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Cahors (Municipality, Lot, France)

Last modified: 2021-06-26 by ivan sache
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Flag of Cahors - Image by François-Jean Blanc, 18 March 1999

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Presentation of Cahors

The municipality of Cahors (20,031 inhabitants in 2008; 6,472 ha) is located in Quercy, 115 km north of Toulouse.

Cahors originally developed around a resurgence locally known as the Carthusians' Fountain and still supplying the town with freshwater, probably a place of worship since the Prehistoric times. Later on, the Cadurcii, the Gaul tribe that gave its name to the town, worshipped there goddess Divona. In the 1st century AD, the Romans created a colony named Divona Cadurcorum; built within a meander of river Lot, the town included a theater, a circular temple, public baths and a recently discovered amphitheater. Divona was located on the crossroads of ways used to transport wine and linen and in the center of an agricultural region as well, which explains it early wealth.
The early medieval history of Cahors is quite obscure. Bishop Rusticus, murdered in 630 by "pervert men" from the town, was succeeded by his brother, St. Didier (630-655), commissioned by King Dagobert to reestablish law and order in the town, which he did. In 778, the County of Cahors was incorporated to the Kingdom of Aquitaine; in 849, the County of Quercy was incorporated to the County of Toulouse. Count of Toulouse William Taillefer granted in 1088 the rights on Cahors, except its towers, to the Bishop of the town. The Consuls of Cahors, that is the burgher's municipal council, was mentioned for the first time in 1270.

The Gilded Age of the medieval town lasted from the 12th to the 14th century. Between 1180 and 1280, the traders from Cahors and other neighboring towns, all known as "cahorsins", opened counters all over Europe (Marseilles, Genoa, Sicily, Flanders, England and Norway); they were also very active at the Champagne fairs, then the biggest international market in Europe. The "cahorsins", who challenged in Cahors the power of the Prince-Bishop, were eventually outcompeted by the Lombard moneymakers. However, the name "cahorsins" was kept to designate moneymakers who were neither Jews nor Lombards. Cahors was then a main stop on the Way of St. James. The town was completely rebuilt in the eastern part of its original site, with a cathedral and 10 parish churches, while the religious congregations set up their grounds and gardens in the western part. Three stone bridges were built over the Lot, including the most famous Valentré bridge (a fortified bridge with three towers, built in 1308-1355, and today the emblem of the town).
In 1332, Cahors-born Jacques Duèze (1244-1334), elected Pope in 1316 as John XXII, founded a university in his birth town, made of the three Faculties of Law, Theology and Medicine. The Gilded Age of Cahors ended with the Hundred Years' War. Quercy, including Cahors, was transferred to the King of England by the Treaty of Brétigny (1360). The whole region took in 1369 the party of King of France Charles V but it took another 50 years to expel the remaining English garrisons and bands of rascals.

In the 16th century, Cahors was a main center of culture, with the university, several colleges and printing houses. The poets Clément Marot (1496/1497-1544, one of the founders of French modern poetry) and Olivier de Magny (c. 1529-c. 1561, a disciple of Pierre Ronsard) were born in the town. Hardly involved in the Wars of Religion, Cahors was seized in 1580 by Henry of Navarre (later, King of France Henry IV). In the 17th century, the theologian and writer Fénelon (1651-1715) was taught at the iniversity; a Jesuit college and a seminar were set up. The university was suppressed in 1751, which was a great loss for the cultural life in Cahors.

Cahors is the birth town of the politician Léon Gambetta (1838-1882), one of the organizers of the National Defense Government in 1870 and considered as one of the founding fathers of the Third Republic. Gambetta presided the Council of the Ministers in 1881-1882, creating the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of the Arts. His proposal to increase the power of the Executive caused the fall of his government.
Cahors is the birth town of the rugby player Fabien Galthié (b. 1969), who played 64 times for the French national team (1991-2003, 24 as the captain). He won the Grand Slam in the Five Nations in 1997, 1998 and 2002, played in four World Cups and was designed World's Best Player by IRB in 2002. Galthié won the national championship in 2003, playing for Stade français-Paris; as a coach, he won the national championship in 2007 with Stade français-Paris and reached the final in 2011 with the young, unexpected team of Montpellier.

The Cahors wine (website), dating back to vineyards planted by the Romans 2000 years ago, was famous at the Plantagenet court as the "black wine". In 1373, the winegrowers from Bordeaux obtained a huge increase of the tax on the Cahors wines. This decreased the fame of the Cahors wines but did not prevent them to remain highly estimated in several courts.
Francis I ordered the planting of a Cahors wine in Fontainebleau while Peter the Great imposed it to the Russian Orthodox church. The Bordeaux privilege was eventually suppressed at the end of the 18th century. The Cahors vineyard was completely destroyed by the phylloxera, an insect introduced in Europe in 1865. The reemergence of the production was very slow; when the Cahors wines were granted the AOC (Appellation d'origine contrôlée) in 1971, the area of the vineyard was only 440 ha, an area which experienced a tenfold increase since then (4,050 ha in 2008). The Cahors wine should be made with the local Malbec grapes, either alone or blended with no more than 30% of Merlot or Tannat grapes.

Ivan Sache, 24 November 2011

Flag of Cahors

The flag of Cahors is horizontally divided blue-white. Its use in the town has been confirmed by several independent reports. However, its origin and meaning remain a mystery. Blue and white are also the main colors of the municipal logo.

Pascal Vagnat, 24 November 2011