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December 26, 2018

France: Pont d’Arc and the Caverne de Chauvet


Pont d’Arc

In November of 2017, on the way back from Spain to our base in Burgundy, we stopped to see the Caverne du Pont d’Arc in Ardèche department of France. Opened in April of 2015 the concept behind the creation of the Caverne du Pont d’Arc is very similar to Lascaux IV, which we saw on the way to Spain.

A cave was discovered in this area of France in 1994. When it was explored the speleologists discovered some of the best-preserved figurative cave paintings in the world. Scientists say that the art inside the cavern was created in two periods, one 37,000 to 33,500 years ago and the second from 31,000 to 28,000 years ago. It was a remarkable discovery and in 2014 the “Decorated Cave of Pont d’Arc, known as Grotte Chauvet-Pont d’Arc, Ardèche” was inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage list.

For conservation reasons the cave will never be open to the public. Like Lascaux IV, a duplicate of the original cave was reconstructed nearby, opening in April of 2015. It is the world’s largest replica of a decorated cave. The complex enables visitors to discover what the experience of visiting the Chauvet-Pont d’Arc cavern is like without endangering the real cave.

The visitors’ center

Like Lascaux IV, I found the visit to the Caverne de Chauvet-Pont d’Arc to be underwhelming. It is like going to Disney’s Epcot World Showcase rather than traveling.  There was the ever-present knowledge that this reproduction with too convenient access was not the real thing. The art and its context are interesting but the cave can be better seen on the Internet.

That’s not to say that it wasn’t worth a visit. The drive to the visitors’ center through the Ardèche countryside is pretty. This is a very attractive region of rural France. The ultra modern visitors’ complex, like the one at Lascaux IV, is good to see on its own, particularly in the context of the rugged landscape. But what I liked the best about visiting the Chauvet-Pont d’Arc was the cavern’s namesake geological feature nearby, the Pont d’Arc.

Grotte Chauvet-Pont d’Arc is situated above the previous course of the Ardèche River before the nearby natural bridge, Pont d’Arc, opened up. We drove by this geological formation on our way from the visitors’ center to the autoroute. The opening of the arch, formed when the Ardèche River broke through a narrow escarpment between its meander, is 194 feet wide and 112 feet high. During the summer the natural arch is a very popular canoeing and kayaking area. In later November when we visited the canoes and kayak companies had mostly closed down for the season; the area was quiet. It was a good time to visit, though paddling with the crowds down the gorge and through the arch on a hot summer day would be entertaining.

Mammoths roamed the earth in the times when the cave cart was created.

Gigi didn’t get to see the cave but she did enjoy a stick and the river.

 

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