Cahors, a city of south-western France, capital of the department of Lot, 70 m. N. of Toulouse, on the railway between that city and Limoges. Pop. (1906) 10,047. Cahors stands on the right bank of the river Lot, occupying a rocky peninsula formed by a bend in the stream. It is divided into two portions by the Boulevard Gambetta, which runs from the Pont Louis Philippe on the south to within a short distance of the fortified wall of the 14th and 15th centuries enclosing the town on the north. To the east lies the old town, with its dark narrow streets and closely-packed houses; west of the Boulevard a newer quarter, with spacious squares and promenades, stretches to the bank of the river. Cahors communicates with the opposite shore by three bridges. One of these, the Pont Valentré to the west of the town, is the finest fortified bridge of the middle ages in France. It is a structure of the early 14th century, restored in the 19th century, and is defended at either end by high machicolated towers, another tower, less elaborate, surmounting the centre pier. The east bridge, the Pont Neuf, also dates from the 14th century. The cathedral of St étienne stands in the heart of the old town. It dates from the 12th century, but was entirely restored in the 13th century.
Its exterior, for the most part severe in appearance, is relieved by some fine sculpture, that of the north portal being especially remarkable. The nave, which is without aisles, is surmounted by two cupolas; its interior is whitewashed and plain in appearance, while the choir is decorated with medieval paintings. Adjoining the church to the south-east there are remains of a cloister built from 1494 to 1509. St Urcisse, the chief of the other ecclesiastical buildings, stands near the cathedral. Dating from the 12th and 13th centuries, it preserves Romanesque capitals recarved in the 14th century. The principal of the civil buildings is the palace of Pope John XXII., built at the beginning of the 14th century; a massive square tower is still standing, but the rest is in ruins. The residence of the seneschals of Quercy, a building of the 14th to the 17th centuries, known as the Logis du Roi, also remains. The chief of the old houses, of which there are many in Cahors, is one of the 15th century, known as the Maison d'Henri IV. Most of the state buildings are modern, with the exception of the prefecture which occupies the old episcopal palace, and the old convent and the Jesuit college in which the Lycée Gambetta is established.
The Porte de Diane is a large archway of the Roman period, probably the entrance to the baths. Of the commemorative monuments, the finest is that erected in the Place d'Armes to Gambetta, who was a native of the town. There is also a statue of the poet Clément Marot, born at Cahors in 1496. Cahors is the seat of a bishopric, a prefect and a court of assizes. It has tribunals of first instance and of commerce, a chamber of commerce and a branch of the Bank of France. There are also training colleges, a lycée, a communal college for girls, an ecclesiastical seminary, a library, museum and hospital. The manufacture of farm implements, tanning, wool-spinning, metal-founding, distilling and the preparation of pâté de foie gras and other delicacies are carried on. Wine, nuts, oil of nuts, tobacco, truffles and plums are leading articles of commerce.
Before the Roman conquest, Cahors, which grew up near the sacred fountain of Divona (now known as the Fontaine des Chartreux), was the capital of the Cadurci. Under the Romans it enjoyed a prosperity partly due to its manufacture of cloth and of mattresses, which were exported even to Rome. The first bishop of Cahors, St Genulfus, appears to have lived in the 3rd century. In the middle ages the town was the capital of Quercy, and its territory until after the Albigensian Crusade was a fief of the counts of Toulouse. The seigniorial rights, including that of coining money, belonged to the bishops. In the 13th century Cahors was a financial centre of much importance owing to its colony of Lombard bankers, and the name cahorsin consequently came to signify "banker" or "usurer." At the beginning of the century a commune was organized in the town. Its constant opposition to the bishops drove them, in 1316, to come to an arrangement with the French king, by which the administration of the town was placed almost entirely in the hands of royal officers, king and bishop being co-seigneurs. This arrangement survived till the Revolution. In 1331 Pope John XXII., a native of Cahors, founded there a university, which afterwards numbered Jacques Cujas among its teachers and François Fénelon among its students.
It flourished till 1751, when it was united to its rival the university of Toulouse. During the Hundred Years' War, Cahors, like the rest of Quercy, consistently resisted the English occupation, from which it was relieved in 1428. In the 16th century it belonged to the viscounts of Béarn, but remained Catholic and rose against Henry of Navarre who took it by assault in 1580. On his accession Henry IV. punished the town by depriving it of its privileges as a wine-market; the loss of these was the chief cause of its decline.