Lascaux and Font de Gaume are very different in nature – the size, the shape, the type of artwork, but at the same time they are both world-important treasures and each has their different problems.
The original Lascaux cave had to be closed in 1963 because over-visiting had damaged the fragile artwork. Wrong measures were used to try to rectify the problem – but let’s be fair, this statement is made with the benefit of hindsight. No-one had dealt with this type of problem before and mistakes were made. It led to the closure of the cave and in 1983 the replica, Lascaux 2 was opened. This is the site we visit today – and it is awesome. Produced without the aid of computers, it is accurate to within 3 mm and painted by local artist Monique Peytral.
Work is proceeding at quite a pace on Lascaux 4 – there was a scare when a major supplier ran into difficulties. They were producing the intricate roofing beams which will support the painted panels to create the ‘cave’. A major concern, but fortunately resolved and work is now back on track and the opening scheduled for 2016.
At the other end of the scale, visits to Font de Gaume are still being allowed ‘by the skin of their teeth’ – the cave is being very closely monitored, lessons having been learned from Lascaux. When we first came to the Vezere Valley 10 years ago, 250 visitors a day were allowed into the cave, in 2015 it was down to 82 – and in 2016, it is further reduced to 78, so clearly there has been some further deterioration. It is interesting to look at the statistics – by the end of a visiting day (particularly hot days) there is a noticeable rise in the ambient temperature, humidity and carbon dioxide; this is partly what does the damage. Bacteria brought in by visitors are another concern as they can cause damaging mould growth on fragile surfaces.
In an previous blog we spoke about our visit to Grotte de Chauvet in the Ardeche – the oldest known cave art in Europe at 37,000 years old – it makes Lascaux seem a mere youngster at 17,000 years old! Whereas at Font de Gaume, the Lascaux experience is being used as a gauge to control visitor flow to avoid another ‘Lascaux` . At Chauvet, as soon as the cave was seen in December 1994 by Jean Clottes, the then chief conservator of French cave art, he declared “this can never be opened to the public” – and shortly after, plans began to be made to produce the replica that opened this year. It is stunning – so accurate, so convincing, it makes the prospect of the opening of Lascaux 4 ,even more exciting. What will it be like? We will have to wait and see – but hopefully some of our visitors on 2016 Tours will have an opportunity to find out – because it will most certainly be on our Itinerary as soon as possible. Perhaps even with a visit to Lascaux 2 as well since this is being kept open for a while after the opening of Lascaux 4. But we can be sure that old favourites such as the Chinese Horses will be there on show.
So 2016 could be a great year to visit the Vezere Valley – maybe the last chance to see Font de Gaume and maybe the first chance to see Lascaux 4. What a great year it is going to be – we hope you’ll come and join us.
Steve and Judie Burman live in the beautiful Vezere Valley in the Dordogne region of South-West France. Together they run Caves and Castles, specialising in prehistoric Cave Art and medieval Castles Tours. You can join a small group (up to 6) 4 night/5 day Tour based 2 nights each in the medieval towns of Sarlat and Montignac-sur-Vezere or book a custom Tour for a day or more.
Professional archaeologist, Steve loves to share his passion for the ‘Cradle of Humanity.’ World famous sites such as Lascaux, the ‘Sistine Chapel of Prehistory’ and Font de Gaume are close by. Coupled with gastronomic meals and superb wines, your Caves & Castles Tour is really special.
Slow Travel Tours is an affiliation of small-group tour operators who offer personalized trips in Italy, France and other European countries.