As I looked up at an 18 metre painted ceiling known as the Diverticule axial, I was, for the first time not merely intrigued by prehistoric art, but moved by it. The weird thing is, I was not in a prehistoric cave. I was in a two-year old replica.
Today I visited Lascaux IV. While a mere 200 scientists get permission to visit the original each year, Lascaux IV is a resource for the rest of us. It is extensive, atmospheric, and Iâ€™m told accurate to within a 16thof a millimetre. Really!?
It would be hard to conceive of a more exhaustive visitor centre. Our tour lasted for more than an hour; the guide was knowledgeable and personable; the replica caverns were stunning; there was no shortage of museological add ons (films, sound effects, multi-media theatre, 3D cinema, VR lab, interactive gallery of â€˜primitiveâ€™ modern art, and a temporary exhibition space, gift shops for both grown ups and children.)
The VÃ©zÃ¨re Valley is baking today: 40 degrees according to my phone. But I found it really instructive to be told to think of the region as having once been more akin to Lapland or Greenland. Today it is forested. Then it was tundra. Once we were nomads. Now we are tourists.
Many on the tour are driving round the region seeing more caves, including those where you can see original artwork. I on the other hand will be visiting two more caves here at Lascaux: the first replica (Lascaux II) and an undecorated neighbour, Grand Roc. I must remind myself: it’s all about the replicas. I will try not to well up again, at either.
By the way, the image is from the Atelier section of the visit. Photography underground is prohibited, which is in itself interesting. But this was the passage which gets compared to the Sistine Chapel. It’s more cheerful than Michelangelo, at least the colours are brighter. I look forward to comparing the lighting at Lascaux II.