Part one – Stepping back into Prehistory
The Vézère Valley is often referred to as the Valley of Mankind because it has such a wealth of prehistoric sites, fifteen of which have been listed as UNESCO World Heritage Sites. It is thought that people were living in this area as far back as 400,000 years ago; today you can still see evidence of their lives, particularly in the area around Les Eyzies.
La Rogue Saint-Christophe at Payzac-le-Moustier is one kilometre long and eighty meters high. Its limestone walls have been eroded by the rain and frost to shape hundreds of rock shelters and long overhanging terraces. The natural cavities have been occupied since prehistory and were altered to become a fort and a medieval town until the start of the Renaissance period. It was so impregnable that during the Hundred Years War the English managed to take it only by starving out the inhabitants.
This photograph was taken before we entered the Fortress, at the small café, a rather unusual visiter popped in to beg treats.
This was the only entrance to the fortress. The defence system of this entrance includes a narrow passageway which is just below the look-out post, from which stones could be thrown onto the heads of any assailants. A reinforced drawbridge was added in the Middle Ages.
From this second lookout post you can see a cave at the far side of the cliff. Also from this position a watchman could see or hear someone stationed in a similar lookout post further downstream, the second watchman could then communicate with a third and so on for 11.16 miles (almost 18 kilometres).
The safe, dating from around the 12th century-you can clearly see the marks from the shelves.
This is the gorgeous view across the Vézère River from the long terrace
This shelter is over 300 yards long. It is the biggest natural shelter in Europe. Around thirty houses would have stood here, on this enormous terrace. Down below you can see two other floors and communicating staircases. In total there would have been hundreds of houses simply built into the hollows of the cliff face, others built directly onto the rock, but all clinging to the different levels of the cliff.
This model is a partial reconstruction of the town at the end of the Middle Ages.
Along the way are pictures on the cliff face to give you more of a sense of what it used to be like.