Grotte du Mas-d'Azil

Useful Information

Location: Azil, Departement Ariège
Open: MAR to APR Sun 10-12, 14-18.
MAY to SEP daily 10-12, 14-18.
OCT to NOV Sun 10-12, 14-18.
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave TopicCaves Used as Road Tunnels
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension: L=2,100 m.
Tunnel: L=470 m, W=30-50 m, H=60 m, A=310 m asl.
Guided tours:
Accessibility: wheelchair accesible (sidewalk)
Address: Grotte du Mas-d'Azil, 09290 Azil
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
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1887 first excavation by Edouard Piette on the right side of the river.
1889 excavation on the left side by Edouard Piette.
1870 to 1902 excavation by Henri Breuil.
1935 to 1944 excavation by Marthe and Saint-Juste Péquart.


The Grotte du Mas-d'Azil is simply named after nearby city Azil. The cave ruin is just a small remains of a formerly much bigger cave system. The rest was destroyed by erosion, and what remains is a short part of a huge passage with the small river Arize flowing through. The voluminous passage was always used by man. Prehistoric man used it as a shelter, modern man to build a road through. So this is actually one of very few caves which may be visited by car.

The cave was visited by numerous animals during the last Ice Age including bears, mammoths and woolly rhinoceros. During the Magdalenian and Azilian periods the cave was inhabited by man. In the cave numerous layers with human remains were excavated, the findings include weapons, tools, and artwork. The cave has also been used for refuge by the Christians during the first centuries. During the Abligensian Crusade the by the Cathars found refuge here, and during the siege of 1625 the Protestants.

The archaeological exploration started very early, the cave has been excavated several times during the last 120 years. At the end of the 19th century the first pebbles with artwork were discovered. This are just rounded pebbles, white or bright grey, in various forms and a size between 9 cm and 12 cm. They are painted with geometric ornaments in a colour created of iron oxide (rust) and resin. The geometric designs include dots, lines, lines with dots, parallel scratches, borders, and so forth. Some symbols seem to be some kind of writing, similar to later used letters. Since their discovery numerous theories were constructed, what they were and how they were used. And although there are more locations with such rocks in the southwestern Pyrenees, and despite the similarity to much younger runes, their actual meaning is impossible to find out. However, they are definitely some kind of communication and probably the eariest on from the border between Palaeolithic and Mesolithic.

While it is possible to cross the cave by car, there is no possibility to park the car inside the cave. The parking lot is in front of the cave portal, and there is a footpath into the cave, along the road. In the middle of the passage, lies the entrance to the show cave Mas-d'Azil. It actualy shows the location of the most important excavations. You can see the prehistoric rock drawings and various objects discovered in the cave. More objects are on exhibition in the small Musée de la Préhistoire (Museum of the Prehistoric) in the nearby village Mas-d'Azil. This are actually the finding of the excavations by Marthe and Saint-Juste Péquart. The findings of Edouard Piette and Henri Breuil are stored at the Musée des Antiquites Nationales in Saint Germain-en-Laye near Paris.

Prehistoric discoveries in the Grotte du Mas-d'Azil were the first of Azilian Age, so the age inherited the name of the cave. This cave is what is called a typesite or type locale (locus typicus) for the Azilian.