Bonjour from Sarlat-la-Canéda!

This is Alena, Fiona, and Grace, and we’ll be taking you through our excursion to the prehistoric caves of Lascaux and Font-de-Gaume.

From left: Fiona, Grace, and Alena – your blog team!

This past Saturday, we jumped on a bus and traveled 2.5 hours to the town of Sarlat-la-Canéda, in the Périgord region of France. We spent the first few hours of our excursion exploring the town and checking out the market.

Market on the beautiful streets of Sarlat

On Saturday afternoon the group visited La Grotte de Lascaux, a cave famous around the world for its elaborate, colorful, and breathtaking cave paintings. The museum visit started with a tour through an exact replica of the prehistoric cave of Lascaux. The actual cave had to be closed to the public because the carbon dioxide emitted by hundreds of thousands of visitors which disturbed the fragile natural balance inside the cave and was causing damage to the artwork. However, this intricate reproduction was extremely realistic and made us feel as if we were inside the real cave! The group learned about the meanings of the different cave paintings, such as the Licorne, which translates to unicorn. This was a painting comprised of different animal characteristics such as a hippopotamus stomach, human legs, and two large horns, an example of what they call a fantasy animal. After the tour, we enjoyed a visit to the second section of the museum where we studied other reproductions of specific cave paintings in greater detail and learned about the history of Lascaux.

The reproduction of a cave painting from Lascaux depicting two horses in motion, and a geometrical symbol whose meaning is still unknown.

The paintings of Lascaux date back to 20,000 B.C., and the cave was discovered in 1940 by an 18 year old and his dog, after a storm had uprooted a tree and left a small opening exposed. The artwork here is from the Magdalenian era, which dates from 23,000 to 14,000 B.C. The black colors in the cave are made with manganese, and the red and yellows made with iron oxides, sometimes mixed with water. Paintings were made with brushes or by blowing pigments. The paintings in the cave exclusively display animal figures, and are dominated by the wild bulls of the time, called aurochs.

A photo from the second section of the museum, a replica of La Salle de Taureaux (The Hall of Bulls)

After exploring Lascaux, we hopped back on our bus to went to our hotel. We stayed in a beautiful little Villa called “Hotel Renoir.” Our rooms looked out upon a small courtyard. It was very homey, and definitely helped give us the feeling that we were indeed staying in perhaps one of the cutest french towns yet.

After getting settled into our rooms, it was time for a group dinner at the restaurant “Le Mirandol.” On our way to the restaurant, some of us ran into a parade of people who were dressed up as various animals and characters. These costumed people were playing drums on the street for the children of the town who were also all dressed up. We couldn’t figure out what this apparent holiday was, but that didn’t stop us from clapping along to the celebration for a little while.

A beautiful view from the town of Sarlat

The restaurant we went to was unique in that it was built in the front of a real cave. After our dinner, the waitress led us to the “grotte.” It was fun to see, though this cave surely did not compare to the Lascaux stimulation we had seen earlier.  

Alena and Sarah discovering the cave that Le Mirandol was built in front of!

Pictured below is an appetizer many people had. Infamous “foie gras” (it’s infamy is due to the way the fatty duck is prepared through continual force-feeding, a frequent topic of discussion from our class) served with raspberry jam and bread. There were mixed reviews, the most popular opinion being that it tasted good but because we know how it was prepared, it would be too immoral to eat it often. The second dish pictured is the restaurant’s specialty dish of duck and scalloped potatoes.

Foie Gras with Raspberry Jam

Duck with pepper sauce, scalloped potatoes, and cauliflower

We had a lovely Sunday morning breakfast provided by our hotel, then we toured the Musée Nationale de Préhistoire. It’s crowning jewel were the pieces of art found in the shelter of La Madeleine. It held some of the best Paleolithic art from the Magdalenian period. It was surreal to see the art along with the skeleton of a young girl from so long ago (11,000-17,000 years ago)!

Musée National de Préhistoire

Julia, Charlton, and Cate enjoying the view from atop the Musée National de Préhistoire.

A beautiful café where many students ate lunch in Les Eyzies, right in front of the Musée National de Préhistoire (above).

After lunch, we headed to our final destination – the cave of Font-de-Gaume. This is the last prehistoric cave in the Aquitaine region with polychrome (multicolored) cave paintings that is still open to the public. These paintings were discovered in 1901. The Font-de-Gaume paintings have been preserved over all of this time because of the Rubicon, a very tight corridor about halfway into the cave. This special entryway has protected the artwork from erosion and other elements from the outside world. The paintings in this cave are another example of art from the Magdalenian era, and they are about 2,000 years more recent than the paintings of Lascaux. It was intriguing to see the difference between the stylistic style of art in Lascaux, and the naturalistic and more realistic style depicted at Font-de-Gaume.

It was really fascinating to explore a true cave and actually stand where the prehistoric people stood. One of the highlights of this cave was a handprint, which the prehistoric human had created by pressing his or her hand to the wall and blowing paint over it, creating an image in the negative.

A large group of students and Dr. Caldwell standing outside the entrance to the Font-de-Gaume.

It was an amazing weekend filled with prehistoric art, good food, and a lot of learning. Many of us remarked on how much we’d love to live in a beautiful, small French town like those of Sarlat and Les Eyzies.

Another beautiful photograph of Les Eyzies. There’s something so magical about a small French town!

Until next week, à bientôt and on s’adapte!

Grace, Fiona, and Alena