Sarlat, capital of Perigord Noir, is an exceptionally well-preserved town with examples of architecture going back 1000 years. The walls of the quaint buildings in the heart of the town are constructed typically of a warm yellow stone and, looking up, you will see many beautiful examples of 'lauze' roofs, clad with heavy stones.
For the visitor, as well as the old town to explore, there is a huge choice of cafés and restaurants where you can take a table inside or sit in the narrow streets and picturesque squares to watch the world go by.
Inhabited since Gallo-Roman times, Sarlat became a prosperous city in the 8th century under the reign of Pepin le Bref and Charlemagne when the Benedictines established a monastery here. In 937 the abbey came under the rule of Cluny and then under the direct authority of the Holy See in Rome. In 1147 Saint Bernard, passing through Sarlat on his return from the crusades, performed, as legend has it, the miracle of the healing loaves, commemorated by the tower of Saint Bernard, known as the Lanterne des Morts (lantern of the dead), whose curious architecture can be admired behind the apse of the cathedral of Saint Sacerdos, in the middle of what was Sarlat’s first cemetery.
The town suffered from the Norman invasions and then from the Hundred Year' War due to its position as a frontier region between the kings of France and the kings of England. The town, well fortified by its Consuls, withstood all attacks and only became English at the end of the first part of the Hundred Years War (1360) when, by the treaty of Brétigny, Edward III of England renounced his claim to the throne of France in exchange for the South West of France. Ten years later, the Connétable du Guesclin chased the English from France and Sarlat became French once more. The treaty of Castillon ended the Hundred Years War in 1453 but the Wars of Religion ravaged the countryside and the town suffered from the exactions of the Chevalier de Vivans and the Vicomte de Turenne. Peaceful days eventually came to Sarlat with the reign of Henry IV. Sarlat, which had originally become an episcopal see in 1317, now started building a cathedral, the parish church of Saint Mary and numerous town houses, still proudly standing.
Sarlat was a prosperous town throughout the 16th, 17th and 18th centuries but after that, too far removed from the mainstream, it fell into lethargy for nearly 150 years, to wake up again only in the 20th century when road transport supplanted river and railroad as the means of communication. Happily, Sarlat was miraculously saved thanks to the law of Malraux of 1962 by which the old town received sufficient financial aid to undertake a programme of restoration. The old facades have been restored under their magnificent stone roofs and the old quarters have been rescued.
Location: In the Dordogne department.