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Chauvet Pont-d'Arc cave replica site open to the public from the end of 2014

Art and culture Sites and monuments Rhone-Alpes Prehistoric / Ancient

Chauvet Cave replica site © Agence Fabre et Speller, Atelier 3A

The Chauvet Pont-d'Arc cave replica site will comprise five buildings occupying an area of eight hectares. © Agence Fabre et Speller - Atelier 3A

Discovered on 18 December 1994 by speleologists Jean-Marie Chauvet, Eliette Brunel and Christian Hillaire, the Chauvet cave in the Ardèche region of France contains the world's oldest known cave paintings, dating back 36,000 years. The replica site will open its doors to the public at the end of 2014, after 30 months of work.

A major and unique site in the history of humanity

Miraculously protected from the world thanks to the summit of the cliff sheltering it collapsed, hermetically sealing the entrance for more than 20,000 years, the Chauvet Pont-d'Arc cave combines three characteristics that are rarely present together: its age (it dates back 36,000 years , compared with 17,000 years for Lascaux), its state of preservation and its wealth.

An exceptional testimony to the invention of art

Lion, cave bear, snow panther, mammoth, white rhinoceros, megaceros, bison, aurochs, ibex, stag… A seven-metre long panel of horses, a panel depicting a group of lionesses out hunting amidst a vast animal composition, naturalistic scenes in which two rhinoceroses do combat and a lioness spurns the advances of a male… Depicted over a distance of half a kilometre and occupying an area of 8,500 m2, the bestiary portrayed on the walls of the Chauvet Pont-d'Arc cave – containing 424 animals and 14 species – is principally made up of predatory animals, which is quite specific compared to other decorated caves which in the majority of cases are more recent.

A limitless palette, the first use of the stump technique, the use of overhangs, hollows, niches and alcoves in the rock to give relief and the mastery of perspective: the quality of the artists' techniques in the Chauvet cave – the most accomplished known to date for the Upper Palaeolithic period – continues to amaze us.

The Chauvet Pont-d'Arc cave replica site

In order to enable the public to enjoy the treasures of the Chauvet cave, a perfect replica is currently being designed. The Razal site, on the hills of the Vallon-Pont-d'Arc, seven kilometres from the cave, was selected as the location for the replica and is due to open its doors to the public at the end of 2014. It will be the biggest perfect replica of a prehistoric site in Europe. The target is to welcome between 300,000 and 400,000 visitors from around the world each year. Set within a vast wooded area covering 29 hectares, the site will include (alongside the replica cave) a discovery centre and a permanent exhibition dedicated to the Aurignacians and wall art, as well as five sheltered interpretation stations, a temporary exhibition space, an educational area for young people, an events centre, etc.

Technical wizardry

The designers of the cave replica are working in close collaboration with the scientific team, the challenge being to reproduce the cave and its 8,500 m2 in a space restricted to just 3,500 m2, while at the same time maintaining the perception of the original volumes. This is made possible by a 3D technique developed using a high-precision scanner to generate a full-scale digital reproduction of the cave. The paintings will be reproduced on a shotcrete structure with resin coating using natural oxide pigments and Scots pine charcoal. And all the paintings will be done by experienced artists with a view to remaining as faithful as possible to the original spontaneity of t he work.

All five of the visitor's senses will be stimulated during this amazing journey back through time: the coolness, humidity, silence, darkness as well as the subtle mineral aroma will help fully immerse the public in the cave.

Chauvet cave UNESCO application

At the same time, as part of the initiative led by the Ardèche Local Council, the Rhône-Alpes Region and the Association des Amis de la grotte Chauvet Pont-d'Arc, the French Government will submit an application for the Chauvet Pont-d'Arc cave to be listed as a UNESCO world heritage site in January 2013. A decision is expected in the summer of 2014.