France South of France

Visit Lascaux, the Sistine Chapel of Prehistory | France

August 31, 2020

After our visit to Saint-Cirq-Lapoppie, we continued our road-trip in France and headed to the Périgord (also known as Dordogne). The Périgord is well-kown for its beautiful landscapes and picturesque villages, but also to be one the most-well preserved place of human settlement of prehistory. About 20,000 years ago, in the glacial age, men lived there. Nowadays, the region is filled with paintings and traces of those tribes of the past.

The most famous cave of all is called Lascaux. Discovered in 1940 in the early times of world war II, Lascaux I was opened to the public until the 60s when it was closed due to irreverisble damages done to the paintings. The cave now open to the public is called Lascaux IV and is a close replica of the original cave.

While visiting Dordogne, if you like caves we also recommend the Padirac Cave. As Lascaux is an archeological treasure, Padirac is a geological jewel and definitely worth a visit as well!

 Lascaux Cave painting - Auroch
Lascaux Cave painting – Auroch

What are the different Lascaux?

Lascaux I is the original cave, discovered in 1940, it was closed to the public in 1963. Since then, it is almost impossible to visit the original cave as it is kept preciously, as one of the most preserved cave of the prehistorian time. Actually, only scientist working on the preservation of the cave are allowed to enter the cave, under extremely strict condition. Unfortunately, we are slightly too young to have had the chance to visit the original cave, unlike our grandparents.

Lascaux II is the first replica of Lascaux I opened in 1983 after over 20 years of closure of the original cave. It is located around 200m from the original cave and displayed around 50% of the painting of Lascaux I. In 2011, Lascaux II was the most visited place in Dordogne with over 250,000 visitors. Lascaux II replica was extremely well done the 70s, but the technology, 30 years ago was not as efficient as today and only half of the painting were reproduced in Lascaux II.

Lascaux III, also called Lascaux Revealed (Lascaux révélé) is an international exhibition meant to travel the world. Many painting of Lascaux 3 are not replicated in Lascaux 2 and thus, it was the only possibility to discover them for many years. Lascaux 3 is an ambassador of Dordogne prehistoric sites – if you love prehistory and it is passing by your city, do not hesitate a second to visit it.

Lascaux IV, is the second replica of Lascaux I and opened its door in 2016. While Lascaux II only had around 50% of the painting of Lascaux I, Lascaux IV has over 90% of them and replicates not only the painting but the cave structure as well. Built with the finest of the 21st century technology, Lascaux IV is a technological prowess: the painting and the cave are reproduced at 15 milimeters precisions and over 250 millions data points were 3D scanned and reproduced. Over 30 people worked for 2 years to reproduce the painting and the result is bluffing. Nowadays, Lascaux IV is the only option to discover Lascaux’s painting.

Lascaux 3 premiere in Bordeaux

The incredible history of the discovery of Lascaux

Near the end of the summer of 1940, after France had fallen in world war II under the nazi occupation, 4 teenagers are spending their summer in Dordogne. Little did they know they were about to make one of the most important archeological discovery of the XX century.

On the 8th of September, Marcel Ravidat and his friends are walking near Montignac with his dog, Robot. Robot, following a rabbit has lost itself in a bush and keeps scratching the earth, looking to enter the rabbit hole. On the side, another hole is there, of about 20 centimeters. Marcel, curious, decides to throw a few stones in the hole and understand that the cavity is quite deep as the sound is delayed.

As the hole is too small for a human or a dog to enter the cave, they return the next morning with a pair of shovels. Feeling adventurous and after an hour of hard work, they penetrate the cave entrance. As they begin their walk in the cave, they discover the paintings of buffalo and immediatly understand the origin of those paintings: there are many other famous prehistoric locations nearby. They let into the secret Marcel old teacher of their discovery, Léon Laval who visits the cave and inform Henri Breuil, a famous prehistorian, of the discovery.

For 2 years, Marcel will camp near the cave, guiding tourists from the free France inside the cave for 2 Francs. The cave is then closed until the end of world war tour and re-opens in 1945. Until 1963, people will be able to visit the original Lascaux.

The visit of Lascaux 4

Cave painting in Lascaux - horses
Cave painting in Lascaux – horses

Lascaux International Center is located in Montignac, in the valley of Vézère, just a few meters away from the original Lascaux. Lascaux 4 building is very modern and impressive, perfectly fitting its environnment.

