Grottes de Saulges

Grottes et Canyon de Saulges - Musée de Préhistoire - Grotte de Rochefort - Grotte à Margot


Useful Information

Location: 650 Chemin de la Roche Brault, 53270 Thorigné-en-Charnie.
North of Saulges, near Thorine-en-Charnie, département de la Mayenne.
(47.993849, -0.400408)
Open: 11-FEB to 06-JUL Mon-Fri 13:30-17, Sat, Sun, Hol, School Holidays 10-12, 13:30-17:30.
07-JUL to AUG daily 10-18.
SEP to 14-NOV Mon-Fri 13:30-17, Sat, Sun, Hol, School Holidays 10-12, 13:30-17:30.
[2023]
Fee: Museum: Adults EUR 5, Children (5-18) EUR 3.50, Children (0-4) free, Students (-26) EUR 3.50, Unemployed EUR 3.50, Disabled EUR 3.50.
Groups (10+): Adults EUR 3.50.
Cave: Adults EUR 8.50, Children (5-18) EUR 6, Children (0-4) free, Students (-26) EUR 6, Unemployed EUR 6, Disabled EUR 6.
Groups (10+): Adults EUR 6.
Combo Museum and both caves: Adults EUR 16.50, Children (5-18) EUR 11.50, Children (0-4) free, Students (-26) EUR 11.50, Unemployed EUR 11.50, Disabled EUR 11.50.
Groups (10+): Adults EUR 11.50.
[2023]
Classification: SpeleologyKarst Cave
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension: Grotte à Margot: L=319 m, VR=14 m.
Grotte de Rochefort: T=13 °C.
Guided tours: Grotte à Margot: D=40 min, Max=15.
Grotte de Rochefort: D=40 min, VR=12,5 m, Max=25, MinAge=6.
V=22,000/a
Photography: not allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography:  
Address: Musée de Préhistoire - Vallée des grottes de Saulges, 650 Chemin de la Roche Brault, 53270 Thorigné-en-Charnie, Tel: +33-243-905130. 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

1701 first written mention of the Grotte à Margot.
1861 Grotte à Margot opened to the public, probably first show cave in France.
1870 first archaeological excavations in Saulges.
1873 first excavations at the Grottes de Saulges.
1879-1882 tunnel dug by Arsène Roblot in Grotte de Rochefort.
1924 Medieval skeletons discovered in Grotte à Margot.
1925 declared a Monument historique.
1926 Grotte à Margot listed as a Historic Monument.
1931 excavations by Raoul Daniel in the Grotte de la Chèvre (Cave of the Goat) and the Grotte de Rochefort.
11-JUN-1967 discovery of cave paintings.
1967 Norbert Casteret and a team of cave divers explore the lake in Grotte de Rochefort.
2001 excavation in Grotte de Rochefort by Stéphan Hinguant.
2003 cave painting discovered in Grotte à Margot by Romain Pigeaud.
2006 excavations in Grotte à Margot by Stéphan Hinguant.
MAY-2021 Grotte de Rochefort light system modernized and reopened.
2022 Grotte à Margot light system modernized and reopened.

Description

The Grottes de Saulges is a series of prehistoric caves located at the Canyon de Saulges, north of the small village Saulges. The tranquil valley of L'Erve river is framed by white limestone rocks and cliffs with numerous caves and abris (shelters). The most prominent caves are the Grotte de Rochefort and the Grotte à Margot, both are open to the public as show caves. The Musée de Préhistoire is a sort of visitor center and starting point for the tours. The museum is a good place to spend the time until the tours start. It shows numerous exhibits from the caves and pictures of the numerous cave paintings and engravings which are not accessible to the public. There are tours in the museum and for the two caves, tickets are available for each of them separately and all possible combinations. Due to the limited number of visitors on the cave tour it is strongly recommended to book online and be there 30 before the tour starts. For the Rochefort cave reservation is mandatory.

The caves are known for a very long time, and the Grotte à Margot was opened as a show cave in 1861, one of the first show caves in France. It is named after the Fée Margot (Morgan le Fay, fata Morgana). Morgan le Fay is a character from the Arthurian cycle, the half-sister of Merlin, the magician. It is not clear how the cave got connected with Morgan le Fay. But there is a local lore which is not from the Arthurian cycle.

A fairy called Margot holds her empire at the bottom of this cave. She rewards people with money who come to ask her for it. But they must bring a lamb, a hen or other edible animal, the kind of animal doesn't matter, but it has to be black.

