Geotouristic Potential of the Rochechouart Geoheritage

Meteoritical impacts are very abundant natural events on the planets of the Solar System, and very rare on Earth, which however suffered the same bombardment. Only a little less than 200 cases are listed. They are very valuable sources of information. They are highly coveted by scientists because they shed light on the fundamental questions of our origins, from the formation and evolution of planetary surfaces, to their habitability and the emergence of life on the early Earth and other planets. The exceptional nature of the phenomenon combined with the spectacular nature of its footprint in landscapes (for those whose original topography is preserved), make them prime targets for geotourism.

As in all large craters, and especially the very old craters, the initial crater is no longer visible at Rochechouart. This is also the case of Vredefort (South Africa), much more eroded than Rochechouart, which does not prevent it from being a geotouristic attraction registered by UNESCO on the World Heritage list. In Rochechouart, unusual breccias corresponding to fallout deposits in the central depression of the initial crater are still preserved in a 12 km diameter area. Yet for the general public, the most accessible exposures are the numerous old buildings, monuments and farms are all built in impactites. The oldest and most remarkable example is nearly 2000 years old. It is given by the ruins of the  Gallo Romans baths and buildings of the antique Cassinomagus city. The quarries where building material were excavated are also exposed. The ongoing active archeological research on site and a burgeoning archaeological park open to the public valorize the heritage. This world class complex is one of the geotourist assets of the geosite and vice versa. The same goes for the old farms, castles and religious buildings (some almost 1000 years old) which are all made in impactites. Another important asset for the geosite is the “Réserve Naturelle Nationale de l’astroblème de Rochechouart-Chassenon” (hereinafter referred to as « Reserve ») created by the State in 2008 and managed by the community of communities “Porte Océane du Limousin”. The CIRIR (Center for International Research and Restitution on Impacts and on Rochechouart) is a major asset for the geotouristic development. By its international dimension and by the nature of its activities, the CIRIR brings the matter to say, to show, to exploit, to value, as well as that radiation, legitimacy and visibility to the territory and to all the structures and initiatives that participate or can participate in the geotouristic development of the region. This is illustrated by the Reserve placed under the spotlight thanks to the first scientific drilling campaign ever carried out in the Rochechouart impact structure. The scientific exploitation of these cores by CIRIR directly serves the interests of the Reserve, the international scientific community and the territory. Other structures and initiatives linked to the geosite (local associations, notably « Pierre de Lune », as well as the “Parc Naturel Régional Périgord Limousin” and the local Tourist Offices) also contribute to the geotouristic development of the site.

The limited attractiveness of geology and the lack of public awareness for geodiversity in general, is a handicap, as are the lack of expression of the phenomenon in the landscape and the « rurality » of the region. To compensate for these weaknesses CIRIR strengthens its teams and activities for restitution and public awareness. In parallel it also expands the scope, the audience and the geotouristic potential of geo-heritage, far beyond the 100-150 km2 corresponding to the impactites. The results of the CIRIR research teams show that area directly affected by the impact where direct effects can be found extends to the entire Aquitaine region and to the periphery of neighboring regions. Furthermore, even more distant geological features are starting to be attributed to the Rochechouart impact in France and across national borders in the form of seismites and tsunamites. In this context, the CIRIR actively contribute to advertising and to developing the geosite at the national and international levels and leads the project of adding the Rochechouart impact at large (including its distal effects) to the World Heritage list.