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Padirac chasm: a diabolic legend, a shipwreck in the dark

The chasm | Dimimis / CC-BY-SA
Natural cavity Wreck Exploration Legend Treasure Edouard-Alfred Martel Padirac chasm

The legend: come on, jump!

The legend says the chasm of Padirac was created by the Devil, who lived here! Fortunately, saint Martin rode through the land in search of souls to save. He didn’t find one!

But he came across the devil himself, with a bag full of souls on his back. He made a deal with him: he would give souls to Martin if he succeeded in crossing this terrible obstacle, with his mule… a vast chasm!

No problem: Martin spurred his mule, who immediately jumped through the chasm, easily… and landed on the other side! Well done…

What about the devil? Hurt, he jumped in the chasm and disappeared in the earth’s depths. For ever?

The story: wars, treasure

The chasm, like many other caves, was a shelter for local inhabitants during wars.

The famous speleologist Martel, in his book about Padirac, told during wars of Religion, people knew the place like the back of their hand.

It was a kind of well where people ″took good saltpetre, going down in the hole with dangerous machines.″

He added that, at the end of the Hundred Years War, the English hid a treasure here, ″covered with a veal skin″…

The discovery: shipwreck in the dark

The famous speleologist Martel discovered the chasm for the first time in 1889. The expedition was like a real travel under the earth! A trip full of dangers…

Hey, for instance: while they were crossing the Crocodile’s Step, Martel and his friends wrecked, in September 1895. Their small boat broke into a wall and they lost their balance. Splash! They fell in the water and their lights blew out…

Martel wrote: ″We fell in a catacomb darkness, and I was choked, more than the complete diving in a 12°C water. The cold sensation was completely annihilated by the scare of this terrible darkness. I never realized before the true horror of these underground darkness, total like the nothingness.″

Martel made slow progress to get out of the water. He thought he would not survive, drown in the water!

But a friend, on dry land, gave him his hand and Martel pulled through in the end. Thanks to those men, the hole was explored and opened to the public in 1898!

The visit of Padirac

An underground river dug several galleries in the chasm, in the causse de Gramat.

The visit lasts 2 hours (2,5km, but the river is 25km!). We get down in the earth’s depths with elevators and staircases.

We’re here at about 75 metres deep! Whoa...

The plane river

Accessible with small boats, we are here on the clear waters of this ″plane river″ (4 metres deep).

At the bottom of the river, we reached the ″Rain Lake″ and the ″Big Pendant″, a huge stalactite about 60 metres high! But why ″Rain Lake″, by the way?

Because of the rain drops falling continually in the clear water!

Martel wrote the drops ″ring high-pitched or low, muted or silvery. The echo discretely reflects them, combining all those notes into a melodious sound, a sweet music...″

The Gours Lake

We have here ponds separated by gours (waters hole), kinds of natural dam made of limestone. So, the river is divided into little ponds, full of green and crystalline water… lovely, isn’t it?

The Big Dome’s room

A 94 metres high room, the biggest in the chasm! On a balcony, we can contemplate concretions on the wall.

The superior lake

A lake feed by seeping waters! Hey, look: don’t miss the gorgeous and white concretions, here.

About the the author

I'm fond of strolls and History, with juicy and spicy details!