Upon your arrival and after a short queue, you will pay and be given a timeslot for your guided visit. It is possible to wait inside, visiting the very cool boutique filled with fun books and pre-historic games for children or in one of the coffee of the village.

The guided tour starts from the same building. The Lascaux guide will give each person some earphone and if you visit without covid (let’s hope it happens soon!), a tablet. The tour starts with a short introduction about the cave, the building and the various Lascaux 1, 2, 3 and 4 as well as the story of its discovery. A few minutes after that introduction, you will penetrate the cave and discover the cave paintings.

Immediately, we forgot we were visiting a replica: everything appears like a real and the cave painting are incredible. Temperature and humidity level are exactly like in the original cave. Lighting is also set to imitate the lamps of our ancestors and the vision they had of their paintings.

We spend about 1 hour in the cave, admiring the painting and trying to give sense to all that we see: why did they do it, how did they do it, how long did they spent painting all those animals? None of those questions have been answered today, and we are left wondering….

After the visit of the cave, you can visit a permanent exhibition space, called the workshop: augmented reality, explanation about how they built the replica and movies are available in that area. During coronavirus, you are not allowed to walk free without your guide in that space. Usually you can spend there one hour or two, to discover other aspects of Lascaux.

 Reproduction of cave painting in the workshop, Lascaux 4
Reproduction of cave painting in the workshop, Lascaux 4

Practical information to visit Lascaux

All the practical information and ticket booking is available directly on Lascaux official website.

What is the cost to visit Lascaux Cave?
20 euros per adult, 12.90 euros for children

Can I visit Lascaux by myself?
No, Lascaux IV can only be visited through a guided tour. It’s way better this way: to preserve the cave, but also to understand and make sure you don’t miss a thing!

Can I visit the original Lascaux?
Lascaux I is closed to visit since 1963, Lascaux IV is the only cave opened to the public. Only prehistorian and scientists working on its preservation can visit Lascaux I.

How long does the visit to Lascaux Cave last?
The visit will take approximatively 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Who can visit Lascaux Cave?
The visit is suitable to everyone, it is very fun for children to guess and search for the different animals painted on the wall. The story of Lascaux is also fascinating for the youngest and definitely one of the best option to discover prehistorian times. The visit is available in multiple languages, does not include stairs and is fitted for people with disabilities. Everyone can visit Lascaux while they are in Dordogne.

Is Lascaux Cave busy in summer?
During coronavirus, we had less than 10 minutes wait until we were able to visit the cave. Otherwise, the cave is often busy in summer and you can expect waiting times up to a couple of hours until your visit. While annoying, you can wait outside the entrance in a café or visiting the village around as you will be given your entrance time early.

Lascaux is a beautiful cave and one of the humanity archeological treasure. Bad decisions done in the past, as well as mass tourisms damaged the original painting which lied there for over 20,000 years but technology enabled a safe solution to safekeep them while displaying them to the world. If the cave had been open to the public with stricter rules, we would still be able today to visit the original cave. We wish you an amazing trip in Dordogne but we should never forget: a good travellers takes only memorises and leaves no track.

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  • Reply
    Travel for a while
    September 1, 2020 at 3:41 am

    Very informative post! I would love to visit Lascaux, even if it’s only a replica and get a better idea of life in prehistoric times. Thanks for sharing this!
    Anda

  • Reply
    Beth
    September 1, 2020 at 7:21 am

    This is interesting, thanks for sharing. I would love to drive there with my husband.

  • Reply
    Patricia Astruc
    September 1, 2020 at 9:04 am

    Nouveau partage de nos globe trotter, extrêmement intéressant.
    Vos voyages sont très éclectiques et toujours minutieusement documentés et illustrés.
    Merci encore à vous.

  • Reply
    lannie travels
    September 1, 2020 at 12:44 pm

    Incredible!! and what a story of the discovery!! I’d love to visit one day and see it in person. I bet it would be so amazing

  • Reply
    Kevin | Cocktails and Carry-Ons
    September 1, 2020 at 4:06 pm

    I would so love to visit here! Beautiful and this looks fun!

  • Reply
    John Quinn
    September 7, 2020 at 9:46 am

    Looks awesome. Hard to fathom a time so long ago. But this is definitely a window into the people’s mindset. Love to visit this.

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