Pont Valentré - Valentré Bridge, Cahors
Why does a 19th century carving of an imp adorn the 14th century stone arched bridge Pont Valentré in Cahors, France?
The 14th century Pont Valentré is one of the most beautiful fortified Medieval bridges in France today. The town of Cahors is situated on a large peninsular-like area formed by a u-shaped bend in the Lot River in the Midi-Pyrénées of the Occitanie Region. Thus strategically surrounded and protected by the river on three sides. During the golden age of Medieval Cahors a fortified bridge was built on the western side of the town. Originally the bridge was protected on both side with substantial gateways. Only the barbican on the eastern, city end of the bridge has survived.
The Devil and the Legend of Pont Valentré
On the corner of middle tower, up near the roof, is a carving of an imp. This was added to the tower, known as the Devil’s Tower, when the bridge was restored in the 1870s. Although a new addition, it ‘updates’ if you like a legend about the devil that goes back to the building of the bridge.
Disheartened by the slow pace of construction, the foreman entered into a pact with the devil. In return for the devil marshalling all his know-how and obeying orders, the foreman would surrender his soul. When the bridge was near completion, the foreman decided to save his soul. And so he gave the devil an impossible task.
The devil was ordered to take water to the to of the central tower so that the last stone could be installed. But he was told to use a sieve. The foreman saved his soul. Furious at being tricked, each night the devil sends an imp to loosen the final stone. Each day the masons refit the stone. And so the bridge was never complete.
During restoration of the bridge in the 1870s, the architect Paul Gout had the carving of an imp added to confuse the devil.
Spanning the Lot River.
History of the Valentré Bridge
The structure is 138 metres long supported by six arches. The surface of the bridge is formed by two slightly inclined slopes. The three towers are over 40 metres in height, each with battlements and machicolations. On each side there are crenellated pier-heads, and the towers on both sides were protected by barbicans – only the barbican on the eastern-most tower has survived.
The decision to build a bridge across the Lot was already made in 1306, probably to accompany the establishment of a new neighbourhood between the town’s walls and the river. Construction began in June 1308 and ended in 1378. It is thought that the towers were completed in 1380 – during the Hundred Year’s War. As this was a time of conflict between the French and the English, the bridge’s defensive features (battlements and machicolations on the towers) were enhanced.
Although the town was never attacked and the fortified bridge was never required to safeguard Cahors. Once completed, however, the bridge enabled the rise of an east-west trade route across France. A change that was to benefit the town greatly. Also, the bridge is on the Via Podiensis, a pilgrimage route to Santiago de Compostela – and consequently is included in the UNESCO World Heritage listing of the Chemins de Saint-Jacques-de-Compostelle en France. Pilgrims still follow this path today.
The surviving barbican on the easter, town side of Pont Valentré, Cahors.
Where is the Pont Valentré?
The Valentré bridge is on the western side of the town of Cahors, away from the main centre, spanning the Lot River in the Lot Department of the Occitania region of France.