View of the room of the Dôme du Gouffre de Padirac

In the heart of the Causse du Quercy in the Lot department, the Padirac chasm is the first underground site in France. World famous, it invites you on a journey to the center of the Earth while being close to the Brive basin.

After a descent 103 meters underground, by elevator or for the more courageous by the stairs, you will take a boat for a walk on the underground river, accompanied by your guide. The vault rises, a fault is cut out and reveals the Rain Lake, so called because of the thousands of drops of water that fall from the vault. It is then that the Grande Pendeloque, a 60 m high stalactite, faces you. You dock and continue the walking tour towards the Grand Dome room. A true underground cathedral with a ceiling rising to 94 m, it offers the most majestic view of the route before ending with the Gours lake.

5 good reasons to go to the Gouffre de Padirac

  1. Dive, like a Jules Verne hero, into the heart of the first underground site in France.
  2. Navigate for 1 km on the Plane River in silence and calm.
  3. Marvel at the incredible natural heritage offered by the phenomenon of erosion.
  4. Discover rare and even endemic animal species for some of them.
  5. Participate in an “Explorers” evening to experience an exceptional and privileged adventure as lived by Edouard-Alfred Martel in 1889.

Padirac, between legend and scientific reality

The legend of the Gouffre de Padirac

The Padirac chasm, with its 35 meters in diameter, has long been nicknamed “The Devil’s Hole”. This name actually comes from a legend which explains the birth of the place. One fine day, while Saint Martin was walking in the Lot countryside to help lost souls, the Devil himself appeared and challenged him: to cross an immense hole dug by him with a great kick of his heel in the ground. Thus, the Padirac chasm would have been born. (And to finish the story: Saint Martin would have brilliantly overcome the obstacle, to the great despair of Satan who would have taken refuge in the bowels of the Earth).

View of the entrance to the Gouffre de Padirac

How was the Gouffre de Padirac formed?

A legend is all well and good but it does not explain the scientific and geological reality surrounding the formation of the chasm. To understand this, we have to go back a long, long way. During the Jurassic period, a sea covered the current location of the Lot and even more. Then, the water eventually receded, leaving room for an immense limestone plateau. When the Pyrenees were formed, the movements of the tectonic plates at the origin of the mountain range created faults and fissures in this limestone plateau. Gradually, the water infiltrated until it formed, 1 or 2 million years ago, underground galleries that we travel through today, once we have passed the abyss. Because what we call a “chasm” is the immense well through which we descend by elevator or on foot. It was formed following the collapse of the vault of an underground room several hundred thousand years ago.

The exploration of the Padirac chasm by man

By its gigantic size and the mysteries that surround it, the Padirac chasm has always fascinated men. But it was in the 19th century that a few curious people had the courage to begin exploring this fascinating gap in the ground. A first campaign began in 1867. Unfortunately, it did not allow us to go very deep. In 1889, Edouard-Alfred Martel comes back down in the company of three of his friends. They ventured more than 400 m deep but were stopped by the underground river. They return later with a boat and it is there that they discover the stalactites, stalagmites, gours and other jewels of Padirac. Subsequently, other expeditions uncovered the Grande Pendeloque and the Grand Dome room. On April 10, 1899, the chasm shared its marvelous natural heritage with the public for the first time. Today, the place is part of the list of the hundred longest underground cavities. 42 km of galleries have been explored but there are still many other spaces to discover…

Little vocabulary of the abyss

If you decide to delve into the bowels of the Earth at Padirac, these few notions of geological vocabulary may be useful to you.

  • A concretion is a formation which is built by the deposition of limestone contained in drops of water.
  • A stalagmite is an upward-moving limestone formation. It is called a “candle” when its summit is less than 10 m. When it is greater than 10 m, we speak of a “stalagmite plateau”.
  • A stalactite is a limestone formation moving downward.
  • Gours are natural dams formed in underground flows.

Is there life at the bottom of the abyss?

The underground fauna of Padirac is as rich as it is varied with 70 animal species recorded. For example, eleven varieties of bats live at the entrance to the cavity. At the very bottom, the Plane river flows for around 20 km before flowing into the Dordogne. It contains different living beings such as Niphargus shrimps or the tiny snail, the Padirac Bythinelle. And what about Man?

View of Lake Rain in the Gouffre de Padirac

Excavations carried out in the chasm have revealed remains of objects dating from the 14th century. The most likely thesis would be that inhabitants of the village of Padirac took refuge there to escape persecution by the English during the Hundred Years' War. However, the chasm would also have served as a saltpeter mining quarry in the 16th century.

Pratical information

Where is the Padirac chasm?

Located in the commune of Padirac in the north-east of the Lot department, the Padirac chasm is 55 km from Brive, 30 km from Souillac and 12 km from Gramat. It takes about an hour to travel from Brive by car.

Services offered at the Padirac chasm

Free parking nearby – Picnic area – Snack bar and restaurant on site – Shop/bookstore – Children’s games and recreational park.

And for more information, consult our practical guide to the Gouffre de Padirac just here...


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