Lascaux - new exhibition
Always a highlight on our Dordogne tour, the visit to the caves at Lascaux have been enhanced in recent years by the building of an impressive new visitor centre. Lascaux is one of the world's most significant discoveries of neolithic cave art, with nearly 6,000 figures dating from the early Magdalenian period, 17,000 years ago. This year, a new exhibition called 'Continuum' has been created by installation artist Caroline Desnoëttes and explores the symbiosis between neolithic man, flaura and fauna and its evolution through prehistoric times.
On 12 September 1940, the entrance to the Lascaux Cave was discovered by 18-year-old Marcel Ravidat when his dog, Robot, fell in a hole. Ravidat returned to the scene with three friends, Jacques Marsal, Georges Agnel, and Simon Coencas. They entered the cave through a 15 metres (49 ft) deep shaft that they believed might be a legendary secret passage to the nearby Lascaux Manor. The teenagers discovered that the cave walls were covered with depictions of animals. Galleries that suggest continuity, context or simply represent a cavern were given names. Those include the Hall of the Bulls, the Passageway, the Shaft, the Nave, the Apse, and the Chamber of Felines. They returned along with Abbott Henri Breuil on 21 September 1940; Breuil would make many sketches of the cave, some of which are used as study material today due to the extreme degradation of many of the paintings.
The cave complex was opened to the public on 14 July 1948, and initial archaeological investigations began a year later, focusing on the Shaft. By 1955, carbon dioxide, heat, humidity, and other contaminants produced by 1,200 visitors per day had visibly damaged the paintings. As air condition deteriorated, fungi and lichen increasingly infested the walls. Consequently, the cave was closed to the public in 1963, the paintings were restored to their original state, and a monitoring system on a daily basis was introduced.
The First Replica
Lascaux II, an exact copy of the Great Hall of the Bulls and the Painted Gallery was displayed at the Grand Palais in Paris, before being displayed from 1983 in the cave's vicinity (about 200 m away from the original cave), a compromise and attempt to present an impression of the paintings' scale and composition for the public without harming the originals. The replica was built to exacting specifications, with dimensions and contours accurate to within millimetres, and using the same type of materials as iron oxide, charcoal and ochre, and using neolithic techniques which were believed to be used 19 thousand years ago.
The New Replica
Opened in 2016, the new Lascaux visitor centre was built to recreate the whole of the original cave in breathtaking detail (Lascaux II only covered a fraction of the original), and to provide a new high-tech visitor experience with interactive exhibits. The centre is a highlight on the arrival day of our Dordogne Caves and Castles tour. We are sold out for 2020, but subscribers to our newsletter will get news of 2021 dates as soon as they are released. We can also organise a private tour for groups of 6 and up in 2020 - contact us for details.