Paleolithic cave paintings of the Dordogne region , France

Hi everyone ,

Just wondering whether anyone has visited any of the archeological cave sites of the Dordogne that have paleolithic paintings and specifically the Font de Gaume cave in Les Eyzies ? If so do you have any travel reccomendations ?

I’m planning a trip to this area of France for a couple of weeks time and planning what sites I’m going to visit and trying to work out the feasibility of all this.

Thanks

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Hello, i have been there, what is it you want to know specific?

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Hi Marjolein ,

Thank you for your reply. Basically I would like to know whether it was difficult to get to the village itself and your impressions of the site/sites ? Did you use public transport to reach the area ? What town would you reccomend as a base of operations ? Did you have any difficulties in getting tickets for Font de Gaume ? etc.

Also do you have any reccomendations in general with seeing the cave paintings (The authentic ones not the recreations ) of the Dordogne ?

Thanks for your help

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Hello,
I am from Belgium, so we were there by car and saw both Font de Gaume and Les Combarelles. I heard that there are 80 tickets a day for font de gaume an 40 for Les Combarelles.
For the caves itself it is no longer possible to get tickets in advance, jou need to be there at the day, it opens at 9.30. We did not reserve tickets but we were there at 10, and tickets was no problem.We where there in oktober, so out of season. For groups reservation is still possible.
Guided tours of the caves are available each day of the week except Saturday. On the following national and religious holidays, the caves are also closed: 1 January, 1 May, 1 and 11 November, 25 December. They are the only real painting in France from the European Ice Age. They are magnificent as specially les Combarelles.
There is a travel company in france that does tours from Brive-la-Gaillarde rail station, you can check that out on there website: https://www.cavesandcastles.com. the will show you al the caves in the area. The dordogne is a beautiful area filled whit ancient caves full of paintings and if you like history.
I you want to know more, just ask.

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Hi Marjolein ,

Thank you ever so much for your detailed reply! I’m definitely going to head over to France to see the cave paintings soon and thanks to your tips I will get there a lot more smoothly. I might email the organization you mentioned to see if they do tours in November too.

One final question which one of the caves you saw impressed you most ?

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Your welcome,

How to compare!! Font de Gaume for the age of the paintings, pech merle for the painting of spotted horses and hands http://www.pechmerle.com/le-centre-de-prehistoire/la-grotte-du-pech-merle/visite-de-la-grotte/

I just like caves in general for al its natural beauty, we have so many beautiful caves in Europe, its hard to compare but those to impress for the paintings.

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http://font-de-gaume.monuments-nationaux.fr virtual of font de gaume

Where are you from?

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I am really interested to see the prehistoric cave paintings of the Dordogne because although I am quite well travelled when it comes to France for some reason I just have never had the opportunity to visit any of the caves. So now I suppose I am trying to make up for lost time.

I feel that the prehistoric cave painting sites of France and Spain are perhaps the most relevant of all European art works and archeological sites, even more so than those of the Italian and Greek classical world. I think it is because they cut to the heart of what it means to be human , to our origins , the profound need to create art.

Also they are from a time when our species did not have any delusions of grandeur about its place in the cosmos and was just another animal , albeit one with a phenomenal consciousness , trying to survive against the odds in a hostile world.

In terms of European cave paintings I’ve actually only seen the Prehistoric paintings of “Tito Bustillo” in Asturias, Spain which is mindblowingly beautiful with its horse and stag imagery. So there is still a lot more caves to see and so little time :frowning:

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Does anyone have an idea of why they do not sell tickets in advance? I can picture planning a trip around them and then failing to actually get a ticket because of bad luck with crowds.

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After doing a bit of reading on some websites it appears that the problem is the sheer amount of people who want to visit the caves and also the need to have a quota on how many people enter for conservation purposes.

One forum even mentions people actually deciding to camp outside the ticket office and waiting there in the early hours before sunrise to stand a chance of getting in.

I certainly understand the need to limit visitors for conservation. I’m simply surprised they don’t manage it via a process that’s more kind to those of us who don’t live in Western Europe.

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Yeah I agree , the lack of pre-booking options is a pain for sure ( for Western Europeans too) but I’m just glad its still open to the public as most of the more outstanding paintings of France and Spain have been closed.

I’ve been doing some more reading on the Dordogne sites today and there are rumours circulating that most of the caves of the region will soon be closed to the public for good. So I think time is of the essence in planning to go experience them before the opportunity is lost forever.

For the record I totally understand and support the closure of any of the caves for conservation reasons. But I also think its an utter tragedy that something so beautiful and profoundly central to the origins of our species and all human beings should be inaccessible to anyone but academics or archeologists.

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If you are going, I highly recommend the book, Stepping-stones: A Journey Through the Ice Age Caves of the Dordogne, by Dr. Christine Desdemaines-Hugon, and, if there is any way you can squeeze it into your budget, hiring her as a guide through some of the caves. This birthday gift was a really worthwhile splurge and easily one of the most impactful days of my life. Our time there was also too short and she was able help ease some of the logistical questions you asked about. I think my favorite cave of all was actually Bernifal. It was very intimate, just our family with Christine in the silent darkness of the cave and the profound lingering presence of the earlier people through their magnificent artwork. Oftentimes, the quiet, less famous sites allow for the experience of transcendence in a way that crowds and helpful tour guides can’t. I don’t think you can go wrong though, every single site we visited in the region was extraordinary! As far as extra activities, kayaking the Dordogne was stunning and the Musée National de la Prehistory is world class. In response to your lodging question, again it would be hard to go wrong, so many of the towns exude historical charm. We stayed in Beynac and now dream of moving there! One of the more helpful websites I found was https://archaeology-travel.com/ I hope you enjoy your trip!

