Hollowed out of the limestone mass of the Gramat Causse by a subterranean river, the great chasm of Padirac, famous throughout Europe, is thought of as one of the greatest interesting geological sights of France. Be sure to check out their website for additional information and some wonderful graphics. Sadly, I have few photos of the interior as no photography whatsoever is allowed. Still, I did sneak two or three good pictures without my flash when the guide wasn’t paying attention. Two lifts and some staircases lead from the visitor’s center into the chasm, which is 32 meters in diameter and a staggering 75 meters deep, to the cone of rubble below from the original caving-in of the roof centuries ago. From the bottom one looks up in awe at the Eye of God—a little corner of sky at the mouth of the hole. The walls are covered in vegetation while moisture leeching downward drips on ones head. During the Hundred Years’ War and the Wars of Religion, the chasm served as a refuge for people living in the area. It wasn’t until the end of the 19th century that a violent flooding of the river opened up the bottom of the chasm and the underground caverns. The speleologist, Édouard-Alfred Martel, was the first to discover the passage in 1892. Padirac was opened for the first time to tourists in 1898. From the cone of rubble there is a staircase leading to the underground river, 103 meters below ground level. At the bottom, a two-kilometer journey begins, 500 meters on foot and another 400 meters by boat. A flotilla of flat-bottom boats offers an enchanting journey over the astonishingly clear waters. A narrow passage between high walls links the underground lake and the chambers to be visited next. In the salle des grands gours is a series of pools separated by natural limestone dams, dividing the river and the lake into basins; beyond that is a cascading 6-meter waterfall. The most impressive part of the tour is the salle du grand dôme, which reaches 91 meters high into the cavern. The viewpoint, built halfway up, enables visitors to look below in wonder at the rock formations and the flows of calcite decorating the walls. There is also another lake named Supérieur which is fed only by water infiltrating the soil and falling from the roof. Surprisingly, this lake is actually 20 meters above the subterranean river. Again, there are a lot of stairs so if you have a problem with that, this excursion is not for you. Upon ones return along the underground river, a tour guide takes a photo of your boat. I didn’t think it was worth 15 Euros to purchase a photograph with a bunch of other tourists I didn’t know, so here is one taken in the 1960s—not much has changed—only eleven people per boat. To exit the cave, either take the stairs like I did or for those not eager for the exercise, use the elevator.