Decorated Grottoes of the Vézère Valley is a complex of caves in southwestern France famous for its cave paintings.
They contain some of the most well-known (Upper Paleolithic) art, dating back to somewhere between 15,000 and 13,000 BCE. They consist mostly of realistic images of large animals, including aurochs, most of which are known from fossil evidence to have lived in the area at the time.
Klaus Freisinger - October 2015
This is a site I had long wanted to visit, but it is rather difficult without your own transport. The solution was a well-organized day trip run by a tour company (Ophorus). Starting from the pretty medieval town of Sarlat, we first visited the cave of Rouffignac, which is especially famous for its fantastic paintings of mammoths. The visit is by means of an electric railway which stops at several points for an explanation of the paintings. It was already a tourist attraction in the 19th century, so it is remarkable that one can still visit the original cave, rather than a replica. The day continued with a guided visit of the excellent National Prehistory Museum in Les Eyzies de Tayac, which supposedly contains the largest collection of prehistoric artifacts in the world. In the afternoon, we joined a guided tour of the Lascaux II cave, the replica of the most famous cave in the world. The original was closed to visitors in 1963, and the replica opened in 1983, just about 200 metres above the original (the entrance to the original is of course closed off, but the UNESCO sign can be seen at the fence). Lascaux II recreates the most important parts of the original cave in immaculate detail and is really quite fascinating, although I have to say that I was even more impressed by the original cave in Rouffignac.
Clyde - March 2014
I visited this great WHS in March 2014. I drove to the Vézère Valley early in the morning. There are prehistoric sites scattered all over the valley but most are either not open to the general public or else it is only possible to visit with a tour guide available only 2-4 times a day (especially in the low season, i.e. NOT June to August). After a lot of research over the internet, I decided to head first to Les-Eyzies-de-Tyack to visit the National Museum of Prehistory. This gave me a general overview and good insights on what to look out for and why these sites are so unique and important. Afterwards, I proceeded to Roc de Cazelle which turned out to be nothing more than caves with artificial scenes attempting to depict how prehistoric everyday life must have been in these caves. All in all it's not worth the effort and time to get there unless you travel with children. Next I visited Font-de-Gaume Decorated Cave which I had prebooked directly by email to email@example.com. There is quite a hike to visit these caves which are high in the cliffs so my trekking shoes came in handy. The guided visit was 1 hour long. This cave contains around 180 paintings of animals, mainly bison and reindeer with different shades of black, red, brown and yellow. Since the cave has never been completely closed, the quality of the drawings is fading, even though only 200 visitors per day are allowed. After my visit, I asked the guide where I could visit to view some prehistoric etchings which are also mentioned in this inscription. The guide suggested a quick visit to both Les Combarelles Caves to view the prehistoric etchings of felines, stags and Rouffignac Cave which is mostly famous for the outline of a mammoth and which is definitely the site to visit if you only have time for only of these two. That was quite a good morning starter, so I headed towards quaint Montignac where I stopped for lunch. In the afternoon I drove to the entrance of the original Lascaux Cave which is now closed to the general public but there I found a UNESCO plaque depicting its inscription. It is only 200 metres uphill from the visitor centre of Lascaux II. Lascaux Cave contains some of the best-known Upper Paleolithic art estimated to be 17,300 years old. Discovered in 1940, the cave complex was opened to the public in 1948, but by 1955 the carbon dioxide exhaled by 1200 visitors per day had visibly damaged the paintings and the cave was closed to the public in 1963 in order to preserve the prehistoric art and restore it to its original state. Yet this turned this incredible site into a monitored and closed laboratory, with experts involved to fight against the fungi, black mold, green mold and preserve the pigments. Lascaux II, a replica of two of the cave halls (the Great Hall of the Bulls and the Painted Gallery) was opened in 1983, 200 meters from the original. It's truly a work of art and a replica not only of the prehistoric paintings but also the cave structure, lighting, climate, etc. The main difference is that the replica paintings are on a different surface when compared to the original and therefore should not be attacked by fungi or mold. The guided visit was only available in French since I went in the low season but the guide spoke slowly and described every single outline and drawing using a torch to indicate the painting she was describing. The painted gallery is really mind-boggling and is best viewed sitting or crouching down in the middle of the replica cave. That way I could really appreciate the great detail and point of view our prehistoric ancestors were capable of rendering. Although photography (even without flash) and filming is not allowed in all the sites I visited in the Vézère Valley, I still took my camera with me to try my luck in the main plate of my visit near Montignac, which definitely deserves to be inscribed for its OUV. Since I was the last one to try to exit from the replica cave and had to wait with the guide for a couple of minutes for the heavy rain to stop before exiting the cave, and after answering all my questions in detail, my guide asked me where I came from. I replied that I'm from Malta and after hinting at where that is on the globe, I tried my luck and asked her if it was possible to take a quick photo (without flash) of the cave to treasure when I return to my distant homeland. I was surprised that it worked and before she could think twice, I took some photos in quick succession in 2-3 seconds. I wasn't expecting much out of my attempt, but I was pleasantly surprised when I checked out my photos on my computer and I must say I'm more than happy :) The overall experience was very rewarding although quite expensive and to me it's one of the best WHS in France.
