Map of Centre ancien de SarlatLoad map
The coordinates shown for all tentative sites were produced as a community effort. They are not official and may change on inscription.
The Historic Center of Sarlat has been on France’s Tentative List since 2002. It lies in the Dordogne, in the same general area as the already inscribed Vézère Valley. Sarlat is considered to be one of the towns most representative of 14th century France, as modern times largely have passed it by and its historic district was ‘saved’ from destruction in the 1960’s by then French Minister of Culture André Malraux.
My visit was a very short one: I stayed there overnight during my visit to the Vézère Valley, but had little time to explore Sarlat itself. I did a quick dash into the city center on Saturday evening, just to get a feel for it and search for a restaurant. I wasn’t succesful with the latter: about half of the restaurants were closed for winter season and the other half were fully booked. The regional specialities here are duck breast and foie gras (the town even boasts a statue of 3 geese), so I can’t say this was really a disappointment as both food options do not appeal to me much.
What stood out was how dark the historic centre was. Except for the main shopping street, the other streets in town are barely lighted (they use fake / vintage gas lamps for this). The medieval stone town houses are mostly high and narrow, adding to the somewhat spooky atmosphere. One can surely film a medieval costume drama here, or a historic detective series.
Sarlat’s notable sights include the Cathedral, several Maisons (town houses) and a so-called ‘Lantern of the Dead’ (dating from the 12th century) – a “small stone tower pierced with small openings at the top, where a light was exhibited at night to indicate the position of a cemetery”. Unfortunately I missed out on that one while I wandered around in the dark! It may have been a "lantern of the Moors" instead of "lantern of the Dead" anyway.
The TWHS has a very short description on the UNESCO website, as if it would be clear enough why Sarlat should become a WHS. But it’s not the “cute small town with medieval roots” where the focus lies. Criterion vi (the link with events and living traditions) features prominently here; for its theatre festival and even being a “laboratory of democracy in our country” thanks to the French humanist La Boétie. I had never heard of the guy, but apparently we should remember him as “one of the earliest advocates of civil disobedience and nonviolent resistance” (wiki).
As a conclusion I give it a ‘Thumbs down’ – it is pretty but what does it add to what’s already on the List? Some of us have already expressed our doubts about Provins and this feel similar in value. Sarlat also already draws huge numbers of tourists in summer, so it’s not that it needs the extra attention. To my knowledge France never has seriously considered bringing it forward - in the long run I see this being dropped from a cleaned up Tentative List.
Read more from Els Slots here.
I spent time in Sarlat-la-Canéda, frequently called simply Sarlat, in the late spring of 2018 as part of a week-long stay in Périgord. Its charming medieval core is a maze of honey-colored buildings, narrow streets and passages, and hidden squares. Many of the major points of interest are clustered around wider spaces, such as Place de la Liberté or Place du Peyrou, but some are tucked away from the bustling central area.
The yellow Sarlat stone that is used in medieval buildings all over the department of Dordogne is the main architectural feature of the town, but there are also Renaissance stunners around, such as one of the visual symbols of Sarlat, Maison de la Boétie. They coexist with half-timbered belles, the legacy of Norman invasions of the 14th century. This mix of styles from different epochs makes Sarlat visually irresistible. Practically every building of note in the town center has a plaque or a stand in front of it with brief description of its history. You can give yourself a veritable guided tour of the town by focusing on those descriptions as you walk around.
Cathedral Saint-Sacerdos is relatively spartan in appearance, but not without a couple of standout features. The old church of Ste-Marie houses a small but delightful market. Manoir de Gisson offers a look into the living of local nobility.
I have certainly seen less atmospheric towns already bestowed with a WH designation. Sarlat is worthy of the inscription, whenever it may come, and would get solid 4 stars from me.
Read more from Ilya Burlak here.
I visited Sarlat in summer 2013, as part of my trip on the way to Santiago in France. The city is closed to Perigueux and not far from the Vezere valley.
Sarlat is recognised as one of the best examples of a medieval town in Europe. It retains a lot of monuments from the Middle Age and Renaissance periods. The city is a regional and national hub for cultural tourism. It is also a capital city for gastronomy.
2002 Added to Tentative List
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