La Grotte du Pech Merle – Pech Merle Cave

La Grotte du Pech Merle is one of the most striking Ice Age cave art sites still open to the public. Some of the painted panels really are quite breath taking. It is a large cave, with over two kilometres of underground tunnels and caverns. And the geology of of this cave system is every bit as interesting as the prehistoric paintings. Only about a third of the cave is now shown to the public on a guided tour that lasts about an hour. The Centre de Préhistoire du Pech Merle comprises both the cave and the Musée Amédée Lemozi.

Pech Merle was discovered by two young boys in 1922. They were encouraged to explore the caves in the area by the local priest. It was not until 1926, however, that the cave was opened to the public.

The prehistoric paintings in this cave are spectacular. The most well-known panel depicts two black horses painted back to back, with a series of black dots that cover and surround the animals’ bodies. The body of one of the horses is painted on the rock surface in such a way that the prehistoric artist used a natural feature on the rock face to suggest the horse’s head.

Since the discovery of this cave in 1922 archaeological research on the paintings here, including how they were painted, what Palaeolithic people used to make the pigments and how some of the more complex panels developed over time, have been at the forefront of research on and debates about Palaeolithic cave art in western Europe. This is a decorated cave not to miss.

The Guided Tour of Pech Merle Cave

The guided tour of Pech Merle last about an hour. It begins with an introductory talk about the cave and the art that lasts about 15 minutes. Then the tour of the cave lasts about 45 minutes. It is not possible to tour the cave without a guided tour.

The guided tour of Pech Merle last about an hour. It begins with an introductory talk about the cave and the art that lasts about 15 minutes. Then the tour of the cave lasts about 45 minutes. It is not possible to tour the cave without a guided tour.

Le Combel

The guided tour of Pech Merle last about an hour. It begins with an introductory talk about the cave and the art that lasts about 15 minutes. Then the tour of the cave lasts about 45 minutes. It is not possible to tour the cave without a guided tour.

The Black Frieze

The first cave art you will see is called the Black Frieze, because the animal figures were all executed in black outline. They were drawn using manganese oxide. There are 25 animals in total, including bison, horse, mammoth and auroch.

The Ceiling

Your guide will then point out an extraordinary panel high on the ceiling. At first you will see nothing but a tangle of lines that were made with fingers. A trained eye will show you the outline of mammoths and female figure. A good reproduction of this panel can be seen in the museum.

The Disks

In this underground gallery you will see large calcite disks. This happens when water carrying dissolved limestone and under pressure is forced through a crack in the rock. The result is a fan shaped spray, which solidifies as the limestone starts to crystallise. A bit like limescale in a kettle, but with much more spectacular results.

Human Footprints

The tour will take you by a spot where many thousands of years ago a young child or adolescent was walking barefoot in the mud of this part of the cave. A fine calcite crust was formed, not only protecting and preserving the footprints but also allowing archaeologists to be certain that these are genuine Palaeolithic footprints. You can see a lifesize illustration of these footprints in the museum.

The Spotted Horses

After a number of tight and twisty turns with your guide pointing out some wonderful painted and engraved panels of Ice Age art, you will finally arrive at the panel of spotted horses that Pech Merle is so famous for. Look at the horse facing to your right, and note how the artists have made use of a feature on the cave wall that resembles the head of a horse. Much of the black in this panel was made using manganese oxide, but it has been touched up with charcoal. This use of charcoal has allowed a radiocarbon date of 24,600 years before the present.

Short Video About Pech Merle

Musée Amédée Lemozi

Besides the Ice Age decorated cave, there is also a very good museum that explores the prehistory of the area. Entry to the Amédée Lemozi Museum is included in the price of the ticket for the guided tour of Pech Merle.

Booking Tickets for Pech Merle Cave

Visitors are required to reserve a place on a guided tour by booking online @ the Official Website. Please note, the page says there are no refunds. I made a mistake with a booking, and they happily changed the details when I telephoned them.

Guided tours of Pech Merle are available in French and English only. And for 2021 the English tours are only available on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays in August. If you do not speak French, and can read English, you can ask for their printed guide: it is a very simple document with an introduction and a few sentences explaining each of the stops on the guided tour.

Accessibility

The official website has an extensive disability access statement here.

What Else is There to See Near Pech Merle?

To the north of Pech Merle are two other decorated Stone Age caves, Les Grottes de Cougnac and La Grotte des Merveilles. Both are about an hour drive from Cabrerets. For more rock art in France, check our Interactive Rock Art Map.

La Grotte des Merveilles is a great cave to visit for the geology, but there is not much rock art to see. The cave is, however, just above the medieval pilgrim town of Rocamadour. A must for anyone who enjoys the history of medieval religion and pilgrimage sites in France.

Cabrerets is only a 15 minute drive from the beautiful village of Saint-Cirq-Lapopie. Also on the Camino St Jaques, the village, one of France’s most beautiful, is on the side of a steep cliff 100 m above the Lot River. The Impressionist artist Henri Martin made the town popular with other writers and artists, including the writer André Breton. For more archaeology and history near Pech Merle, see our Interactive Map of France.

Peche Merle and Saint Cirq Lapopie Day Trip From Toulouse

For those staying in Toulouse, combine Palaeolithic cave art with a medieval village voted France’s most beautiful in 2102 national poll. Take a day trip to Pech Merle and Saint-Cirq-Lapopie with a personal guide … more information and book online with GetYourGuide.

Add Pech Merle to Your Itinerary & Travel Lists

Pech Merle

Since the discovery of the paintings in 1922 research on the paintings at Pech Merle, including the techniques used to make the images, what pigments the artists used, and also how some of the more complex panels developed over time, have been at the forefront of research on and debates about the meaning of Palaeolithic cave art in western Europe. Without doubt, this is one of the most striking decorated caves still open to the public in France – and should really not be missed. It is also the easiest cave to book tickets for.

Archaeology Travel Writer

Thomas Dowson

With a professional background in archaeology and a passion for travel, I founded Archaeology Travel to help more people explore our world’s fascinating pasts. Born in Zambia, I trained as an archaeologist at the University of the Witwatersrand (South Africa) and taught archaeology at the universities of Southampton and Manchester (England). Read More

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