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Archive for the ‘Pre-history & History’ Category

BEFORE CANOES & CASTLE VISITS WERE PRINCIPLE TOURISM ENTEPRISES ON THE DORDOGNE RIVER and a very long time before the arrival of the railway along its banks in the late 1800’s, this river was once an important means of communication and exchange.

Traces of boating activity date as far back as Gallo-Roman period (1-2c BC – 3c AD). In fact, the center of Old Bordeaux was built on the site of the original Gallo-Roman port which was the capital of the Roman province of Aquitania. Amphorae once used for wine have been uncovered in the region of Bergerac; these amphorae bear witness to a wine trade with Ancient Rome before vines were planted along the banks of the river.

The Vikings also were a regular presence on the Dordogne river system, at least from the 840’s until the 860’s. Viking activity is well recorded in many parts of the Carolingian Empire, but raids on the Dordogne River system have been largely ignored so we can’t impart much detail here. We do know: Dordogne River trade through the middle ages of salt, leather, wood, walnuts and wine flourished and increased through the 13th century, slowing during the Hundred Years War and then with development of the gabares experienced a resurgence until the late 1800's.

The gabares were the traditional flat-bottomed boats used on the Dordogne for transporting goods between the Massif Central and the ports of Bergerac, Libourne and Bordeaux.

The Dordogne was divided into three sections for navigational purposes:

The Upper Dordogne (upstream of Souillac)

The upper section of the river is often no more than a narrow strip of water flanked on either side by steep cliffs. This part of the river was only navigable for approximately 30 days of the year in spring and autumn when the water level was high. In summer the water was too low and in winter too violent.

These gabarres were built to transport wood from the forests: Oak used to produce vats and barrels and Chestnut used to stake the vines. Upon arrival at their destination, the boats were sold along with their load. The boatmen then returned home on foot.

The Middle Dordogne (downstream of Souillac)

The middle section of the river was navigable for 6 to 8 months of the year. Boats from this part of the river would transport oak, chestnut, cheese and wine from Domme and would return with salt, wheat and salted fish.

These boats were able to return upstream by using the rising tide as far as Castillon, but from there on towing was necessary. The towpath more or less followed the river bank, with towing teams usually consisting of 20 to 30 people, who were replaced every 7km/4.5 miles. On difficult stretches 80 to 100 people were required to haul the boat. In the middle of the 18C manpower was replaced by oxen.

The Lower Dordogne (downstream of Castillon to the Bordeaux estuary)

This section of the river was permanently navigable and boats made their way back upstream in the same way as in the Middle Dordogne.

The railway arrived in Sarlat in 1882, and in the rest of the valley shortly after. Competition from the railways quickly undermined river transport, which soon died out on the Upper and Middle Dordogne, but gabares continued to ply their trade on the Lower Dordogne until the 1950's.

Today, only a few gabares remain on the river transporting tourists and the memories of that bygone era.

Bon voyage et à bientôt!  Jack
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August 18, 2013 - Posted by Jack Tobin

IT WAS 69 YEARS AGO TODAY… 10 June 1944, just 4 days after the allied forces landed on the beaches in Normandy; an atrocity was perpetrated by Hitler’s S.S. on the 1,000 year old village of Oradour-sur-Glane. In all, 642 persons that included; 193 schoolchildren perished in the massacre that Saturday afternoon. Actual specifics and firsthand accounts detailing the horrific brutality can be easily found on the internet… The 190 men were herded into 9 different barns and buildings where they were then shot in the legs and burnt alive, all the women and schoolchildren were lead into the church to meet a similarly unspeakable end.

That afternoon, two hundred soldiers’ with Hitler’s Waffen SS arrived traveling up this road to commit unspeakable crimes


Waffen SS assembled the entire village here around the doctor’s car for an ID check and then down these roads in shops & barns – the killing began


And here in the heart of their church… All the women and innocent children massacred

I knew little about the magnitude or scope of this war crime but felt compelled last week to travel just north of Limoges to see and learn more about what was only occasionally whispered about by our neighbors many of whom were themselves members, or children, of the Maquis (French Résistance) during WWII. You see, this convoy of Hitler’s SS had just passed through our villages of both Bretenoux and Saint Céré only 24 hours before the massacre.

We were not prepared for what we saw and what we learned… I was not prepared for the actual size of this village which has been left EXACTLY as it was on that infamous day. In total; 325 homes, shops, hotels, cafés, schools, and the church, were plundered, burnt and left frozen in time, so all who visit will remember horror that occurred in Oradour-sur-Glane, not really so long ago.

Souviens-Toi et à bientôt, Jack

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July 10, 2013 - Posted by Jack Tobin

The first humans found in France, known as Homo Erectus (fact!), are now believed to have lived here over 1 million years ago. They evolved slowly, through four glaciations, discovered fire in the process around 400,000 BC to become Homo Sapiens.

One of them, Neanderthals, found in the southwest France arrived about 300,000 BC but they seem to have died out by about by 30,000 BC, presumably unable to compete with the Cro-Magnons although they cohabited in the region for nearly 10,000 years. The first complete skeleton of a Neanderthal man (carbon dated to 45,000BC) was discovered in the Dordogne River Valley, at La Chappelle-aux-Saints (Corrèze), in 1908.

Biologically modern human beings (species: Homo Sapiens) first appear about 120,000 years ago. Cro-Magnon man, existed some 40,000-10,000 years ago. Remains were first found in southwest France in 1868 and then throughout other parts of Europe. Cro-Magnon man was anatomically identical to modern humans and differed significantly from Neanderthal man, who disappeared in the fossil record shortly after Cro-Magnon’s appearance.

They were skilled hunters, toolmakers and artists. Their upper Paleolithic culture produced a markedly more sophisticated tool kit, using a wider variety of raw materials such as bone and antler, and containing new implements for making clothing, engraving, and sculpting. They produced fine artwork, in the form of decorated tools, beads, ivory carvings of humans and animals, shell jewelry, clay figurines, musical instruments, and polychrome cave paintings of exceptional vitality.

The Celts, emerging from Central Europe, settled in Germany and Gaul as early as 2500 B.C. They started to work with iron to make tools and weapons, and lived in well organized societies until 125 B.C., when the Roman Empire began its expansion here in southwestern France.

Is the wonderment of our region beginning to dawn on you?

à bientôt! Jack
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May 26, 2013 - Posted by Jack Tobin