It’s 1994: a group of cavers are exploring the Ardèche gorge and Pont d’Arc in southern France. Little do they know it, but they are about to stumble across the earliest-known cave on earth, the Chauvet Cave.
A rockfall around 20,000 years earlier cut the cave off from all civilisation, helping to preserve over 1,000 pieces of amazing prehistoric artwork. Fast forward to April 2015 and the grand opening of the Pont d’Arc Cavern; an impressive €55 million replica of the original, and your chance to travel back in time 36,000 years to the dawn of civilisation.
Why has a replica Chauvet Cave been built?
The new replica has been built to avoid any damage that could be created by visitors eager to see the artwork. Believe it or not, even minor changes in atmosphere and bacteria carried in from the outside world would cause mould to develop in the cave, leading to irreversible damage. (These lessons were learnt the hard way at Lascaux caves; discovered in the Dordogne in the early 1940s and open to visitors for 20 years, before closing down).
[responsive-image id=’2474′ align=’center’ caption=’Prehistoric painting in Lascaux cave, Dordogne’]
How do you build a replica cave?
It took scientist, artists and engineers over 12 years to create the new 29-hectare site. Lasers were used to scan the original cave and combined with thousands of digital images to build a computerised map, which was then layered over a millimeter-perfect replica metal scaffold and coated in cement.
What’s it like inside the Pont d’Arc Cavern?
Every single detail of Chauvet Cave has been recreated, including human footprints, scratches on the walls from prehistoric bears and thousands of paintings of mammoths, cave lions, rhinos and bison. Even the temperature is set the same as the original cave!
Plan your visit to the Pont d’Arc Cavern
A day trip to the replica cave should be top of your list if you’re planning a holiday to southern France. Imagine being able to tell everyone back home that you’ve time travelled to see the oldest art gallery on earth?
Entry to the Pont d’Arc Cavern costs €13 for adults, €6.50 for children and free of charge for under-10s.
There are a range of campsites in the Ardèche that near the Pont d’Arc Cavern, including: L’Ardéchois (4 km away), La Bastide en Ardèche (13.5 km away), Le Ranc Davaine (20 km away) and Les Ranchisses (30 km away).