Sarlat la Caneda, the capital of Périgord Noir
Sarlat la Caneda is a prosperous market town that has retained its 14th century architecture.
The Capital of Périgord Noir is also the third largest town in Périgord with a population of 10 000 inhabitants.
It welcomes over 1,5 millions visitors each year and is the most visited town in the Dordogne!
Sarlat indeed boasts a wealth of beautifully restored Renaissance mansions and timber-framed medieval houses.
These were built with the local limestone and roofed with lauzes (limestone slabs) and border picturesque narrow lanes.
Most of the historic centre is pedestrian and displays 10 centuries of local history and architecture!
Sarlat developed around the abbey and its market, which attracted people from all over the region.
The Rue de la République is the shopping axis.
Opened n the 19th century, it replaces the medieval Rue Traverse which delineated the popular western side from the up-market eastern district.
In the 9th century Benedictine monks founded an abbey, which they dedicated to St-Sacerdoce, the Bishop of Limoges and to his mother Ste-Mondane.
The influential abbey was placed under the direct authority of the Pope in 1153.
It ruled over the whole of Périgord Noir as well as the distant Agen and Toulouse regions.
Rebuilt during the 12th century, it was placed under the patronage of King Philippe-Auguste.
The abbey church became the cathedral of the newly founded diocese of Sarlat.
It was enlarged over the following 5 centuries and extensively altered in the early 16th century.
It is therefore mainly Gothic, however, displays a discreet blend of styles that reflect 5 centuries of French architecture evolution.
As a result, the 12th century porch is Romanesque, the 15th century apse Gothic, the 16th century chancel Renaissance and the 17th century nave a perfect illustration of Classical architecture!
The cathedral close includes the Chapelle des Pénitents Bleus, the only remaining building of the original abbey.
An arched passageway leads to the Cour des Fontaines and the spring around which the first abbey was built.
The Cour des Chanoines is located on the northern side of the Chapelle des Pénitents Bleus.
The Palais de l’Evêque, the former episcopal palace, today houses the Théâtre Municipal.
Its facade is an interesting blend of Gothic and Italian Renaissance architecture.
A few steps lead to the Passage des Enfeus, a tiny path that leads to the Jardin des Enfeus at the rear of the cathedral.
The enfeus are arched cavities that shelter the graves of the medieval local aristocracy.
A few more steps go up to the small public garden and the enigmatic Lanterne des Morts.
The Lantern of the Dead is a vestige of the Romanesque abbey.
The unusual tower has two rooms; the upper room is located in the conical roof and is not accessible.
It was built en 1147 in the medieval cemetery in order to commemorate the venue of St-Bernard de Clairvaux.
Legend has it that the bread the holy man blessed, cured the sick…
Sarlat – 13th to present day
Sarlat thrived until 1259, when the plague decimated half of its population.
It was partially destroyed during the Hundred Years War, then the Wars of Religion.
The French Revolution on the other hand never really reached it, as it was quite away from the main roads.
The former capital of Périgord Noir became sous-préfecture of the newly founded department of Dordogne.
However, it remained a sleepy provincial town until 1882, when the newly built railway line linked it to Bordeaux.
Sarlat started to thrive in the 1960s, when the Minister of Culture André Malraux commissioned its restoration.
Soon tourists from all around the world flocked to the medieval town and film directors queued to film periods movies.
Sarlat la Caneda medieval City
The historical town stretches around the cathedral.
Below is a simple itinerary that will help you discover Sarlat’s major landmarks.
It starts Rue des Salamandres, near the Jardins des Enfeus, at the back of the cathedral.
It’ll take you down to Sarlat’s main square, Place de la Liberté, then back to the cathedral through the medieval town.
Rue de la Salamandre
The Rue de la Salamandre takes its name from a house adorned with a salamander, the animal-emblem of François I during the French Renaissance.
Le Presidial was the seat of the royal court of justice set up by King Henri II in 1552, hence its name.
The mansion’s large central arch supports a loggia topped by a polygonal lantern.
The 13th century half-timbered Hôtel de Grézel is located further down the street.
Its elegant Flamboyant Gothic staircase tower and arched doorway date from the 15th century.
Place de la Liberté
The street ends by the city hall at the lively Place de la Liberté, which houses the Saturday Market and a big monthly fair.
Stalls selling foie gras, honey, walnuts and mushrooms in autumn, truffles from December and February, goat cheese, pork meat specialties, herbs, Provence fabrics and flowers create an unique atmosphere, inimitable fragrances, colors and sounds.
