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St. Cirq provides a peaceful escape from modernity

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WE'D seen photographs of it. We'd read the Shell Guide's assessment of it as ``like a dream of all that a remote, cliff-edge, medieval French village should be. It has a storybook site on a sheer crag, with a river curling dramatically, anciently at its foot. It is a hill-climbing clutter (seeming more natural than man-made) of old houses and cottages in warm stone, with reddish, steeply pitched roofs. It has a bold church, dominant above it all (the castle or castles having long since been in ruins), with its square tower roofed like a pointed hat, with its round turret, with its fortress-thick walls.'' Perched like an eagle, this precipitous little village gazes with hundreds of eyes across the Lot River and valley below, as if its security and coziness even now can only be preserved by constant watchfulness. In the past St. Cirq (pronounced, approximately, ``sang seer'') was indeed a stronghold, sometimes under attack. In 1199, Richard Coeur-de-Lion tried to capture it, but failed. It was captured and recaptured several times during the Hundred Years' War, and the protestant Henry of Navarre, during the religious wars of the late 16th century, took the village and destroyed its castle.

``Village,'' suggesting a small population, may be misleading. Few more than a hundred live here today, but in the Middle Ages there are reputed to have been as many as 3,000. Even in the 19th century a thriving local industry, wood-turning, made St. Cirq a lively community of some 1,500 inhabitants. Up to World War I it was famous for producing wooden taps used in wine casks. But modern methods put an end to such specialized craftsmanship, and the village fell on bad times. It was saved largely by one man, Paul Rignault, a painter and art collector from Paris.

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