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History of the Dordogne

History of the Dordogne

Whether in search of prehistoric civilisations, exploring medieval castles and grand monuments, or recapturing the events of the French Revolution, the Dordogne has it all. Travel back through millennia to see the works of art that decorate cave walls in the Vezere Valley, and uncover the four divisions of historic Périgord – Périgord Vert, Périgord Blanc, Périgord Pourpe, and Périgord Noir – all whilst journeying through landscapes of striking beauty and towns of quintessential French charm.

Caves of the Vézère Valley

Ancient remains

Declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979, the caves of the Vezere Valley provide a fascinating glimpse into the early civilisations of the Dordogne. It’s estimated that the first settlers made the caves home during the last Ice Age, and the 147 prehistoric sites contain wall paintings depicting the wildlife that was prevalent in the region at the time.

While these remains are among the most treasured in the region, the arrival of later civilisations – the Gauls and the Romans, for example – are also celebrated. Known throughout antiquity as Périgord, the province features restored Roman ruins at Perigueux, evoking the period when incursions by the armies of Rome usurped the ruling tribes. The region would then experience gradual development in the centuries that followed, until the French and English monarchies took dominion in 1152, with Richard the Lionheart – child of the union between Henry Plantagenet and Eleanor of Aquitane – inheriting the French land and leaving his mark on the area.

From war to peace

Perigueux- Saint-Front Cathedral

The Middle Ages continued to be a tumultuous period, with the Hundred Years’ War and the definitive Battle of Castillon finally sealing French victory, expelling the English from the land. The Wars of Religion were soon to follow, ravaging the region until the Edict of Nantes saw an end to the conflict, and the opportunity for the Dordogne to experience stability and growth for the first time in centuries.

Such was the softening of the environment, both country and riverside areas were able to flourish, with stunning Gothic and Renaissance architecture becoming commonplace throughout towns such as Perigueux and Sarlat, while more than 1,200 châteaux were constructed at the behest of the French nobility.

Revolutionary France and modern Dordogne

The transition from Périgord to the Dordogne occurred following the French Revolution, with the region being one of 83 départements that were created.

As the 19th century gave way to the 20th, tourism in the Dordogne began to flourish, with travellers captivated by the rolling countryside and opulent châteaux in the area. Even the Second World War was incapable of denting the area’s splendour, despite its active role in the French resistance.

To this day, the Dordogne offers clear glimpses into its turbulent past, whether it’s in the monuments constructed by nobles or in the historic remains of ancient civilisations. Discover the province today and become captivated by all it has to offer.