Grotte de Rouffignac

Grotte de Miremont - Cro du Cluzeau - Cro de Granville


Useful Information

Location: Near Rouffignac.
(45.00833, 0.98725)
Open: Palm Sunday to JUN daily 10-11:30, 14-17.
JUL to AUG daily 9-11:30, 14-18.
SEP to 01-NOV daily 10-11:30, 14-17.
[2021]
Fee: Adults EUR 7.90, Children (6-12) EUR 5.20.
Groups (20+): Adults EUR 5.60, Children (6-12) EUR 4.
Audioguide EUR 1.50.
[2021]
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave ArchaeologyPainted Cave
Light: electric/guide
Dimension: L=8,000m
Guided tours: D=60 min, L=4,000 m. Audioguide English Chinese Nederlands - Dutch Deutsch - German Hebrew Italiano - Italian 日本語 - Japanese Português - Portuguese русский - Russian Español - Spanish
Photography: strictly forbidden
Accessibility: yes
Bibliography: Louise-René Nougier, Romain Robert (1958): The Cave Of Rouffignac, 230pp, 39 plates. Controversial account of a famous French painted cave. HB DW
Address: Grotte de Rouffignac, Granville, F-24850 Rouffignac St Cernin. Tel: +33-5530-54171, Fax: +33-5533-54471. E-mail: contact
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

1575 oldest description of the cave by Françoise de Belleforest and one of the first descriptions of a cave exploration in history.
1715 famous description by the Marquis de Miremont.
1730 two visitors from the Netherlands got lost in the cave.
1759 accurate and detailed map of the cave published by Gabriel Bouquiet.
1765 map of Bouquiet copied by Gonthier.
1803 detailed description of the cave by A. Delfau in his book "Annuaire du département de la Dordogne, pour l'année sextile XI, de l'ère française".
1915 visited by Abbé Henri Breuil and an entymologist in search for a rare cave bug.
1940-1945 used as a hide-out for the French Résistance.
1945 exploration by two speleologists from Périgeux.
1948 visited by Abbé André Glory and Dr. F. Koby from Basel in search for remains of cave bears (Ursus spelaeusExplain).
26-JUN-1956 paintings in the cave discovered by Louis-René Nougier, Romain Robert, Charles Plassard, and Louis Plassard.
17-JUL-1956 authenticity authenticated by Abbé Henri Breuil.
1957 classified a Monument historique.
1959 train installed, cave opened to the public.
1979 inscribed on the UNESCO World Heritage List.

Description

photography
Extinct one-horned rhinoceros Elasmotherium. Grotte de Rouffignac, France.
photography
Le Grand-Père (Grandpa) surrounded by ibexes on the Grand Plafond. Grotte de Rouffignac, France.

The Grotte de Rouffignac (Cave of Rouffignac) is know for a very long time and was first described in 1575. The description of the cave by Françoise de Belleforest in his book Cosmographie Universelle is one of the first descriptions of a cave in history. He ,mentions paintings and animal traces. The next description of the cave by the Marquis de Miremont from 1715 is also quite famous. A not so nice superlative is the fact, that Rouffignac had one of the first known cave accidents. In 1730 two visitors from the Netherlands got lost in the cave. After some time in the cave they couldn't find the way back. When their light went out they started to burn their clothes, but still they didn't find the exit. One died inside the cave, the other one found the exit after nine days and died two days later on exhaustion.

The cave had its share of famous names, Abbé Henri Breuil, Abbé André Glory, Eduard Alfred Martel and others visited the cave. For some reason they were not very impressed. Probably they were spoiled by the polychrome paintings in other caves. But in 1956 Louis-René Nougier and Romain Robert, two prehistorians from the Pyrenees, first recognized the existence of the cave art.

