Deep in the Occitanie region of France lies an incredible natural cavity with a depth of 103 meters, known as the Gouffre du Padirac (Padirac Cave). At the heart of this chasm flows an underground river of 55 kilometers. The first documented exploration of this cave was in 1889 by the French spelunker Edouard-Alfred Martel, the founder of modern speleology.
This unique place is also associated with a legend about its formation. It is said that Satan himself dug the chasm to challenge Saint Peter, who, by jumping over it with his mount, saved the souls of the damned that Satan was supposed to take to hell.
In 1907, a small dry stone wall was discovered, along with the remains of a hearth on the floor covered with ashes, charcoal, kitchen debris, and even weapons. Armand Viré, another spelunker, believed at that time that these remnants had been left by soldiers from the Hundred Years’ War. In fact, the chasm had been inhabited by people fleeing various wars over the centuries, from the Hundred Years’ War to the Wars of Religion.
If you visit the chasm, you can see several points of interest. There is the cave entrance, which is grandly named the Descente aux Merveilles (Descent to Wonders). Inside, the temperature hovers around 13 degrees Celsius (around 55 degrees Fahrenheit), an environment that plays host to some unique vegetation. You might also encounter a few of the cave’s animal residents: bats, niphargus (crustaceans resembling shrimp), or the Padirac Bythinella (aquatic snails).
Further inside, la Rivière Plane (the Flat River) allows you to navigate through the 2 million-year-old cave. There’s also the Lac des Gours (Lake of Basins), a basin of water, a natural and geological dam carved into the rock.
Additionally, the Lac de la Pluie (Lake of Rain): a journey in the midst of an incredible setting surrounded by stalactites, to be done by boat, in a lake supplied precisely by raindrops falling from the surface and passing through the ceiling, allowing these drops to enter the chasm.
Lastly, the Salle du Grand Dôme (Great Dome Hall), is one of the largest accessible underground chambers. With a ceiling height of 94 meters and numerous calcite cascades measuring 60 meters in length, known as the Grande Pendeloque (Great Stalactite).
Even today, we are not certain that we have uncovered all the mysteries of the Gouffre de Padirac.