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Jurassic limestone caves near Avallon
It was awe inspiring to step back in time some 28,000 years to view prehistoric artwork in France during a chance visit to a tourist site during our family road trip.
Between Auxerre and Avallon, we stumbled across the Grotto d’Arcy-sur-Cure, a group of jurassic limestone caves carved out by the River Cure which are one of the most important archaelogical sites in southern France.
Our one hour tour through the caves brought a welcome, cooling relief from the scorching heat outside.
Arriving by chance, we were fortunate to be able to join a limited tour which was leaving shortly. Unfortunately the tour was exclusively in French, so our group took advantage of the printed leaflet as we worked our way through the caves, to the underground lakes towards the end of the tour.
We found a French Phrase Book available on Amazon useful when visiting France
Restoring the caves
Our tour took us through magnificent limestone formations. Some of the caverns had been used as concert halls and party venues earlier in the 20th century. You could imagine the grandeur of the setting, hundreds of candelabra’s lighting the scene. The popularity of the caves as a social venue however caused significant damage, with walls covered in black soot, greasy fingerprints and general wear and tear.
Unfortunately the well meaning efforts to clean the damage in itself damaged an item of archaeological significance. Hundreds of prehistoric wall paintings were inadvertently removed along with the candle soot and fingerprints. These can now only be found in the dark recesses towards the back of the caves.
Prehistoric villagers would come into the caves to draw the beasts they encountered in their daily lives, as well as chronicling their personal lives in primitive charcoal and ochre drawings.
It was truly amazing to see artwork depicting the daily lives of prehistoric artists some 28,000 years ago. From simple charcoal drawings of mammoths and wild cats to hand prints of entire families.
Row after row of hand prints show the ritual of coming into the cave to make your mark in ochre. Probably not dissimilar to modern day graffiti.
Due to the sensitivity of the site, lighting is limited and photography strictly prohibited. Photos below are from the website to give readers a view of the simplistic ochre and coal drawings which were one of the most memorable sights of our trip.
The Grotto of D’Arcy sur Cure is open from April to November, with tours daily.
Check their website for opening hours and directions.
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