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The 14th Century Pont Valentre bridge in Cahors is one of the most photographed sites in France outside of Paris.

The Pont Valentre bridge in Cahors The Pont Valentre bridge in Cahors (click for larger image)

I had a house near Cahors for several years and this spectacular medieval bridge over the river Lot in the town was a local tourist attraction where we used to direct our gite guests to visit. It is one of the most photographed sites in France outside of Paris. In the Middle Ages it was a well-worn part of the pilgrim trail to Santiago de Compostela and is still used today although only foot traffic is permitted.

The foundations of the Pont Valentre bridge were laid in 1308, but it was not completed until 1378. Legend has it that the bridge took so long to build that the architect got frustrated, fearing that he would not live long enough to see it completed so he sought the help of the devil, promising his soul in return for assistance in completing the bridge. When the bridge was nearing completion the architect had second thoughts and bet the devil that he could not bring water for the last batch of mortar in a container of the architect’s choice. The devil accepted the challenge but the architect chose a sieve so the devil lost the bet. The devil was so annoyed that once the bridge was completed he broke off one of the stones from the central tower every night forcing the townspeople to constantly repair it.

When restoration work was carried out between 1867 and 1879 the architect (Paul Gout) heard of the legend and replaced the missing stone with a sculpture of the devil which is still visible today. The bridge is listed as a UNESCO world heritage site.