Jean-François Champollion

Jean-François Champollion (1790 – 1832) is famed as the "Founder and Father of Egyptology" for his breakthrough decryption of the Rosetta Stone and mapping of the hieroglyphic grammatical system. His legacy is all the more surprising given his humble beginnings. Born in Figeac to a book merchant as the last of seven children in December 1790, Champollion displayed a unique intelligence at an early age. Aided by his brother Jacques-Joseph, who would become a life-long supporter, Champollion enrolled at a nearby school in Grenoble run by monks of the Abbé Dussert where he displayed his gift for languages by quickly learning Latin, Greek and the Semitic languages. Quickly outpacing the curriculum, Jacques-Joseph arranged for his brother to study linguistics in Paris from 1807-1807 at the College of France,  Special School of Oriental Languages and National Library.

Champollion's breakthrough in deciphering hieroglyphs came from the Rosetta Stone, a rock stele adorned with a 196 b.c. decree from Ptolemy V found in Memphis, Egypt. Ptolemy V's decree was written in three scripts: Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphs, Demotic script, and Ancient Greek. Able to identify phonetic characters spelling "Kleopatra", Champollion was able to cross reference the letters with other names listed in the decree to develop an alphabet of phonetic hieroglyphic characters. Champollion and other scholars where then able to extend their work to other hieroglyphic text to texts to develop a dictionary and understanding of Ancient Egyptian grammar.

Figeac inaugurated the Champollion Museum in the presence of former French President François Mitterrand  in 1986. The museum is dedicated both to his legacy and as a modern center supporting the study of ancient writing. The Museum's pictogram decorated façade and large scale replica of the Rosetta Stone seem oddly at home in Figeac's Medieval center.


Medieval Walking Tour

Figeac's historical center is home to a number of significant medieval buildings, churches and monuments. A walking tour provided by Figeac's tourism office is the best way to explore the city. The tour begins with the tourism office itself, housed within the 13th century 'Hotel de la Monnaie' before winding past a benedictine abbey (the Church of Saint-Sauveur) en route to the cafe's and restaurants in the medieval arcades of Figeac's main square. A wide array of local artisan shops line the route with leather, fabric and gastronomic goods.

Sub-Prefecture of Figeac

Figeac, one of Le Lot's two sub-prefectures, is located in the Célé Valley at the eastern end of the department on the borders of Aveyron and Cantal. The city's economy relies primarily on the aeronautic industry and agriculture. The Ratier-Figeac factory, a helicopter manufacturer since 1904, continues to serve as a bedrock for local employment. Numerous craftsmen and shopkeepers breath life into the town with a sizeable population of 10,000 inhabitants. Figeac is best known as the birthplace of Jean-François Champollion, the first translator of Egyptian hieroglyphics. Champollion's childhood home is now a world-class museum devoted to the memory of the Egyptologist and the history of the scriptures of the World. This commitment to Champollion's legacy and preservation of artisan traditions led France's Ministry of Culture to classify Figeac as an official "City of Art and History" in 1985. 

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