1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Périgueux

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PÉRIGUEUX, a town of south-western France, formerly capital of the old province of Périgord, now chief town of the department of Dordogne, 79 m. E N E. of Bordeaux, on the railway between that city and Limoges. Pop. (1906), 28,199. The town, situated on an eminence on the right bank of the Isle, is divided into three parts. On the slope of the hill is the medieval town, bordered south-east by the river and on the other three sides by esplanades and promenades; to the west is the modern town, which stretches to the station; to the south of the modern town is the old Roman town or cité, now traversed by the railway.

Three bridges connect Périgueux with the left bank of the Isle, where stood Vesunna, the capital of the Petrocorii. Hardly a trace of this old Gallic town remains, but not far off, on the Plateau de la Boissière, the rampart of the old Roman camp can still be traced On the right bank of the Isle, in the Roman city, there have been discovered some baths of the 1st or 2nd century, supplied by an aqueduct four miles long, which spanned the Isle. A circular building, called the “Tower of Vesunna,” 68 ft. in diameter and 89 ft. in height, stands at what was formerly the centre of the city, where all the chief streets met It is believed to have been originally the cella or main part of a temple, probably dedicated to the tutelary deities of Vesunna. Of the amphitheatre there still remain huge fragments of wall and vaulting. The building had a diameter of 1312 ft., that of the arena being 870 ft.; and, judging from its construction. must be as old as the 3rd or even the 2nd century The counts of Périgueux used it for their chateau, and lived in it from the 12th to the end of the 14th century. In 1644 it was given over by the town to the Order of the Visitation, and the sisters took from it the stones required for the construction of their nunnery. The most remarkable, however, of the ruins of the cité is the Chateau Barriere, an example of the fortified houses formerly common there. Two of its towers date from the 3rd or 4th century, and formed part of the fortified enceinte; the highest tower is of the 10th century; and the part now inhabited is of the 11th or 12th century, and was formerly used as a burial chapel. The bulk of the château is of the 12th, and some of the windows of the 16th century.

The chief medieval building in the cité is the church of St Etienne, once the cathedral. It dates from the 11th and 12th centuries, but suffered much injury at the hands of the Protestants in the religious wars when the tower and two of the three cupolas were destroyed. The choir and its cupola were skilfully restored in the 17th century. A fine carved wooden reredos of the 17th century and a tomb of a bishop of the 12th century are to be seen in the interior. In the medieval town, known as Le Puy-St-Front, the most remarkable building is the cathedral of St Front, which, till its restoration, or rather rebuilding, in the latter half of the 19th century when the old features were to a great extent lost, was of unique architectural value. It bears a striking resemblance to the Byzantine churches and to St Mark’s at Venice, and according to one theory was built from 984 to 1047, contemporaneously with the latter (977–1085). It consists of five great cupolas, arranged in the form of a Greek cross, and conspicuous from the outside. The arms of the cross are 69 ft. in width, and the whole is 184 ft. long. These cupolas, 89 ft. high from the keystone to the ground, are supported on a vaulted roof with pointed arches after the manner characteristic of Byzantine architecture. The pointed arches imitated from it prepared the way for the introduction of the Gothic style. Adjoining St Front on the west are the remains of an old basilica of the 6th century, above which rises the belfry, the only one in the Byzantine style now extant. It dates from the 11th century, and is composed of two massive cubes, placed the one above the other in retreat, with a circular colonnade surmounted by a dome. To the south-west of St Front, the buildings of an old abbey (11th to 16th century) surround a cloister dating chiefly from the 13th century. Of the fortifications of Puy St Front, the chief relic is the Tour Mataguerre (14th century).

Périgueux is seat of a bishop, prefect and court of assizes, and has tribunals of first instance and of commerce, a chamber of commerce and a branch of the Bank of France. Its educational establishments include a lycée for boys, training colleges for both sexes and a school of drawing. The trade of the town is in pigs, truffles, flour, brandy, poultry and pies known as pâtés de Périgord.

Vesunna was the capital of the Petrocorii, allies of Vercingetorix when Caesar invaded Gaul. The country was afterwards occupied by the Romans, who built a second city of Vesunna on the right bank of the Isle opposite the site of the Gallic town. The barbarian invasion brought this prosperity to a close. St Front preached Christianity here in the 4th century and over his tomb there was raised a monastery, which became the centre of the new town called Le Puy St Front. The cité was pillaged by the Saracens about 731, and in 844 the Normans devastated both quarters. The new town soon began to rival the old city in importance, and it was not until 1240 that the attempts of the counts of Périgord and the bishops to infringe on their municipal privileges brought about a treaty of union. During the Hundred Years' War, Périgueux was twice attacked by the English, who took the cité in 1356; and the whole town was ceded to them by the Treaty of Brétigny, but returned to the French Crown in the reign of Charles V. The county passed by marriage into the hands of Anthony of Bourbon, father of Henry IV., and was converted by the latter into royal domain. During the Huguenot wars Périgueux was frequently a stronghold of the Calvinists, who in 1575 did great destruction there, and it also suffered during the troubles of the Fronde.