John Booth - May 2010
To visit this site I travelled by train to Les Eyzies de Tyack where I visited an informative Pre-history museum. But earlier in the day I had located the Font de Gaume, a series of caves high on a cliff. I managed to get on the first tour of the day when during an hour long tour the guide showed us spectacular paintings of many different animals, but mostly bison and reindeer.
I had wanted to reach the Lascaux caves, but there is an absence of transport in that part of the valley.
David Berlanda - February 2006
In our trip to France we have visited four prehistoric sites but I was very disappointed by the fact that most of them were accessible only on booking or were closed. The valley, long 40 km and large 30 km, contain 147 sites and 25 decorated caves (15 are WHS). First we have been to the shelter of Cap Blanc, located in the lateral Beune valley, near Marquay. There are high-relieves of two bisons, horses and reindeer in a limestone cliff, also longer than 2 m, made by reindeer hunters more than 15000 years ago, and a human burial place. The cave of Rouffignac (or Cro-de-Granville), that was already known and described in the 16th century, is situated on a lateral valley along a tributary of the Vézère and has over 8 km of galleries. There were discovered in 1956 engravings and black-outlined paintings, especially in the Breuil gallery: 160 mammoths, 11 bisons, 11 goats, 9 horses, 7 rhinoceros, 1 bear and many other pictures. We have also seen, near Les-Eyzies-de-Tayac the deposit of Laugerie Basse, in a place called 'Les Marseilles', where were found many implements from the reindeer age and a cross-section shows stratified tiers of excavated human remains, and the Grand Roc, a cave with 40 km of passages leading to small chambers that contain stalactites and stalagmites.
The cave of Rouffignac and the shelter of Cap Blanc are two of the most beautiful places I have ever seen, because of the beauty and antiquity of the prehistoric paintings and sculptures, that I have seen here for the first and only time. But I was quite disappointed by the shelter of Laugerie Basse and the cave Grand Roc, that are more natural that cultural places. I didn't like also the fact that many of the other prehistoric places are visitable only on booking of guided tours and that if you go at La Magdaleine you can see only the medieval troglodytic village and not the nearby famous prehistoric site, that I wanted to see. The sites are absolutely worth to be visited because they are the most beautiful prehistoric places in the world and justify the inscription, also because there aren't many prehistoric sites inscribed on the WHL, even if some prehistoric places of the valley could be excuded from the WHL and others included.
Photo: Les-Eyzies-de-Tayac - Shelter of Laugerie Basse
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Full name: Decorated Grottoes of the Vézère Valley
2006 - Name changeFrom "Decorated Grottoes of the Vézère Valley" to "Prehistoric Sites and Decorated Caves of the Vézère Valley"
1979 - InscribedReasons for inscription
The site has 17 locations. Show all
- Abri de Cro-Magnon Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil, Dordogne, Aquitaine, France
- Abri du Poisson Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil, Dordogne, Aquitaine, France
- Cro de Granville (cro de Rouffignac) Rouffignac-Saint-Cernin-de-Reilhac, Dordogne, Aquitaine, France
- Font de Gaume Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil, Dordogne, Aquitaine, France
- La Madeleine Tursac, Dordogne, Aquitaine, France
- La Micoque Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil, Dordogne, Aquitaine, France
- La Mouthe Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil, Dordogne, Aquitaine, France
- Lascaux Montignac, Dordogne, Aquitaine, France
- Laugerie basse Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil, Dordogne, Aquitaine, France
- Laugerie haute Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil, Dordogne, Aquitaine, France
- Le Cap Blanc Marquay, Dordogne, Aquitaine, France
- Le Grand Roc Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil, Dordogne, Aquitaine, France
- Le Moustier Saint-Léon-sur-Vézère, Dordogne, Aquitaine, France
- Les Combarelles Les Eyzies-de-Tayac-Sireuil, Dordogne, Aquitaine, France
- Roc de Saint-Cirq Saint-Cirq, Dordogne, Aquitaine, France
The site has 13 connections. Show all
- Archaeological 'Type Sites' Le Moustier - Mousterian culture, Abri de la Madeleine - Magdalenian Culture
- Early Hominid Remains Abri de Cro-Magnon
- Mousterian Contains the "type site" of Le Moustier (UNESCO Ref 85-014)
- Palaeolithic and Mesolithic
- Recorded cultural discoveries Lascaux - Marcel Ravidat ; September 12, 1940
- Astronomy and Astrology A number of the Lascaux pictures have a possible astronomical significance
- André Malraux As Minister of Culture in April 1963 he closed Lascaux to the public
- Leakey Family Mary Leakey (nee Nicol)- "In 1925, when Mary was twelve, the Nicols stayed at Les Eyzies at a time when Elie Peyrony was excavating one of the caves there. Peyrony did not understand the significance of much of what he found, and was not excavating scientifically during that early stage of archaeology. Mary received permission to go through his dump. It was there that her interest in prehistory was sparked. She started a collection of points, scrapers, and blades from the dump and developed her first system of classification." (Wiki)
- Late Pleistocene Lascaux estimated to be 17,300 years old (wiki)
- Replica cultural sites Lascaux
World Heritage Process
- Name changes From "Decorated Grottoes of the Vézère Valley" to "Prehistoric Sites and Decorated Caves of the Vézère Valley" (2006)