Travel Tuesday: The history of the Grotto of Lascaux in France and my experience visiting it

I remember a single maths lesson in high school. We were calculating with the C14-Method, how old the shroud of Turin, Ötzi the ice man and the Grotto of Lascaux was. I´d seen both the Shrout in Turin and Ötzi in Bozen, but I had never heard of Lascaux. Our whole class was mind blown by the fact that the Grotto was apparently (by the number given in our math book) around 28,000 years old. So freaking old and I´d never heard of it at that point.

This year when we were in the Region of Lascaux, staying in Sarlat as part of our France Tour, the Grotto was a must-see on our List. We were lucky enough to have stopped in Montignac and asked about the Grotto that we were able to buy a ticket for the next day without having to queue up.
When we drove past the following day, the queue was enormous! So an insider tip if you´re visiting: Buy a ticket in the afternoon for the following day. 

If you´re not familiar with the history of the Grotto of Lascaux, like I was in high school, I´m going to tell you everything you need to know. The beginning is actually quite a fun story. Let me begin.

When four boys aged between 13 and 19 years and a dog were playing in the woods 1940 the dog disappeared suddenly. When the four boys searched for the dog they found him in a grotto. He´d falled down a hole. That was the moment the Grotto of Lascaux was found. A Grotto with colorful paintings in them. They swore not to tell anyone. But because their discovery was so enormous and they were still talkative boys, they broke their vow two days later. Their history teacher and a preacher had a look at the Grotto and was flabberghasted. He dated the paintings to be from the age of Périgordien, which is the late stone age (around 38,000 to 21,000 years back from now).

A bit later Henri Breuil, Séverin Blanc and Maurice Bourgon came inspect the Grotto.

You can see a lot of the paintings on this picture: on the right is the biggest animal in the whole Grotto. About 5 meters from one point to the other horizontally. This is a bull. It is absolutely stunningly painted: just look at the feet, the people painting knew how to paint in perspective. In the middle on the bottom you can see a herd of stags and on the top is the head of a horse, beautifully colored in. On the right is a great cow or bull opposite the other. One can start to analyze and wonder whether they are fighting or about to fight? Overlapping the bull/cow on the right is a galloping horse in black and a trotting one. The trotting horse has a red horn, is it the first unicorn? A mythical figure? Did a creature like that exist? Or maybe the red line is not a horn? Who knows? No body. We can only guess, try to analyze and argue about theories. Stupid? Maybe. But also super exciting!

The original Grotto was opened to the public in 1948. But with the not expected popularity which greeted the Grotto the paintings started to get fungus because the Temperature of constant 14 degrees Celsius couldn´t be kept upright with 1,200 people breathing there everyday. That´s why in 1963 the Grotto was closed again.

Meanwhile from 1952 and 1963 André Glory had taken an inventory of all the paintings.

In 1979 the Grotto of Lascaux became part of the UNESCO World Heritage Site and the four men Marcel Ravidat, Jacques Marsal, Georges Agnel und Simon Coencas became famous.

In the time after the closing until 1983 professional painters and a big team of different professions worked together to build an exact replica of the main room of the original Grotto. The painters were using the exact same materials, colors and techniques the people then had used. In 1983 Lascaux 2 was opened to the public. With 250,000 visitors a day, it is now the most visited site in the Dordogne. In December 2016 Lascaux 3 will open. The difference to Lascaux 2 is that now the complete Grotto is being rebuilt, not only the main room.

Obviously we visited Lascaux 2. But it was still absolutely stunning and impressive. We had an amazing tour guide who explained everything in an absolutely fun and interesting way.

Ths is a trotting dun horse. Can you see how it moves? The people knew how to draw movement. They also knew how to draw light, as the back of the horse is only colored in halfway. On the top above the horse you can see a few lines. This is a symbol which can be found a few times in the grotto. Maybe it was their logo? Sign? The signature of the artist? No one knows. Another point that proves the painters were amazing, was that they used the relief of the rocks to make their paintings 3D. You can´t see it in this picture, I´m afraid.

To be honest when visiting the Louvre in Paris or other big art museums I was always the one to love the modern paintings or paintings that were a maximum of 150 years old. I just couldn´t really love the other paintings as much. Especially the super, super old paintings in churches for instant. I found them interesting for sure, but not as exciting.

This Grotto was different. I was drawn in by every word the guide said, amazed by the drawings, surprised when the guide pointed something out which I hadn´t noticed and absolutely stunned by the whole Grotto and the existence of it.

I wasn´t allowed to take pictures of anything in the Grotto, which is why I spent a large amount of money on buying post cards afterwards and I can´t show you my own photos here. I´m using two I found on the Wikipedia Article on Lascaux, I hope you understand.

I also hope that you enjoyed this post and that you learned something!

Have you ever been to the Grotto of Lascaux? Do you want to come visit?
I´d love to know!

Btw. if you haven´t noticed, this post is called Travel Tuesday. That is because I decided to turn my whole travel experiences and posts into a weekly column/series/whatever you want to call it. I´ll be posting a travel post every Tuesday from now on.

Stay updated by following my blog! Thanks!

XO Little Sunshine

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I am a nature-loving, reading and writing sport-freak with a passion for traveling, foreign countries and history. Besides that I love to listen to music, sing along, paint, sketch, draw, photograph literally anything and everything, talk a lot, laugh more, inspire people and enjoy life one day at a time.

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