Cahors is the 'capital' of Lot and is situated in the south of the department.
The slightly dilapidated medieval centre has a relaxed feel with many pavement cafes and restaurants, especially along the boulevard Gambetta. It is best to visit on Saturday market day when the square by the cathedral is humming with activity.
Situated inside a meander of the river Lot, the gallo-roman city of Divona Cadurcorum grew up in the 1st century B.C. around the sacred Divona spring now known as the Fontaine des Chartreux.
Cadurcoum had villas, temples, a theatre, thermal baths and an aqueduct which brought fresh water from the river Vers. The Arc de Diane, the sculptures in the Museum Henri Martin and the remains of the theatre (sadly mostly covered by modern municipal buildings) are all that have survived from that era.
Following the fall of Rome in 415, the conquering Wisigoths progressed rapidly westwards and in 418 were presented, as the result of a treaty with the Romans, with the city of Toulouse and its kingdom of Aquitaine. Then in 511 the Franks came from the north and defeated the Wisigoths who were pushed south beyond the Pyrenees. Muslim armies invaded from north Africa, displacing the Wisigoths in Spain and by 732 the Muslim armies had progressed north as far as Poitiers, where they were finally defeated and repulsed by the Franks.
During this period the city of Cahors changed considerably and shrank into a fortified core defended on the west by a wall along the line of the present day rue Gambetta, and to the east by the river Lot. It is here that the medieval city of Cahors developed, reaching its apogee in the thirteenth century when Cahors became a major centre of European banking, using the Lombard pawn shop system. Cahors went through a period of exceptional expansion linked to the arrival of the bankers and the presence of merchants and businessmen involved in international trade. Their houses still exist on the rue Nationale, rue du Château du Roi and rue des Soubirous. They have wide arcades for shops and workshops at ground level. The living spaces above have double windows with fine tracery, many now destroyed or unfortunately modernised.
In 1159 Henry II Plantagenet annexed the County of Toulouse and thus Quercy. Having failed to take Toulouse by siege he returned north, taking Cahors. He installed a garrison and placed Thomas Becket in charge of the lands of Quercy.
Pope John XXII, a native of Cahors, gave the city a charterhouse and a university plus a scheme of improvements to the river - locks, weirs, watermills and the Pont Valentré.
Around 1345 the existing ramparts were reinforced and a new defensive barrier was raised to the north of the city - 11 square towers at intervals and two gate towers - completely closing it off.
Three bridges spanned the river. The oldest, the roman Pont Vieux, with five defensive towers, carried the north-south traffic while the Pont Neuf (1291) was to the east. The Pont Valentré to the west was added later, with three fortified towers and six arches, a superb example of medieval defensive architecture. The slow progress of the building work, begun in 1308 and finished some seventy years later, gave rise to a legend about the Devil, remembered by the little carved devil dating from the restoration work of 1879 that can be seen at the top of the central tower. Unfortunately both the Pont Neuf and the Pont Vieux have been demolished and replaced by modern structures.
The cathedral dates from the 11th to 17th centuries and was restored in the 19th century. The massive western tower was added in the early 14th century, giving the building a completely new façade. The houses clustered around the cathedral were demolished, creating a new courtyard, now place Chapou where regular Wednesday and Saturday markets are held. In the 15th and 16th centuries chapels were added and the present cloister, built in the Flamboyant Gothic style, was begun around 1506.
In the 19th century development spread to the west of the old city and boulevard Gambetta became the main street, created where the ditch outside the city wall used to run. The houses on the east side of the boulevard were altered by decree to make them all the same height, forming the terraces still visible now. The new Town Hall, the theatre, Law Courts, and library were built, new streets, wide malls, promenades and gardens were created and quays completed along the banks of the Lot.
Shops and restaurants: In the tightly-packed centre are many restaurants, cafes and small shops. Large supermarkets and other stores can be found on the outskirts.