Built in the fourteenth century, the Pont de Valentré, a bridge spanning the river Lot in Cahors, Southern France, is one that for centuries has been shrouded in mystery and superstition. Originally constructed as a defensive bridge against English invasion during the Hundred Years War, the bridge took seventy years to be built! This may seem somewhat ridiculous considering that the average full-sized castle at the time took between two to ten years to build. In comes the superstition and mystery! Legend has it that the master builder of the time, frustrated with the slow pace of the building project and the eager demands of the local lord to have it completed, signed a pact with the Devil. Agreeing to use his vast power and skills to accelerate the building process, the Devil promised the builder that his bridge would be completed soon if the builder would forfeit his soul upon the bridge’s completion.
After seeing the bridge completed on time, the builder regretted his decision for fear of his immortal soul. Issuing one final order, the builder commanded the Devil to fetch water for his exhausted workmen, however, instead of handing over a proper pail or bucket, the builder tricked the Devil by giving him a sieve. The Devil then went to collect water for the builder knowing that upon his return, the builder’s soul would belong to him. Nevertheless, the Devil realized that he had been tricked by the builder since he was unable to complete the final task with the sieve. Boiling with rage, the Devil vowed that the bridge must therefore never be completed and according to local folklore commanded a demon each night to loosen the final stone of the central tower of the bridge (known as the Devil’s Tower) in order to stay true to the pact. In return, the bridge had to be repaired each day.
I visited this mysterious bridge this summer on a road trip around France. So much superstition surrounds the bridge. Having fallen into disrepair in the nineteenth century, architect Paul Gout, in 1879, had the bridge restored and for good measure had the final stone of the central tower carved into a demon with arms wrapped around the stone.
The updated legend has it that when the Devil comes to check upon his sabotage, the sculpted demon confuses the Devil and fools him into thinking that the stone gargoyle is one of his demons tasked with dismantling the bridge. Truly a well spun tale, this medieval bridge is a site worth visiting in Cahors, France!