Vézère Valley: A Trip Back to Prehistoric Age

Photography of Lascaux animal painting {| cell...

Photography of Lascaux animal painting ©Wikipedia

Unesco listed this region as a World Heritage site for its collection of 147 prehistoric places dating from the Paleolithic and 25 decorated caves.

Many historical discoveries happen by accident, and it  could not be different in Lascaux. In 1940, when four boys chased their dog they came across one of the most extraordinary prehistoric sites of the world: Lascaux. Its ceilings give life to more than 600 figures painted at c15,000 BC with a multichromatic palette mixing blacks, reds and yellow. For that reason, Lascaux became known as the “Sistine Chapel of Prehistoric Art.

Although the youngsters sworn to never reveal their secret, luckily for the world, they could not keep their promise. As normal teenagers, who like to brag about their achievements, the next day they told the whole town about the fascinating this prehistoric site they had just found.

Opened to the public in 1948, thousands of people had a chance to visit the cave on a daily basis, bringing with them severe microorganisms and carbon dioxide that started to damage the paintings, covering them with moss and calcite. For that reason, Lascaux has been closed to the public since 1963. Currently, an incredible facsimile cave, built 200-meter from its original, vividly exhibits in two galleries about 90 percent of Lascaux paintings.

The drawings depict mainly animals and symbols, but reveal an outstanding number of detail, colors and technique that draws our attention considering the time they were portrayed. In one wall, a sequence of horses depicts a cavalcade. In another section, the different embosses of the wall were used to give perspective and portray a three-dimension illustration of a horse. While the body rests in the background, one of its legs reposes on a front layer. The cave also features life-size bull and bison drawn in great detail.

Close to Lascaux II, a visit to Grotte de Font-de-Gaume represents one of the last opportunities to check real prehistoric art displayed at its natural birthplace. Although tourists can only observe 30 out of 250 paintings, the visit to this temple of Ice Age of mammoths, horses, reindeers and even rhinos is worth it. Be aware that fewer than 200 visitors are allowed per day, so book in advance by calling: +33 (0) 5.53.06.86.00.

Château-falaise

Château-falaise

Unesco listed the Vézère valley in the list of World Heritages sites because of its amazing array of 147 prehistoric sites dating from the Paleolithic and 25 decorated caves. It includes an intriguing architectural building, completely embedded on a rock. Viewed from outside, the Maison Forte de Reignac seems like just another old castle. However, this impressive construction used the natural galleries formed on the cliff to build several rooms in different levels.

Closed to the public until 2006 for scientific and archeological exploitation, the Château-falaise is now a museum where tourists can check the artifacts left by prehistoric men 20,000 years ago at the site, as well as visit the rooms furnished as they were used 200 years ago. Besides reproducing the kitchen, bedrooms and a chapel, the building presents ghastly spaces, such as a small prisoner cell, or a room where the chateau lord used his “right of the first night” to abuse of any woman from the village before her wedding night.

Troglodyte home

Not far from the Maison Forte de Reignac, you´ll find La Roque Saint-Cristophe, another group of terraces carved on a cliff that Neanderthal men started to use as shelter more than 55,000 years ago. However, it was not until the Middle Age that this site lived it’s most fertile period. Thousands of people started to live in these terraces after the Bishop of Périgueux ordered a fortress  to  be constructed as a protection barrier  against the common attacks of the Vikings.

The complete visit lasts 5 hours, but due to severe damages to its structure visitors can only enjoy a shorter 45-minute tour, which recreates several ambiances of the middle age settlement, such as a chapel, a cemetery, a slaughterhouse and defense positions.

For more information about the caves and settlements, you should head to the village of Elyzies-de-Toyac, where you can pick up some information fliers and ask for tours at the Tourism Office, visit the National Prehistoric Museum and have an up-close view of the dwellings carved on the cliff.

When is best to visit the Vézer Valley

Do not arrange your visit for January as most of these sites will be closed. Also, make sure that you check the visiting hours, since they change according to the season.

Lascaux II opens from November to March, from 10 am to 12:30 pm and 2 to 5:30 pm, closing on Mondays. In April, May, September and October it opens from 9:30 am to 18 pm every day. During July and August, it opens from 9 am to 7 pm every day.

The Maison Forte de Reignac opens in February, March, October, November and Christmas holiday from 10 am to 6 pm every day. In April from 10 am to 6:30 pm; in May, June and September from 10 am to 7 pm and in July and August from 10 am to 8 pm.

La Roque Saint-Cristophe opens in February, March, October and until November 11th from 10 am to 18:30 pm; on November 12th to January 31st, it opens from 2 pm to 5pm; in April, June and September from 10 am to 6:30 pm and in July and August from 10 am to 8 pm.

The Grotte de Font-de-Gaume is open daily except Wednesday from March and October from 9:30 am to noon and 2 to 5:30 pm; in April to September from 9 am to noon and 2 to 6 pm. and November to February from 10 am to noon and 2 to 5 pm.

Copyright Mariana Nissen

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