Lascaux and its Famous Prehistoric Cave Paintings

The Cave of Lascaux has the Périgord’s Most Famous Cave Paintings:

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Lascaux Cave Paintings - Périgord Noir

Set near the village of Montignac-sur-Vézère in the heart of the Périgord Noir (Black Périgord) is Lascaux, the finest of the prehistoric caves with its famous cave paintings.

The Périgord Noir region is home to more than 60 prehistoric sites and has one of the densest concentrations of prehistoric sites in the world. Many of these sites are on the UNESCO World Heritage listing, including a number of prehistoric caves adorned with cave paintings.

Lascaux was closed in 1963 in order to protect the cave paintings, however, these days visitors can admire a facsimile of the cave paintings in Lascaux II, a replica of the original Lascaux cave.

Discovery of the Caves

On 8 September 1940, Marcel Ravidat and his young companions stumbled upon the entrance to the Lascaux Cave on a day’s outing. Four days later Ravidat returned to cave with three of his mates and explored the caves. They kept their discovery a secret whilst continuing to explore the caves over the following days. Sensing the importance of their discovery, they finally told their secret to Leon Laval, a retired teacher who had a keen interest on prehistoric studies. This then evolved into perhaps the greatest archaeological finds in the 20th century and transformed the Vézère Valley into one of the most important centres of prehistory existence in the world.

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Lascaux Prehistoric Caves - Périgord Noir

The Lascaux cave, which is of average size for the region, extends across a length of approximately 200m and consists of a series of roughly circular rooms and tunnel-corridors. After the war, work was carried out to widen the entrance and lower the floor so that tourists could visit. By 1955 deterioration of the cave paintings began to show so that by April 1963 the Ministry of Culture decided to close Lascaux to visitors and Lascaux II was then created to replicate the original cave.

The frescoes in the caves depict numerous animals, such as bison, deer, horses, bulls, stags, cats, a bear, a rhinoceros and even a fascinating unicorn. These pictures are accompanied by enigmatic symbols, thought to have ritual significance. In the Great Hall of the Bulls you’ll see really impressive examples of Paleolithic cave art.

The cave paintings at Lascaux are amazing on a number of fronts. It suggests that the animals painted must have existed in the region during prehistoric times. The proportions of the animals painted are quite accurate and the artist(s) used the contours of the cave walls to create perspective.

Lascaux II has been beautifully created and in itself is a work of art. The details of how it was built are particularly interesting, especially in regard to how the artists, who recreated the paintings over many years, used original materials and methods to recreate the cave paintings.  And with the careful scientific and artistic work, they have succeeded in recreating the original cave’s incomparable atmosphere.

Only two of the four early discoverers are alive today and each year on September 12, they come to the town for a commemorative ceremony.

Lascaux II is definitely worth a visit, and even though it’s a replica it is very realistic.

Note:  It is cold in the caves (even during our September visit) and cameras are not allowed. There is a bit of walking to get to the caves and some steps involved.

See Lascaux cave visit photos with Travelsignposts.

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