Life Travel

Lascaux cave paintings show concerns of ancient people not that different from our own

By Antonella Artuso, Toronto Sun

People visit the new replica of the Lascaux cave paintings during the first public opening on December 15, 2016 in Montignac, in the Dordogne region of southwest France, more than seven decades after the prehistoric art was first discovered. / AFP / MEHDI FEDOUACH (Photo credit should read MEHDI FEDOUACH/AFP/Getty Images)

People visit the new replica of the Lascaux cave paintings during the first public opening on December 15, 2016 in Montignac, in the Dordogne region of southwest France, more than seven decades after the prehistoric art was first discovered. / AFP / MEHDI FEDOUACH (Photo credit should read MEHDI FEDOUACH/AFP/Getty Images)

I looked up and stopped breathing.

The hammering and bright lamps of workers putting the final touches on the replica of the famous Lascaux cave faded to nothing.

Here were perfect copies of the cave paintings that have been dubbed the Sistine Chapel of the prehistoric world, the 20,000-year-old images that changed the way modern man perceived Paleolithic man.

I wondered if I was over reacting until I saw another woman on the tour emerge from the cave with tears in her eyes.

"We are all Cro-Magnon men," said Guillaume Colombo, the enthusiastic general manager of the Montignac-Lascaux Parietal Art International Centre (CIAP), on a recent tour ahead of the Dec. 15 opening. "The people who painted Lascaux are our direct ancestors.

"So for us, it's very important to explain to people that the people that painted Lascaux had the same preoccupations, the same ideas, the same questions as we can have now in our modern civilization," he said.

The actual Lascaux cave sits about 200 metres away up a slight incline.

Four boys and their dog from a nearby village discovered the cave in 1940 after the animal fell through a hole in the hillside. After keeping the find hidden from the Nazis during World War II, the cave was opened to the public for two decades.

In 1963, concern that human breath had been responsible for deterioration inside this irreplaceable treasure prompted officials to close it to the general public.

Today even archeologists are kept out from what has been designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

While the Vezere valley is home to 147 prehistoric sites and 25 painted caves, the Lascaux drawings of about 100 animal figures are considered "remarkable for their detail, rich colours and lifelike quality," UNESCO says.

A partial replica of the cave, known as Lascaux 2, subsequently opened and can still be accessed by the public.

In December, the CIAP or Lascaux 4 (Lascaux 3 is a touring exhibit) opened in a new facility designed by the same architect firm that was involved in the Ground Zero 9/11 memorial.

Before visiting, Ihad wondered if the whole experience would be cheesy or exploitative.

Instead, the cave has been replicated right down to the temperature and light of the original.

Overhead are the paintings exactly as they appear in the Lascaux cave -- a wonder made possible by digital advances.

"The feeling for the visitors will be very, very close to entering the original cave," Colombo said.

In fact, modern technology is used to the fullest extent here to transport visitors back in time. There are even replications of paintings that were found below the original cave, including an incredibly rare representation of a human figure (an excited male).

The designers have created many different ways to understand the drawings -- artistically, scientifically, historically and just as a fellow human being. And the modern technology makes you feel as if you have been transported back in time.

Adult tickets are $16 euros (about $25), and there are discounts for children and groups.

Thoughtfully, children's programs that include a treasure hunt and prehistoric "camp" are available that cover the same time period as the parents' visit.

Adults get to play with in an interactive art display.

Colombo said the building is fully accessible and the tours are offered in several languages.

The cafe offers regular (by French standards) fare.

You approach Lascaux 4 through the adorable village of Montignac. Located in the Dordogne Valley, in the Aquitaine region of southwest France, the area is known for its local food specialties like fois gras, chateaus and castles galore and, of course, Bordeaux wine.

aartuso@postmedia.com

Twitter: @suntooz

NEED TO KNOW

TRAVEL INFORMATION

-- For information on the Aquitaine region of France, see Atout France (france.fr), Aquitaine Tourism Board (tourisme-aquitaine.fr/?lang=en), Dordogne Tourism Board (dordogne-perigord-tourisme.fr) and Bordeaux Tourism Board (bordeaux-tourism.co.uk).

GETTING THERE

-- Air France has daily direct flights from Toronto to Paris, and connecting flights to cities across France. Some planes on the Toronto-Paris route have the airline's upgraded premium economy cabin. See airfrance.ca.