Blog WHS Visits

WHS #689: Cave of Pont d'Arc

After the extensive review of the Cave of Pont D’Arc by Solivagant 2 months ago, I was afraid that there would be nothing left for me to write about! But I was happy to finally tick it off, as I had a painful 'near miss' last year. This time I first drove to the Cirque d’Estre where the real cave is located. At least I made it into the buffer zone (looking at the map, I suspect that the core zone starts behind the vineyards at the ridge?). Signs were all over the place to warn about wild boar hunters so I did not proceed beyond having a quick look at the Cirque and the Pont d’Arc opposite. I’ll continue this review with my experience of visiting the replica cave in late November.

Various options at the Caverne de Pont d'Arc

I bought the ticket online about a month before, but there were still tickets left on the day. I was on the first tour of Sunday morning, at 11 am. They warn you to be there at least half an hour before – that’s because the tours do not start at the visitor entrance but at the ‘Caverne’ across the park. Not until 10.15 other cars started to appear at the parking lot and the entrance remained closed until 10.30. There were 15 other people on my tour, all French. The tour was conducted in French only and the guide skipped handing out the audio guides because of the small group size (a nice gentleman who had overheard at the ticket counter that I am Dutch enquired whether that would be OK for me, but it was).

It was a foggy morning and pretty chilly outside. Fortunately they do heat the ‘cave’ a bit – it is kept at 16 degrees Celsius (the original is colder at 13 degrees if I understood well). When you have seen the Werner Herzog movie about the original cave, you’ll notice right away that the replica has been made much more accessible. You do not have to crawl through narrow passages: a wide, flat path circles the cave rock formations with rock art.

Reproduction of drawing of moving cave lions

In the beginning I only noticed its 'fake' aspects - the walls are made of concrete & the rocks of plastic - but gradually the appreciation for the rock drawings started to dominate. Those drawings have been precisely recreated, using the same materials. That is apparently also the reason that you cannot even take photos in this replica cave. We stopped at about 10 clusters of drawings, with the guide explaining them extensively. She often asked us what animal we thought we recognized. At a large scene she even let us sit on the floor for 20 minutes to tell in detail about the way in which the artists depicted movement. The designers of the replica cave have also done a lot with light effects, such as mimicking the light of flares (the only lighting that prehistoric people had).

The total tour lasted 75 minutes, a quarter of an hour longer than in the high season when the groups quickly succeed each other. After the tour I had some coffee at the cafeteria (there’s a restaurant also). Then I made my way to the ‘Aurignacian Gallery’, which effectively is the site museum. It should not be missed: it is actually advisable to view this museum before you visit the cave itself. It starts with a short video in a cinema room where you are temporarily 'locked up'. After the video, the doors open and you can go and see the exhibition. The museum shows lifelike interpretations of the animals depicted on the drawings. The cave bear and the cave lion for example, but also mammoths and giant deer. It also shows the many different techniques with which the drawings were made. Apparently there are so many Dutch tourists in this region that all information in the museum besides French, English and German is also written in Dutch!

A representation of a cave lion in the museum

In all, I spent some 3.5 hours at the replica cave and at the view point near Pont d’Arc. They are located in a very nice area of the Ardeche and the drive up there I found already worthwhile. I found the replica well done (much better than I remember from Altamira for example), but it still remains unsatisfactory that you cannot see the real thing.

Els - 8 December 2018

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