The Pont d’Arc Cavern: an unbelievable technological, artistic and scientific challenge
Initiated in 2007 by the Rhône-Alpes region and the Ardèche department, with support from the French State and Europe, the project to promote the exceptional Pont d'Arc decorated cave, known as the Chauvet cave, had two complementary objectives:
- To reveal and share the universal heritage left by our prehistoric ancestors with as many people as possible, by creating the largest and most ambitious replica of a decorated cave ever made.
- To launch an outreach and economic and cultural development dynamic for the Ardèche and Rhône-Alpes, particularly focusing on the cave's inclusion on the UNESCO World Heritage List, effective as of June 22, 2014.
The Pont d'Arc cave was constructed on the heights of Vallon Pont d’Arc, in the heart of the Razal site (15 hectares). The site includes five complementary parts: the Cavern (the recreated cave), The Aurignacian Gallery (permanent exhibition centre), the pedagogical centre, the temporary exhibition space, the events space, and the restaurant-shop. The architects decided on a dispersed structure, with the buildings integrated into the topography of the site, implanted low to the ground, as discreetly as possible: "a footprint in the landscape".
The Pont d’Arc cavern was created in close cooperation with the international scientific committee, led by Jean Clottes and with regular support from three members of the research team who studied the original cave: Jean-Michel Geneste (prehistorian and parietalist), Jean-Jacques Delannoy (geomorphologist) and Philippe Fosse (paleontologist).
For Cavern, the aim was to immerse visitors in an underground atmosphere: cool, damp and dark, to replicate the experience of the discoverers of the original cave, Jean-Marie Chauvet, Éliette Brunel and Christian Hillaire. It was a massive challenge: to recreate a real cavity, with its floors, walls and vaults, a whole and realistic underground landscape to host human and animal remains, as well as humanity's first masterpieces. Faced with the technical impossibility of reproducing the whole original cave, the remarkable elements were identified first. Using a digital 3D survey of the original cavity, a new cave with a floor area of 3000 m² and 8200 m² of developed surfaces (floors, walls, and ceilings) was created by Guy Perazio and his team. Each element was logged in detail, with a 3D survey, photos, and a technical description (colours, dimensions, textures, formation processes, bibliographical references).
To rise to this difficult and new challenge of creating the largest ever replica of a decorated cave, a unique human community formed, bringing together complementary industrial, artisan, and artistic skills.
The project supervisors were the architects Fabre-Speller – Atelier3A, landscaper Franck Neau and the Scène agency, and the works overall were managed by the SOCRA-Campenon Bernard Régions group of Vinci Construction France.
The synthesis and technical development of the project were conducted by Campenon Bernard Régions with the support of the Methods department, the Topography department, the Cabinet Guy Perazio and the Créatine company.
The companies Arc et Os (Alain Dalis), Création Graphique (GillesTosello) and Déco-Diffusion made the decorated panels. These panels were placed in an 8200 m² replica cave, shaped, put together, sculpted and coloured by Freyssinet-Cofex-AAB. Finally, the geological elements were created and inserted by the Phénomènes company and the bones by Cossima-Dasplet. The works took place from summer 2012 to March 2015, and 55 million euros were invested by the Rhône-Alpes Region (14.7 M), the Ardèche Department (14.7 M), the French State (12.2 M), Europe (9.9 M) and the company Kléber Rossillon (3.5 M).
The Aurignacian Gallery
The Aurignacian Gallery (discovery centre) is the second cultural centre of the Pont d’Arc Cave site. It complements the immersion in the Cavern. The 800 m² gives a better understanding of who the women and men living in this area 36,000 years ago were.
The scenography by the Tempora agency develops three major themes:
- Our prehistoric ancestors: Who were they? Where did they come from? What did they do?
- Ardèche 36,000 years ago: with Earth in a ice age, what did the Ardèche and its landscapes where our ancestors lived look like?
- Cave wall art, the original art. The Pont d’Arc Cavern is the only place in France and one of the few sites in the world dealing with the art created by our ancestors. How did they do it? What artistic techniques did they use? What themes do they address? What meaning did they attribute to their art?
To find out more about the unique history of this creation, visit: www.lacavernedupontdarc.org
To plan your visit to the site, see: www.lacavernedupontdarc.fr