Are you planning a trip to southern France to enjoy the Riviera and the French Alps? Might we suggest a trip to a small commune by the name of Vallon-Pont-d’Arc? Besides the rustic beauty of the town and the nearby natural bridge that gives the place its name (“pont d’arc” means bridge of the arc), it is also home to the most ancient exhibition of realistic art, which you can view on-site or using a virtual interactive tour right now.
Discovered in 1994, the Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc-Cave is considered one of the most important sites of prehistoric archeology and art, and it was inhabited by humans about 30,000 years ago. One of the reasons the cave is so important and worth seeing is that it breaks every stigma you might have about prehistoric cave art: the animals portrayed on the cave walls are not stick figures nor drawn in the childish, rough style you might expect of a caveman (or a 5-year old). Instead, you’ll find portraits of bison, lions, elk, horses and rhinoceros that belie an understanding of anatomy, textures, drama and shadowing.
A pack of lions hunting bison
30,000 years ago, there were rhinoceros in Europe
Horses, rhinoceros and oxen. Note the textures
There’s one slight hitch: the cave is closed to visitors, as the art in another cave in France had been irreparably damaged by the carbon dioxide breathed out by thousands of tourists. Not to worry! In 2015, the French authorities opened a full-size replica of the cave, with artists painstakingly reproducing the majestic Paleolithic art.
You can even take a 3D virtual tour of the cave here. Choose either a self-visit or a guided tour, then click and drag the mouse pointer on the screen to navigate through the cave. The guided tour will show you specific artworks of note that can be found in the cave, but you can also find them out on your own. Points of interest will be marked by a white bull’s-eye:
Click on bull’s-eye to receive more information about the object in question (you can click on the pictures to get an enhanced, full-screen image):
Once you enlarge the picture, you can receive further information on it by clicking the ⓘ icon:
To visit different chambers or see different artworks, click on one of the dots on the bar at the bottom of the page: