Neolithic Mother Goddess statue
Capdenac le Haut is a medieval village perched on a cliff that overlooks a U-shaped meander of the river Lot.
The discovery of a Neolithic Mother-Goddess statue, dating from around 3150BC, shows that the site has been inhabited since time immemorial.
This statue is now displayed in the Amédée Lemonti Museum in Pech Merle.
Is Capdenac le Haut the Gaulish Uxellodunum?
We know that the Gauls built their oppidum on the top of the cliff.
Local legend has it that this ancient fort was Uxellodunum, the last Gaulish stronghold seized by Julius Caesar.
The name Uxellodunum would indeed come from the name of the Gallic God Uxellos, or could be the association of Uxel – height and dunum – fortified.
Capdenac le Haut, a thriving Gallo-Roman fort
We also know that the Gallic oppidum – Uxellodunum or not – became an important Roman military settlement and an active village.
An abrupt cliff, almost impossible to climb, indeed protects the southern side of Capdenac le Haut.
However, the Romans strengthened the northern fortifications on the plateau, where the village’s entrance was exposed.
The little Roman town thrived until the fall of the Roman Empire in the mid 5th century AD.
Hac denasci Caput, the Visigoth fort
Because of its exceptional situation, the town became subject to numerous attacks.
The Roman occupation had brought peace and wealth to Capdenac and the inhabitants had therefore left the fortifications fall into ruins!
As a result, the Visigoths easily seized the ruined fortress!
They stayed until 530AD, when the Franks captured it and evicted them.
However, the Visigoths had time to rename the fortress Hac denasci Caput – dead, fallen capital, which most likely evolved into Capdenac over time.
The square defense tower they erected on the cliff side was demolished in 1732; a few vestiges are still visible.
Capdenac le Haut suffered further destruction during the Saracens incursions of the 7th century.
The castle of Count Gerault of Aurillac
In the 9th century, Gérault Count of Aurillac, one of Emperor Charlemagne‘s grand-sons, built the Château de Capdenac.
Gérault was one of the few secular personages who were sanctified.
Legend has it that he performed a miracle in his castle of Capdenac le Haut.
Knights Templar in Capdenac le Haut
The Knights Templar arrived in Capdenac le Haut during the 14th century.
However, the Commanderie ou Maison des Gardes was retained and served as living quarters.
A tiny portion of a 15th century mural was miraculously preserved on the ground floor!
The Templars also built the Tour Maudon which today houses the Tourist Office.
The massive square tower was never inhabited, as it was a defense tower.
The various guard rooms indeed accommodated a garrison, while the roof-top served to monitor the fortress and surrounding area.
The Tourist Office has set up a small museum that relates the history of Capdenac le Haut.
It also exhibits various Gallo-Roman artifacts found during the numerous excavations, and a cast of the Neolithic Mother-Goddess found at the foot of the cliff.
The Order of the Knights Templar was dissolved in 1312 and their possessions bequeathed the Hospitallers of St-John of Jerusalem, who took over the hosting of the pilgrims.
In the 13th century, the city administration was entrusted to four consuls chosen among the inhabitants of Capdenac le Haut.
These consuls officiated by rotation in the Maison Consulaire, the current town hall on Place Lucterius.
The building boasts a 17th century portal recovered from the Château de Sully.
Vestiges of the original Gothic windows are still visible on the facade.
Hundred Years War and Wars of Religion
The old fortress suffered the ravages of the Hundred Years War.
French and English alternatively occupied it and strengthened its fortifications.
In 1518, Galiot de Genouillac, the Grand Master of the Artillery of King François I, bought the fortress and modernized the fortifications.
His daughter Jeanne de Genouillac introduced Protestantism.
Her own son-in-law led the Protestant rebellion in the region.
He improved and strengthened the fortifications and turned Capdenac le Haut into a Protestant stronghold.
The proclamation of the Edict of Nantes put an end to the religious conflict in 1598.
Henri IV’s minister and éminence grise, Sully, retreated to Capdenac le Haut in the years that followed the King’s assassination in 1610.
The fortifications were pulled down in the 19th century; all that is left is the barbican on the south side.
Maison de Sully – Château de Capdenac le Haut
La Maison de Sully replaced Count Gérault’s old Château de Capdenac.
However, some medieval architectural features were retained and are still visible in the building.
The mansion remained in Sully’s family until 1752.
It was seized and sold during the French Revolution and the fortifications exploited as quarry stone during the 19th century.
Vestiges of the old fortress
All that is left are the Porte de Gergovie and Porte Narbonnaise.
The Porte de Gergovie was one of five fortified gates.
It was protected by a barbican, a moat and a drawbridge.
The Rue de la Peyrolerie runs along the rampart that overlooks the Lot.
It replaces a section of the Via Decima Tersia Cesaris – Caesar’s 13th road – a major Roman road that linked Limoges to Narbonne via Capdenac le Haut.
The workshops of the peyroliers, the skilled artisans who manufactured copper pots, bordered this street.
The Via Decima Tersia Cesaris exited Capdenac via the Porte Narbonnaise on the southern side.
The Fontaine Romaine is the only non military feature that has survived from the Roman occupation.
It is located farther down the cliff and is accessed from Rue de la Peyrolerie.
It’s open to the public, however, you’ll need an electronic code from the Tourist Office in order to visit it.
Some 2000 years ago, Roman soldiers cut 130 steps into the cliff in order to access the fountain they built in a natural rock shelter.
They built two tanks.
The first is oval and has a capacity of 9000 liters; it is lined with lead and was intended for human use.
The second is rectangular and has a capacity of 15,000 liters; it was intended for animal use.
The Fontaine Romaine is also known as Fontaine des Anglais.
This is a corruption of the Occitan Fount des Angles, a name that referred to the zigzag style steps that lead down to it.
St-Jean-Baptiste Church was rebuilt in the early 18th century.
However, it has retained some of the old church’s features such as the Chapelle St.Gérault, to the left of the chancel.
It also boasts a Renaissance altar embellished with a 17th century painting.
Finally, a triangular pediment, adorned with a statue representing St. John the Baptist, adorns the entrance.
Before leaving Capdenac le Haut you must walk down the road, to the first bend.
There you’ll find a well marked path that’ll take you to the Gallic well the Champollion brothers discovered in 1816.
This well was ‘rediscovered’ and cleared in 2002.
It’s one of the many surprises Capdenac le Haut has in store!
Finally, you won’t be surprised to known that this super medieval village is ranked among Les Plus Beaux Villages de France.
Department of Lot
Coordinates: Lat 44.581179 – Long 2.069595