Time Stands Still in Périgueux
30 March, 2016
History has been generous with Périgueux. This town, emblematic of the Aquitaine region, is fortunate enough to boast well preserved remains of its Gallo-Roman and medieval past, making it a unique spot. Situated on the banks of the river Isle, Périgueux makes for a great getaway, on account of both its stunning heritage and as a place to indulge in culinary delights, notably its foie gras. Périgueux, the ancient Vesunna Petrucoriorum, was one of the most important Roman centres in southern France. This is evinced in the extant remains of that civilisation, noteworthy being the Roman wall and the amphitheatre, with a capacity of 20,000 spectators, which must have rivalled Nimes or Arles. Well worth visiting is the Vesunna Gallo-Roman Museum, built around a grand Roman villa from the 1st century AD, the so-called domus des Bouquets (Domus of Vesunna). Judging by its sheer size – it covers an area of 4,000 square metres – it must have belonged to a high-ranking official of the region. Thanks to a system of walkways, the interior of the villa can be viewed from above, without impinging on the original surfaces.
A few metres from the old Gallo-Roman wall, which had some buildings set on top of it, lie vestiges of the town’s medieval past, including those of the 12th-century Château Barrière, destroyed in a fire in the 16th century, and the church of Saint-Étienne de la Cité, Périgueux’s original cathedral – up until the Wars of Religion – during which two of its four domes and the campanile were destroyed.
Touring Medieval and Renaissance Périgueux
It seems that God Himself stopped on the summit of Le Puy-Saint-Front, where man ended up building a cathedral of the same name over a former Merovingian and Carolingian church. This formidable cathedral, which rivets your gaze upwards as soon as you get near it, is a compulsory stopover for pilgrims on the Road to Santiago. It was declared a World Heritage Site in 1998. Saint-Front Cathedral is unique in that its fabric reveals exotic Byzantine flourishes at times, as well as the legacy of Sacré-Cœur on Montmartre, Paris, at others. Its interior is not quite as striking, although it does harbour the odd exceptional detail, such as the chandelier that lit the wedding of Napoleon III and countess Eugénie de Montijo in Paris.
Medieval Périgueux, with the Mataguerre Tower as the last bastion of its ancient wall, is also graced with Renaissance buildings featuring such characteristic elements of this style as inner courts and staircases. Among the most emblematic buildings is the 16th-century House of the Patissier and the Saint Front Residence, a mansion located on the Rue de la Constitution.
Gastronomy in Périgueux
At the foot of the Cathedral lies the Place de la Clautre where local farmers sell their produce in a street market on Wednesdays and Saturdays. A few streets away, two open-air markets feature two of the products that are never in short supply in the pantries of Périgueux’s inhabitants – meat and foie gras.
It is a delightful experience to wander through the maze of medieval alleyways and then book a table at one of the small bistros or restaurants where you can treat yourself to local fare. One such eatery is the refined L’Eden, on Rue de l’Aubergerie, one of the most picturesque thoroughfares in the capital of the former Périgord.
Ready to discover the charm of Périgueux? Check out your Vueling to Bordeaux here.
Text and images by Tus Destinos
Photos by Tus Destinos and Alban GILBERT - CRTA
30 March, 2016