Looking at Pont Valentré, it’s clear that this amazing 14th century bridge was designed to be a formidable fortress. With its three mighty watchtowers guarding the pass beneath, any armies that tried to take this Medieval crossing would have had a difficult time indeed. However, its long construction time of 70 years meant that it never saw enemy action, and led to more sinister stories about a deal with the Devil.
History of Pont Valentré
Pont Valentré was built across the river Lot in the commune of Cahors, Occitanie. It was first proposed in 1306 as a defence against invasions coming from the south. The walled city of Cahors already had two bridges, the Pont Neuf and the Vieux Pont, but Pont Valentré was to be the largest one yet.
Construction started in 1308, with the first stone placed by the First Consul Géraud de Sabanac. Construction was slow, and it wasn’t until 1350 that it was possible to cross the bridge, despite it not being complete. 70 years after construction started – a lifetime of work – it was finally finished in 1378.
The finished foot bridge was 138 metres (453 feet) long, 5 metres (16 feet) wide, and had three towers that stretched 40 metres (130 feet) into the air. 6 arched spans carried it across the Lot, and cobblestones pave the way across the river. The square towers of the bridge had battlements, machicolations, and arrow slits to fend off attackers, but the hundred years war between England and France never reached Cahors.
By 1880, the bridge was in need of restoration, and architect Paul Gout took on the project. He commissioned local artist Cyprien-Antoine Calmon to sculpt a devil at the top of the central tower.
The Devil Legend of Pont Valentré
The story of the Pont Valentré and the Devil started when one of the bridge foremen was frustrated at the slow progress of construction. It is said that the foreman made a deal with the Devil to take his soul in exchange for help to have the bridge completed. The Devil accepted, and the bridge was soon nearly finished. Suddenly realising he was about to lose his soul, the foreman tricked the Devil. He asked him to bring water to cement the last stone in the central tower using nothing but a sieve. Unable to do bring the water, the bridge was unfinished.
Feeling tricked, the Devil countered with a trick of his own. Every night he sent a demon to visit the central tower and remove a brick, which had to be replaced every day the next morning. This, the foreman’s project would forever be incomplete, the very thing he feared from the offset. Keep an eye open for Paul Gout’s demon statue to see if the bridge is still under the Devil’s influence!
Visiting Pont Valentré
Today, the Pont Valentré is a UNESCO World Heritage Site, being accepted in 1998. It forms part of the Santiago de Compostela pilgrim walking route into Spain.
Visitors can walk over the Pont Valentré free of charge, although no vehicles are permitted to cross. Many times throughout the year, the bridge is illuminated in spectacular colours for specials events, perfect for photo opportunities. Some dates include pink illumination on Valentine’s Day (14th February), orange lights on Halloween (31st October)and red and white sparkles on Christmas Day.
Cahors Maison de l’Eau
There is a museum of interest for visitors to the Pont Valentré, called the Maison de l’Eau (water house). A former pumping station from the 19th century, the space had been turning into a museum with original water pump equipment, and a water theme.
In the Maison de l’Eau, visitors can learn about the water supply of Cahors, which has been fed since Roman antiquity from les Fontaines des Chartreuse, a crystal-clear natural springs near the commune. The engineer Frédéric Suisse developed the pumping system in 1854 to disperse this resource all around Cahors. La Maison de l’Eau is open every day 10:00am – 1:00pm and 3:00pm – 7:00pm during summer, and Friday, Saturday and Sunday afternoon in the other seasons. Entrance is free.
The Pont Valentré is one of the most impressive bridges in all of France. Wonderfully preserved, it is a throwback to Medieval France that is well worth a visit for anybody interested in history.
Pont Valentré is just one of France’s impressive bridges. Find my full list of bridges here!