If ancient history and stunning prehistoric artwork interest you, the Lascaux Cave is something you must see during your lifetime. Part of a complex of caves located near the village of Montignac in the Dordogne region of southwestern France, the cave is famous for its elaborate, Upper Paleolithic paintings. The cave is a UNESCO World Heritage Site and a popular tourist destination that puts you up close and personal with an exact replica of the original cave.
There’s a lot going on at this mesmerizing location, so let’s break it down.
We’ll start with some of the history, before giving you some need-to-know information, and finally some more details about what you can expect from this experience.
Some Brief History
The Lascaux Cave was first discovered by 18-year-old Marcel Ravidat in 1940, and it was eventually opened to the public in 1948. However, it was closed in 1963 after the influx of visitors began to damage the delicate surface of the paleolithic paintings it housed. An exact replica of the cave called Lascaux II was opened in 1983. The successor to that replica is Lascaux IV, which is the updated replica cave that you can visit today. With its attached museum and down to the millimetre-level accuracy, Lascaux IV is nearly identical to the real thing.
When you visit Lascaux Cave, you can expect a roughly two-and-a-half-hour long experience from start to finish. That includes the tour of the replica cave, the self-guided tour, galleries, and art exhibits that add to the experience. The tour through the cave itself takes about an hour, and the rest of the experience is self-guided with the aid of a digital tablet.
You can buy tickets online in advance of your visit here. Tickets are available up to 90 days in advance, right up until the day before your intended visit. Please note that you cannot purchase online tickets the day of your visit, but if you can get them day-of at the ticket centre in person. Tickets are non-exchangeable and non-refundable, so be sure you’re confident when you book.
Tickets are currently 17 EUR each for adults, and 11 EUR for children, and you have the option to choose between English, Dutch, and French tours (Please note that while these prices were accurate at the time of publication, they may change at anytime).
Lascaux IV is open every day from 9am-7pm.
What You’ll See
The Lascaux experience is broken up into four main spaces: the Belvédère, the Shelter, the Cave itself, and the Studio.
Belvédère and Shelter
The visit starts when you receive a tablet and take an elevator up to the top of the roof of the museum. From there, you can look out over the Vézère Valley and use the augmented reality interactive map on your tablet to see information about the view in real time. It’s a great way to learn about the many surrounding archaeological sites.
At the shelter (also on the roof), you can stand in front of a screen and watch the evolution of the Lascaux area shift and change. It feels like you’re looking into the past through a window. It’s incredible to see how different the landscape looked back in the time of the cave painters. It sets up the “time travel” feeling you get when you move onto your next destination: the Lascaux Cave.
You’ll have an appointed entry time to visit the cave with a group of other visitors and a trained guide. Walking into the replica, it feels exactly like you’re going into a real cave. Cool and damp, the re-creation is incredible, and it’s very easy to suspend your disbelief. Of course, it helps that the recreation is built into the same hill as the original, and that you really do go underground for your visit. It’s as real as it can get these many years later!
The main attraction are the paintings. The first one you see is a curiously named painting called “The Unicorn,” even though the animal has two horns. Then you’ll proceed into the famous “Hall of the Bulls” where enormous paintings of bulls seem to leap and run right off the walls. From there, you go deeper, into a series of smaller caves with multicolor paintings of horses, cows, bulls, and symbols in shades of black, brown, red, and yellow. The presence of all these colours is part of why Lascaux is so justifiably famous. Polychromatic caves are very rare, and when you walk through the tour, you’ll feel awed and inspired by the achievements of the people who made the paintings at a time where there was no written language.
The Lascaux Studio
After you leave the hallowed halls of the cave, you can wander at leisure through the Lascaux Studio space, where eight cave walls have been reproduced for you to explore. These include the cave’s most famous works: “Two Crossed Bison”, “The Great Black Cow”, “The Panel of the Imprint”, “The Apse”, “The Shaft Scene”, “The Axial Gallery”, “The Upside-Down Horse” and “The Hall of the Bulls”.
These reproductions include enhanced reality information available on your tablet, giving you more information on the techniques and history of the specific scenes.
Other exhibits of note are the virtual reality version of the cave, which you can view at your own pace on the tablet, the art exhibit where you can create your own virtual cave paintings, a historical exhibit on the history of the cave and why it was closed to the public, and an area with real objects that were found during the archaeological dig.
The Big Picture
Aside from the cave being just plain cool, visiting the Lascaux Cave puts you at the heart of two exciting developments in the history of art. First and foremost, the cave gives you access to some of the world’s earliest and most incredible cave paintings. The discovery of the Lascaux Cave brought Stone Age culture to the modern world, giving us rare access to a time that has few surviving records.
With its high-tech re-creation and careful archaeological preservation, you can experience this wonder without worrying about damaging the original. Lascaux’s reproduction took years to make, and it represents an exciting development in the world of historical preservation.