atypical area from the south-west of France.
Nestled at the foot of Cahors’ cliffs, this bridge crosses and dominates the Lot River with a length of 138 meters and a height of 40 meters above water level. Six huge arches of 16.50 meters with triangular pier-heads enhance the bridge’s resistance, while three sumptuous square towers complete with machicolations stand at both ends and in the centre of the bridge, and control the access to the city from the west side. Although it was built and designed to span the centuries, the bridge underwent extensive restoration in 1879, which greatly changed its original appearance. A wonderful Gothic architecture and a titanic building, which stayed ahead of its time, make the Valentré Bridge an exceptional monument that deserves to be among UNESCO’s World Heritage within which it is registered since 1998.
The Valentré Bridge and the Devil’s Bridge legend
Also known as the Devil’s Bridge, Cahors’ bridge is accompanied by a charming and humorous legend which highlights a mixture of impatience, deceit, anger and revenge. According to the inhabitants of Cahors who like to tell it to anyone providing a sympathetic ear, the legend puts on stage the architect of the bridge who, in his eagerness to see the completion of the bridge after more than half a century of endless construction, made a deal with the Devil. The objective of the agreement was to allow the architect to have absolute control over the Devil until the completion of his work, and at the end of the contract he shall give his soul to the latter in exchange. The architect got what he wanted, but when the contract ended, he began to fear the thought of losing his soul for the benefit of the Devil and came up with a cunning plan to trap the latter and to take him to breach the contract. He pulls it off by asking the Devil to bring water to his workers using a sieve, which was an impossible mission. Furious at that deceit, the Devil tried to take revenge by sending an imp dismantle the bridge. The northwest upper corner of the central tower was damaged and could not be rebuilt until the 1879 restoration during which the affected architect, Paul Gout, added a carved imp trying to unseal a stone in order to embrace the legend, but also to trick the Devil once again by leading him to believe that his imp is still doing the job.
Much more than a strategic fortress
Bridge fortification was very common in the Middle Ages. The Valentré Bridge is part of these fortified bridges representing defence architecture typical of the time, embodied by arches protected by sharp pier-heads and towers with machicolations controlling access to the bridge and the city. In addition, two barbicans protected both ends of the bridge, but only the one located at the entry side of the city remains today. It was intended to defend the city from possible attacks during the Anglo-French wars, although Cahors was never invaded. Despite the fact that this bridge with military architecture has not fulfilled its main function as a fortress, it allowed the opening of a new east-west axis, knowing that the city offered formerly a unique north-south axis. This bridge represented an important commercial stepping stone which had a positive impact of an economic and financial nature. Today, thanks to this exceptional bridge, the town of Cahors has become a primary tourist and cultural destination.
The Valentré Bridge Illuminations
In the tourism sector, this architectural heritage jewel of Cahors provides visitors with unique moments filled with historical discovery and guided tour including the bridge and its towers. Yet, the famous Devil’s Bridge can also be discovered in a more original and interesting way thanks to the modern technological advances of which Claude Martinez and his team took advantage to create a unique event in Cahors, the Valentré Bridge Illuminations.
After years of work that began in 2007, the designers of this innovative project offer the visitors of the bridge an annual spectacle of sound and light worthy of the name, which is, more importantly, open and free to everyone from mid-July to mid-August during a 30-minutes night walk in a magical atmosphere. During this period, the bridge’s majestic shape is highlighted with monumental video projections, original lighting, cinematographic music and texts featuring the famous Devil of the bridge.