In modern times it sounds rather strange to get lost in this cave. We call this type of cave a subway-cave, because it has straight passages which are 10 m wide and 10 m with level floor. You could build a subway inside, with no need to work on the rocks. Actually that's what they did, they built a railroad inside, and the tour is made by a strange carriage with seats and a floodlight. After entering at the ticket office, which was built inside the cave in the huge passage, you wait at an iron bar gate. The guide takes the group 50 m into the cave where the railway station is located. Here the electric light ends and photography is not allowed any more. You mount the electric carriage and take a seat, and the guide drives you through a huge and completely dark cave. Every now and then you stop, and and the guide turns on the floodlight to show you a few mammoths, some reindeer or Elasmotherium. The tour follows two of the huge straight passages to the end, where you turn around and return. On the end of the second passage you are allowed to walk 50 m for the highlight of the tour, a ceiling full of paintings.

The trains hav several benefits. While it is not necessary to walk very much, it allows tours without light, otherwise people would struggle in the dark. And the lack of light is responsible for the complete lack of lampenflora. Also it is not necessary to keep the visitors on track, they have no chance to leave the cars and stroll away. And finally the train has a built in floodlight which allows the guide to point to certain drawings and to light engravings from the side. Because of the shadows they can easily be seen. And finally with the trains its possible to cover four kilometers of passage during a one hour tour.

The prehistoric paintings depict 158 mammoths associated with woolly rhinos, bison, horses. ibex, and four human figures and tectiform signs. The figures are deeply engraved or painted in black with manganese oxide from Romanèche (Saône-et-Loire), 450 km away. The artworks were created during the Magdalènien, about 13,000 years ago. The paintings are found all over the cave and quite far inside the cave. The farthest mammoth is 737 m from the entrance, the famous Saïga antelope is 735 m from the entrance. In relation to the historic accidents in the cave, this makes the prehistoric painters brave cave explorers. The most famous paintings include the Mammoth With The Eye and the Grand-Père (Grandpa), two true artworks.

The abundance of mammoths is rather exceptional. In other caves of the area horses and bison dominate, actually almost any other animal was more popular and mammoths were poorly represented. From 350 known painted caves in Western Europe, about a third of the known mammoths are in Rouffignac. The exceptional number of mammoths was obvious quite early, and so the cave soon got the nickname cave of a hundred mammoths. And again the number of mammoth bones found in the southwest of France is quite low. Its unknown if there were actually such small numbers of mammoths, or if they were just not easily preserved for some reason.

The Patriarche (patriarch) is one of the most spectacular mammoths, an old animal with gigantic tusks, the painting is rich in details and complete. It is surrounded by two ibexes, but if they are all part of the same scene or if the three animals were painted on three separate occasions, is completely unknown. The Grand Plafond is a group of 65 animals above an access shaft to the lower level of the cave. The group contains horses, bisons, rhinos, and ibexes.

The cave walls are almost vertical, with thick bands of brown flint nodules in almost horizontal layers. The limestone is soft chalk, a little porous, bright grey or beige and more or less dry. This are ideal conditions to draw on. The limestone is Coniacian (Cretaceous).

Rouffignac is also a bear cave. It was frequented by cave bears, which left numerous traces, countless scratches on the walls and ceilings and bauges (nests) in the clay of certain galleries. But quite astonishing, while the number of such bear traces is quite big, there are almost no bear bones in the cave. Its anybodies guess, why there are no bones. Did the bears use this cave differently, so few, or at least far less, bears died inside? Or did certain animals or probably the humans remove those bones? One thing is obvious though, during the Magdalènien the bears were already extinct, the artists never met one.

A few words on the technical aspects of organising a cave visit. Unlike many other caves, Rouffignac does not offer online, phone or email booking, they do not even sell tickets in advance. And no, Covid-19 did not change this. Actually they open the booth in the morning and when the tickets for the day are sold, that's it. The number of visitors is restricted to 550 per day, first come, first served. On the other hand, that's actually how it always worked at 99% of the show caves, and except for July and August its not a problem. I was there during pentecost holidays and when I arrived at 3 pm there were still tickets available. And for Juli and August: avoid at all cost. If that's not possible be there in the morning when they open, you get no breakfast and its your own fault.