As of 2013 Grotte du Font de Gaume will no longer be taking reservations. The only way to visit the cave is to buy tickets on the day at the entrance of the cave. Please also note that the amount of visitors per day has been reduced from 160 to 80. It is highly likely that Font de Gaume will be closed to public in the coming years. If Font de Gaume is on your wish list, we strongly suggest you plan your trip soon.
The ticket office opens at 9.30, and you will have to be there well ahead to get a ticket for that day.
Discovered in 1901 by D. Peyrony, the Cave, 130 m long, contains about 250 paintings. The visitor can only see 30 of them, the most beautiful ones and the best preserved. After 60 m underground, the “Rubicon” is the beginning of the decorated part of the cave, with red dots on the left wall. These caves were not used as dwellings, they were shrines, according to A. Leroi-Gourhan The Grotte de Font-de-Gaume is famous for its cave paintings from the Magdalénien period. It is entrance is 20 m above the valley floor of the Beune valley, at the lower edge of a huge limestone rock.
There are many polychrome paintings and some engravings. The 240 figures show 80 bisons, which are the dominant motive. Most other pictures are also animals, 40 mammoths, 23 horses, 17 reindeers and deer, eight primitive cow, four goats, a wolf, a bear, and two rhinoceroses. More interesting, but less frequent, are four hand outlines and 19 geometric figures.
The cave was first settled by Stone Age people during the last Ice Age – about 25,000 BC – when the Dordogne was the domain of roaming bison, reindeer and mammoths. The cave mouth is no more than a fissure concealed by rocks and trees above a small lush valley, while inside, it’s a narrow twisting passage of irregular height in which you quickly lose your bearings in the dark. The first painting you see is a frieze of bison, at about eye level: reddish-brown in colour, massive, full of movement, and very far from the primitive representations you might expect. Further on a horse stands with one hoof slightly raised, resting. But the most miraculous of all is a frieze of five bison discovered in 1966 during cleaning operations. The colour, remarkably sharp and vivid, is preserved by a protective layer of calcite. Shading under the belly and down the thighs is used to give three-dimensionality with a sophistication that seems utterly modern. Another panel consists of superimposed drawings, a fairly common phenomenon in cave painting, sometimes the result of work by successive generations, but here an obviously deliberate technique. A reindeer in the foreground shares legs with a large bison behind to indicate perspective.