World Heritage # 5: The decorated caves of the Vézère valley

As part of a series specially devoted to French sites recognized as World Heritage by UNESCO, we invite you to discover one by one the exceptional French destinations, preserved as heritage of humanity. We continue this series with the last of the sites recognized in 1979, the prehistoric sites and decorated caves of the Vézère valley.

La more emblematic of decorated caves of the Vézère valley certainly remains the famous Lascaux Cave. But this exceptional site actually represents only a portion of the prehistoric site of this valley located in the Dordogne. The set of prehistoric sites in fact includes 147 sites and 25 decorated caves. It has been classified as a World Heritage Site because of the ethnological, anthropological and aesthetic interest of the parietal paintings. Funeral places, workshops, raw material exploitation areas, habitats and hunting stops are also of scientific interest to the place. The objects and works of art discovered in the Vézère valley are indeed the rare witnesses of the civilizations which preceded us.

The decorated caves of the Vézère valley, major sites

The Lascaux cave in Montignac, made a considerable impression. It is even called the “Sistine Chapel of Prehistory”. His wall paintings are indeed considered to be masterpieces of prehistoric art. But this territory of more than 30 km2 has many other deposits and caves. They are spread over 15 sites benefiting from high level protection. Among the most famous works, the Venus of Laussel was found in Marquay. The frieze of horses in high relief at Cap-Blanc is for its part of extraordinary beauty.

A late discovery

The discovery of the Lascaux cave by four adolescents in 1940 was a landmark in the study of prehistory. She played a major role in the development of prehistoric art. The hunting scenes that adorn this cave, their composition and the representation of a hundred animals, had then upset historians. The quality of the observation drawings, the richness of the colors requiring the use of different pigments and the liveliness of the rendering, are indeed exceptional. No one expected 18-year-old ornaments to reveal such technicality and harmony.

The sites of the Vézère Valley today

To ensure their conservation, some cavities have been closed to the public. This is the case of the Lascaux cave, closed in 1963. However, most of the sites have been preserved in their state of discovery. The unspoiled rural environment of the valley gives the whole an authenticity. It guarantees a trip back in time.

The International Center for Cave Art

The Lascaux cave is now closed to the public to promote its conservation. But a high quality center called Lascaux IV, was born. Visitors thus have access to a complete replica of the cave. They are also offered a set of digital resources. 3D screens and augmented reality experiences offer visitors total immersion. In the semi-underground building built at the foot of the Lascaux hill, the tangle of rooms with atypical shapes leads visitors to the belvedere, the shelter, the cave, or the Lascaux workshop. Cave art theater, cinema, imaginary gallery, but also temporary exhibitions delight hundreds of thousands of visitors each year.

Archaeological research

A week after the extraordinary discovery of Marcel Ravidat, Jacques Marsal, Georges Agniel and Simon Coencas, the first studies began under the leadership of Father Henri Breuil, Father Jean Bouyssonie, Doctor Cheynier and Denis Peyrony then curator of Museum of Prehistory of Les Eyzies. Photos, surveys and collections of objects were then carried out in the Lascaux cave. Then development work was carried out in order to welcome the public. These precursors finally passed the baton to André Glory, then to Norbert Aujoulat. Yves Coppens will then chair the Scientific Council from 2010 to 2017.