We visited a place today that has been inhabited for the last 50,000 years. Yes, 50,000!
La Roque St Christophe is a huge cliff worn away by the river below. That same river made the surrounding lands fertile. The river-carved overhangs were first settled by the neanderthals over 50,000 years ago and as far as anyone can tell occupation was continuous right up until the late 1500s. Those are the sort of figures that make the pyramids look young. When our own ancestors lived on this site they weren’t even humans as we know them today, they were Cro Magnon man.
Thousands of generations passed, and the cliff faces were still being lived in. Humans developed tools and began to cut into the face to make caves, ledges for shelves, holes for basins, hooks to tether animals. We learnt how to quarry rock and build walls. How to make cranes and pulleys. How to build defensive works and a series of lookout forts to provide warning of impending attack. The combination of river, fertile ground and naturally defensive position made this a prime position.
All went well right up until the late 1500s when the town was accused of harbouring protestants. Their defences were overcome and the town was destroyed and forgotten until the early 1900s when archeologists descended in droves. The site is unique both for its extended history and for its sheer size. Today the site is an amazing place to visit – one of the best places we’ve visited in six months of travel. All the more so as we’d picked it as a lunch stop on our way from Bordeaux to Beynac-et-Cazenac.
There’s something truly stunning in contemplating such a depth of history in one place. Photos from an iphone can’t capture the feeling of such history in one place. The Dordogne Valley where we’ve now moved to has been inhabited for such a long time; and it’s great to feel we’re now inhabiting it for a moment too.