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Wednesday 12 December 2018

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130 YEARS OF HISTORY

THE GREAT ADVENTURE

130 years of history

We know how much popular legends have enriched the history of France. The Gouffre de Padirac is no exception in the lands of the old province of Quercy...

There is nothing more troubling than this hole in the surface of the earth, and there is nothing like it to let the imagination respond to this troubling enigma, to which people ascribed mystic powers and terrifying names: Devil? Treasure? The trace of a divine gesture? All those suppositions and more have been called forth.

The most well-rooted of them includes one that was told by a great many people in the Lot Department, the tale of flames emerging from the Gouffre to defend a treasure hidden by the English at the end of the Hundred Years' War.

Another legend speaks of Lucifer who, in defiance of Saint Martin, is said to have created the Gouffre with a swipe of a talon. He asked the saint to cross the abyss in exchange for the souls of condemned peasants that he was getting ready to lead into Hell... a fateful exchange that pushed Saint Martin, guided by his faith, to spur on his mule to jump across the Gouffre! That tremendous leap , it is said, left the imprint of the animal's hoof in the rock, still visible today.

Defeated and humbled, the Devil then disappeared forever into the depths of the Gouffre...

E.A. Martel
You must go in without fear; who knows what surprises await you.

E.A. MARTEL
1859 - 1938
Speleologist - Geologist - Archæologist
Discoverer of the Rivière Souterraine of Padirac

But more was needed to impress Édouard-Alfred Martel. Taking no notice of legends, he decided to go further with the adventure and set in motion that daring exploration.

AN AMBITIOUS PROJECT

An expedition of the type planned by Édouard-Alfred Martel is not a day out in the country. It calls for thorough consideration as well as generous funding for optimum levels of safety and information-seeking, for that exploration obviously had a scientific focus.

THE RESOURCES NEEDED TO ADVANCE

Édouard-Alfred Martel certainly lacked money to implement his project, the objective of which was to make this fantastic place accessible to the public. That is how it is with great passions, which come alive only when they are shared.

AND THE OPPORTUNITY TO TURN A DREAM INTO REALITY!

And just as if a star had shone upon Édouard-Alfred Martel, Providence came to his aid just when he most needed it…

Here is the tale: our enthusiast was in Paris, in a carriage that was carrying him along the cobbled streets. At the end of the ride, he left the carriage and saw, just as it was disappearing into the distance, that he had left in it his bag containing the maps of the Gouffre and his plan to open it to the public.

The next passenger was George Beamish, heir to the Irish brewing family of the same name. He found the bag, opened it, and marvelled at discovering Édouard-Alfred Martel's mad project. He immediately fell under its spell, found Édouard-Alfred Martel, contacted him, and decided to accompany him.

The great adventure of the Gouffre de Padirac could at last get under way!

“The reality has gone beyond the dreams of my imagination…”
Édouard-Alfred Martel, discoverer of the Gouffre de Padirac

A LONG PERIOD OF IMPLEMENTATION WORK

There followed long months given over to thinking, designing, carrying out works, and laying out the venue. On 1 November 1898, the first visitors began their descent into the Gouffre!

The official inauguration was held on 10 April 1899 in the presence of several personalities.
One year later, the Paris Universal Exhibition enhanced the fame of the Gouffre de Padirac.

AN INTER-GENERATIONAL PASSION

George Beamish

The greatest passions are those that are shared… and when they are the outcome of being handed down within a family, they are doubtless even more precious.
We need to look further back, look at the Parisian carriage carrying George Beamish, the great-great-grandfather of Lætitia de Ménibus, who is today at the head of the Société d'Exploitation du Gouffre de Padirac

As part of this objective to highlight the cultural value of this unique natural underground monument, Lætitia de Ménibus channels all her energy into organising and managing the Gouffre de Padirac site, with the objective of making it a European benchmark in the world of grottoes and chasms. A project to redesign the architecture and landscaping of the reception facilities was recently launched. It will lead to the site's offer being diversified, allowing it to receive between 600,000 and 800,000 visitors per year.

Moreover, Lætitia de Ménibus is actively committed to showcasing and developing tourism in the region. Since 2015, she has been the Chairperson of the Association Touristic Vallée(s) Lot et Dordogne (TVLD), which represents 275 tourism service providers. It was set up at the initiative of tourism companies in Lot Department, with encouragement from Lot Department Chamber of Commerce and Industry.

AMBITION REWARDED WITH SUCCESS

Since then, the Gouffre de Padirac has never lost its appeal. Over 24 million visitors have descended into the abyss to view the splendours patiently sculpted by drops of water over millennia. They have been delighted, and even now, they wonder at the incredible daring that guided Édouard-Alfred Martel to the majestic heart of the earth.