Souillac

Boulevard
Louis-Jean-Malvy (05) 65 37 81 56.
( Fri am. _ Festival de Jazz (Jul);
Festival du Mime Automate (Aug);
Musicales de Souillac (Jul).
www.tourisme-souillac.com
The town of Souillac lies
between the Dordogne and
the Borrèze, in Haut-Quercy.
It grew up around a
Benedictine monastery that
was founded around 655 and
that became an abbey in the
16th century. Souillac’s
influence extended to 150
priories in the area, but it
later became a centre of
trade, with goods arriving
by barge until the
installation of the railway
in the 19th century.
The Église Sainte-Marie,
the town’s abbey church,
was built in the 11th and
12th centuries. Laid out
on the plan of a Latin cross
and crowned with three
domes raised on stone
pillars, it is in a splendidly
pure Byzantine-
Romanesque style inspired by
the church of Haghia Sophia
in Istanbul. Two notable
features of the church are the
doorway, which was reversed
in the 17th century so as to
face inwards, and the 12thcentury
carvings. These
include a column showing
animals and humans
locked in fierce
combat. The
Prophet Isaiah is
depicted with
unusual
vigour.

The tourist office occupies a
deconsecrated church, the
Église Saint-Martin, which has
a damaged belfry and Gothic
vaulting. Art exhibitions are
also held here. The town
centre is pleasant to explore
on foot, particularly along
rue des Oules and rue des
Craquelins and in place
Roucou and place Benetou.

With 3,000 exhibits, the
Musée de l’Automate, set up
in 1988 in the abbey gardens,
is the largest of its kind in
Europe. The 19th- and 20thcentury
collections come mostly
from the Roullet-Decamps
workshops, which began
making automata in 1865.
The exhibits, which include
a woman powdering her
face, a jazzband
and a
snake charmer,
are very expressive,
their movements
controlled by finely tuned
mechanisms. Designed
in collaboration with the
Cité des Sciences et de
l’Industrie in Paris, the
section devoted to
robots uses state-ofthe-
art technology.

Musée de l’Automate
Place de l’Abbaye. Tel (05) 65 37
07 07. # Sep–Jun: Tue–Sun; Jul–
Aug: daily.

Environs
11km (7 miles) southeast of
Souillac are the Grottes de
Lacave, caves that were
discovered in 1902. Riding on a
small train, then taking a lift,
visitors travel along 1.6km (1
mile) of galleries and through a
dozen caverns. The sheer
variety of weird shapes
formed by its stalactites and
stalagmites, including some
that suggest fantastic animals,
makes this the most impressive
of all such caves in France.
T Grottes de Lacave
Tel (05) 65 37 87 03. # mid-Mar–
mid-Nov: daily. 8 & www.
grottes-de-lacave.com