This legend was well known and believed by many, even in the 20th century. This unfortunately brought fortune hunters to the cave, who destroyed the archaeological remains in search of Margot and the money. Since 1861 the cave was used as a show cave, one of the first show caves in France. As a result it was heavily damaged by human interference over centuries. Even the early excavations during the 19th century destroyed a lot of archaeological remains. But the excavation also revealed signs of Mousterian, Aurignacian, Solutrean, and Magdalenian habitation. The cave was used by cave bears and hyenas, the palaeontological remains were overwhelming. This cave was originally very low, the passages were crawls, and even in the chambers it was impossible to stand upright. There was a nasty water-filled crawl between Palais de Margot (Palace of Margot) and the Salle des Squelettes (Chamber of skeletons). Today the sediments are removed and the cave is not low anymore, but the archaeological evidence is also gone.

A new examination of the cave was made since 2003 by the program Occupations paléolithiques de la vallée de l'Erve organised by Romain Pigeaud from the Department of Prehistory of the National Museum of Natural History. They examined the ceiling and found ornaments, engravings, drawings, paintings, and graffiti more than two meters above the current ground. According to this research the cave has 95 figurative paintings, 18 black marks, three red traces, and eight hands. More than 200 graphic units are listed, including horses, woolly rhinos, bison and engraved birds. The paintings were created mainly during two periods, the Gravettian (29,000 to 23,000 years BP) and the late Magdalenian (12,000 to 9,000 years BP). The Gravettian paintings show positive and negative hands, a bison and a deer. The Magdalenian motives are horses, woolly rhinos, bison and birds. When they were created this part of the ceiling was in easy reach, as the cave was so low, they were created lying on the ground. Later the sediment was removed, and the visitors walked much lower, the paintings were now out of sight. During the inventory, the graffiti made by tourists from the 18th to the 20th century were are also noted.

The entrance section of the Grotte de Rochefort (Rochefort cave) to the salle des Troglodytes (Hall of the Cave Dwellers) has been known for a very long time. First excavations in the cave took place in 1873. But the owner of the cave started in 1879 to dig a tunnel at the rear end, by removing sediments from a completely filled passage. In 1882, he reached the end of this passage after 20 m, and on 17-APR-1882 he first explored the passages behind. At the age of 70, accompanied by a farm boy, he climbed down a 13 m deep shaft on a knotted rope and discovered new chambers and an underground lake. By a strange twist of history, this tunnel was later named Leveille corridor after one of his tennants Couloir Léveillé.

This cave has been excavated for a long time, starting with the excavation of 1873. Those early excavations more or less destroyed the archaeological wealth of the cave. Some drawings, old black and white photographs, and a few findings spread over various museums are the meager result. The first true scientific excavation was actually started in 2001 by Stéphan Hinguant. They discovered the remains of reindeer, horses, and woolly rhinos, which were hunted in the vicinity during the Ice Age. Some bones were decorated with engravings, the most spectacular discovery was an engraved bear rib. In the upper layers remains from Roman and Medieval times were found, the cave was infrequently visited at that times.

There is a series of other small caves, like the Grotte de la Chèvre for example. Most of them revealed at least some archaeological remains. All of them are closed, so you may hike through the pleasant valley and visit the entrances, but it is not possible to enter the caves.

A quite spectacular event for the caves was the first discovery cave paintings in 1967. The équipe spéléologique (Speleo Group) of the association Mayenne-Sciences (Mayenne Science Association) was researching in the far end of the Grotte Mayenne-Sciences. They discovered two chambers connected by low and narrow passages. At the end the cave was blocked by debris. On 11-JUN-1967 Roger Bouillon removed the debris and discovered the third room with its beautiful speleothems. It also contains line drawings showing animals: four horses, a mammoth, and a bison. The paintings were partly covered by calcite, but their preservation and freshness is excellent. The site is of national and international interest, and unlike the two show caves, this cave is closed to protect the cave and its paintings.

A last word on the Wikipedia links below. For some reason the pages were lately renamed Cave à Margot and Cave à Rochefort. However, the caves are named "grotte" which is the French word for cave, "cave" on the other hand is the word for cellar, especially wine and cheese maturing cellars. It seems the caves are locally actually called cave, which is probably a local dialect thing, nevertheless they are published in literature and on the websites as grotte, which is far less confusing. We actually think the pages on Wikipedia should not have been renamed, as the "grotte" version is obviously the one which is commonly used. In such cases normally a paragraph is added explaining the various local and historical names.