The French Renaissance Hôtel de Vienne overlooks the town square.
Jean de Vienne, a modest inhabitant of Sarlat who made fortune and became adviser to the king, built it in 1557.
Jacques de Maleville bought it a few decades later, hence the mansion’s second name of Hôtel de Maleville.
The imposing mansion was enlarged three times.
Its architecture therefore illustrates perfectly the evolution from Gothic to Italian and French Renaissance styles.
Sainte-Marie Church was built between 1365-1479 and stands on the northern side of the square.
Badly damaged during the French Revolution, it however escaped demolition and has been disused since 1794.
The chancel was indeed entirely destroyed.
All that is left of the Gothic church are the two bays and the bell tower with no steeple!
The architect Jean Nouvel restored in 2000.
You’ll easily spot its massive and unusual 17m tall metal doors.
It today houses a permanent market specialized in local products or produits du terroir, as we say in French.
A glass lift gives access to the top of the tower from where you’ll enjoy 360 degrees view of Sarlat and surrounding countryside.
Manoir de Gisson and Hôtel de Vassal
You’ll find the 13th century Manoir de Gisson, recognizable for its two wings linked by a superb staircase tower, at the rear of the church along the Rue de la Liberté.
The mansion is listed as Historical Monument and open to the public.
It is adjacent to the 15th century Hôtel de Vassal and its battlement turret.
Place des Trois Oies
The mansion overlooks the Place des Trois Oies, the tiny square which once accommodated the Saturday market.
Farmers indeed came from November to March in order to sell their geese and their foie gras.
The artiste Lalanne created the ‘three geese’ sculpture that today marks its centre.
Fontaine Sainte Marie
The unusual Fontaine Sainte-Marie is nestled in a natural grotto next to the Hôtel de Vassal.
The 12th century fountain remained in constant use until the 18th century when the water became contaminated.
The grotto was re-opened in the late 1960s during the restoration of the city.
Its water, however, is not drinkable!
Rue des Consuls
The Rue de la Liberté ends at Rue des Consuls.
This street is bordered with 16th and 17th century mansions built by Sarlat’s wealthy merchants and magistrates.
The superb Hôtel de Plamon consists of a series of buildings added over the centuries.
It is therefore a perfect illustration of the evolution of French architecture.
It belonged to the Selves de Plamon Family.
The wealthy members of the cloth merchants’ guild of Sarlat accessed nobility through marriage in 1483.
It is now home to the Musée Historique de Sarlat et du Périgord Noir.
The 15th century Hôtel Chassaing or Hôtel Magnanat consists of two buildings linked by an hexagonal staircase tower.
The 13th century Hôtel Fénélon was altered in the late 15th century.
It belonged to the Salignac de la Mothe-Fénélon Family.
Hôtel de la Boëtie
The picturesque Rue Cahuet and Passage Henri de Ségogne will take you back to the cathedral.
This is where you’ll find the Italian Renaissance Hôtel de la Boëtie, one of the most attractive medieval mansions in Sarlat!
The mansion with mullioned windows and carved medallions was built in 1525.
It overlooks the Place du Peyrou, the cathedral square.
It was the birthplace of the poet and humanist writer of the French Renaissance Etienne de la Boëtie (1530-1563).
Sarlat la Caneda – Western district
Bourgeois and tradesmen lived in the western district of Sarlat.
The buildings’ architecture is more simple, yet very attractive!
You’ll therefore find many half timbered buildings.
You’ll also find elegant stone buildings with ornate facades such as the Baroque style doorway of the 17th century Chapelle des Pénitents Blancs, which was part of the Couvent des Récollects.
You will also find a few vestiges of the city’s medieval rampart.
The Tour du Bourreau dates from 1580; it is one of two towers (out of 18) still standing.
Markets in Sarlat
Don’t forget that Sarlat is a major market town!
The regular markets are therefore one of the highlights of the week.
You should arrive early enough in order to have plenty of time to stroll between the stalls and enjoy the atmosphere.
Place de la Liberté: twice a week all year round on Saturdays and Wednesdays
Ste-Marie Church: every day except Thursdays for local products – closed from mid-Nov to mid-Apr
Organic market every Thursday from 6pm to 10pm
Place Boissarie: Dec/Jan/Feb Truffle, duck and goose, foie gras market
Parking in Sarlat is not an issue as there is plenty space in the upper town.
The 10mn walk takes you through the picturesque lanes of the western district.
Department of Dordogne
Coordinates: Lat 44.888742 – Long 1.216784