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Thank you Tripscholars ,

This is an excellent reply and I will definitely take note of your reccomendations on my future trip to the Dordogne.

I was planning to go this year specifically to Les Elyzies to see Font de gaume , the Prehistory Museum and Les Combarelles but in the end I decided to go to Asturias in Spain. This was mainly to see three of the cave paintings there : Peña de Candamo , Tito Bustillo, El Pindal , to see wildlife like bears and wolves and also just to take in the natural surroundings.

While I was there I actually met completely by accident one of the guys who discovered Tito Bustillo , Ruperto Alvarez Romero. He was at the museum of Pena de Candamo and I had a pretty long conversation with him which was totally awesome.

It was incredible to talk to someone who had made such a huge archeological discovery , like talking to the discoverer of Tutankhamun’s tomb , but an archeological site thousands and thousands years older than Ancient Egypt. I’ll always remember that.

Having said that , the caves of the Dordogne are definitely high priority on my bucket list for next year or the year afterwards as I really want to see the paintings of the rhinos , lions and mammoths (El Pindal has a mammoth painting but from the photographs of the French Caves it is nowhere near as intricate as those in Roufignaac etc. ).

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By the way , I will definitely check that book out , and yes, that is indeed a wonderful birthday present !

In fact in my opinion that has to be one of the best birthday presents to receive , the experience of encountering the art from the dawn of human conciousness , it really does make you reflect on what it means to be human.

In regards to Bernifal , I have a couple of questions , did you see the mammoth paintings there ?

and was there one particular image of the paintings which sticks in your mind ?

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Hello Monsieur_Mictlan,
How wonderful for you, your trip sounds like it was amazing! I can only imagine how interesting it was for you to talk with Ruperto Alvarez Romero. Hearing how much you enjoyed it, I’m sure you will have an outstanding time when you visit the Dordogne in the next few years!

If you are interested in mammoths, I am excited to think about how much you will appreciate your trip to Rouffignac. It is really moving and astounding that they went so far into the cave to create so many pieces. The mammoths and other animals really come alive because the artists put so much consideration into the contours of the cave.

Thanks for asking about my favorite, such an enjoyable question. I think it was the face in Bernifal. Looking into the eyes of a distant human relative, standing right where the artist must have stood while they made this (self?) portrait was profound. I could add quite a few more though! (Like the two reindeer at Font-de-Gaume and the carved bison calf at the Prehistory Museum. Both of these are so tender they make it undeniable how closely we are related and how sophisticated they were with their artistic expression.) But, I better stop here so I can get back to work, I could talk all day about this! https://images.app.goo.gl/P1239tQyJB2qhYfJ8

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Oh it was absolutely incredible Tripscholars , especially because from speaking to him there was a kind of lack of intentionality in the discovery that he and his friends made , yet it was something so incredibly profound and beautiful. The description he gave of seeing it for the first time made the hairs stand up on the back of my neck, it was clear that the moment of discovery was vividly imprinted on his mind as if it occurred yesterday even though it happened half a century ago.

Also there is something magical in that it was found completely unexpectedly by accident by people who were not then archeologists or in anyway associated with any academic field. This was directly in contrast with something like the discovery tomb of Tutenkhamun or the palace of Knossos which were discovered intentionally by academic giants like Arthur Evans and Howard Carter.

He gave me his card with his email address on , perhaps I should contact him at some point and thank him for telling me about that memory.

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I guarantee I am most definitely going to enjoy seeing Rouffignac , I have found myself looking at photos of the paintings of that cave online quite a few times , those mammoths , rhinos and ibex.

I love the variety of species , its like a prehistoric artistic safari. The caves in Spain generally speaking have less of a variety in species represented than those in France.

Wow ! those staring eyes from the face of Bernifal that you mentioned look so incredibly eerie , I can only imagine what it was like standing in front of it. Especially considering that human beings in paleolithic art are pretty rare as a rule , its almost as if the imagery of the animals was prioritized over the humans so seeing them is a real treat.

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Thanks for this! I often wonder what it was like for the first person, or the first from a new civilization to the area, to see some of these wonders. How wonderful for you to get a firsthand account! Interesting, Dr. Desdemaines-Hugon, the archeologist I mentioned in my original reply, also happened upon her first discoveries by accidentally finding Neanderthal tools on their land in the Dordogne. Can you imagine?!? I’m glad we get to reap the benefits of the years of study their discoveries inspired!

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That’s a stroke of luck to find Neanderthal stone tools, particularly because they are so incredibly rare ! did you get to handle the artifacts that Dr Desdemaines-Hugon found ?

Totally agree , I find the paleolithic period far more interesting than any other epoch of European history so I always feel very grateful that there are people who have dedicated their lives to this field of archeology.

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