Thursday, February 28, 2019

La grotte de Lascaux

Aurochs and horses in Lascaux

In the South of France lies one of the oldest and best-preserved secrets of France: la grotte de Lascaux, or "The Lascaux Cave.” This series of connected caves depicts around 600 different paintings that were created around 18,000 years ago! Most of them, like the one in the photo above, depict common animals. The photo shows an aurochs (an extinct species of ox) and several horses.

Because of its exceptional historical value, the entire site was classified as a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 1979. The murals are so exceptional that they are even referred to as "The Sistine Chapel of the Paleolithic" or even the "Versailles of the Prehistory.” 

The cave was discovered in 1940. Upon discovery, archeologists were able to appreciate the original paintings as they had been preserved since 17,000 due to the special atmospheric conditions in the cave. The site quickly attracted thousands of visitors. To permit the entrance of so many visitors, the entrance to the caves were adjusted. However, millions of visitors in the first 20 years of tourism changed the fragile atmospheric conditions of the place; consequently, the caves closed to visitors in 1962 so that the painting would be preserved. 

Considerable damage had nonetheless already occurred. The onslaught of tourists had introduced a new type of fungus to the caves, which damaged some of the paintings. Conservators quickly implemented a plan to protect the paintings and they managed to restore most of the artwork to its original state. Even today, specialized workers enter the cave every two weeks to clean fungus from the artwork.  

Starting in the 70s, several replicas of the cave were built named "Lascaux 2", "Lascaux 3" and "Lascaux 4.” These replicas allow hundreds of thousands of visitors to admire these sublime works of human history every year without risking the original masterpieces.

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