Site: Rock art
La Grotte du Pech Merle is one of the most striking cave art sites still open to the public – and some of its painted panels really are quite breathtaking. It is a large cave, with over two kilometres of underground tunnels and caverns; the geology of which is every bit as interesting as the prehistoric paintings. Only about a third of it is now shown to the public. 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.
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.
Facilities & Visiting Pech Merle:
The cave is open every day, including Sundays and national holidays, from the beginning of April to the beginning of November. During the winter, the cave is open on selected days – see the website for these dates. As there is a limit of 700 visitors per day, it is advisable to arrive earlier rather than later in the day. Or even book in advance, which is particularly advisable during July and August. Reservations can be made online (see the website), or by telephone – about three or four days before your proposed visit (+33 5 65 31 27 05).
The guided tour of the cave takes about one hour; you are shown not only the magnificent paintings, but also the geological features of the cave itself. Guided commentary is available in the following languages: English, Danish, Dutch, German, Hebrew, Italian, Japonaise, Russian and Spanish.
The official website has an extensive disability access statement.
Where is Pech Merle?
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- Official website
- Archaeology Travel article: Tips for Visiting the Dordogne’s Ice Age Caves with Children
Photographs & Video of Pech Merle