Prehistoric cave paintings.
Abbé Breuil, renowned French prehistorian called it “the Sistine Chapel of the Causses of the Lot district, one of the most beautiful monuments in Paleolithic pictoral art”.
Honestly, since I have been living in the south of France I have seen a cave or two but I have never seen anything like this.
Around 29 thousand years ago, there were pictures painted on the wall of a cave. On these walls, in what we call the cave of Pech Merle you can see these paintings for yourself.
Not a reconstruction, this is the real thing!
Pech Merle (pech means hill in Occitan) is located in Cabrerets, in the Lot Valley of Occitanie, less than two hours from Toulouse.
The discovery of the cave happened in stages. In 1914 or 1915 a medical student and his cousin discovered part of the cave when they made their way into what is now the red room.
A few years later Abbé Lemozi, the parish priest of Cabrerets, was teaching basic archeology to some adolescent boys including André David, whose family owned the land where the cave was located.
Together, in 1920, they began to explore the aven (hole in the roof of the cave). They found bones of Capridae and Bovidae (goats and cattle), but no prehistoric remains. The young boys ventured into the cave again but nearly didn’t make it out after getting lost due to insufficient light and exhaustion.
Although forbidden to go back down and explore the cave, the youngsters did go back, again, and with only basic, improvised, equipment. In April of 1922, André David 16, his 13 year old sister and 15 year old Henri Dutertre discovered the area of the cave with prehistoric paintings. On a whim, they decided to climb down and found their way through a narrow passage and into in the white room. A stunning discovery, it is one of the most amazing legacies in Europe by the painters among our prehistoric ancestors, along with Lascaux, Niaux and Altimira in Spain. Open to the public since 1926, enrapturing visitors not only with prehistoric paintings but also beautiful stalactites and stalagmites.
You visit this cave, with a guide, in our case the very knowledgeable and charming Audrey. The visit starts with an explanation in a little room next to the entrance. When you do go down into the cave it is on a pretty tight schedule. It has been calculated, so that the amount of people (and their breaths), are limited and strictly regulated so that our presence will not cause any damage to the cave paintings. You will learn how the paintings were done and what they signify.
They are mostly of animals and their own handprints, preserved for nearly 29 thousand years!
You need to book online before you go, especially in July and August and during other school holidays.
While you are in this area, especially if you are heading back to Toulouse ….you can make a lovely stop at another beautiful spot in the bountiful Lot and visit Saint-Cirq-Lapopie. The village is perched high on a hill (Lapopie comes from Popa which means high in Occitan).
From Bouziés, a little village 4 kilometres away, you can take a boat trip along the Lot River which lasts 1 hour and 20 minutes. It is not expensive and the guide will explain some of the region’s history while they take you to the foot of the cliff that the village stands above.
There is also a path from Bouziés to Saint-Cirq-Lapopie where they used to haul the boats up river by ropes, on foot.
Chemin de halage
It is a lovely walk to the hilltop village where you will have a spectacular view of the surrounding countryside. It is cheaper to park in Bouziés and walk to Saint-Cirq-Lapopie than to park at the village itself. Besides that way you can indulge in a drink or an ice cream knowing that you have to walk back.
Les Croisières de Saint-Cirq-Lapopie: 05.65.31.72.25 for times.
I hope that you have enjoyed this post about the Pech Merle Cave and Saint-Cirq-Lapopie. Don’t hesitate to contact me for more information if you are planning a visit to the area.
Follow me to keep up with me on my travels around beautiful Occitanie.