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Grotte Chauvet: The Sole Unesco Site Off-Limits to Public

Grotte Chauvet, in southern France, has the unusual distinction of being the only Unesco World Heritage Site the public is not allowed to visit.

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Situated in the mountainous Ardèche region in southern France, the cave is home to over 1,000 Stone Age cave paintings of mammoths, bears, lions, rhinos, bison, and other species of mammals that are now extinct, drawn and painted in charcoal and red ochre, spread out across six cave chambers.

 

Grotte Chauvet: The World’s Greatest Cave Paintings

Therein also lies a phenomenal panel of charcoal-sketched lions and animal bones believed to belong to cave bears that hibernated in the cave during Ice Age winters. These bears could have been trapped in the cave after a rockslide, which blocked the entrance, over 20,000 years ago. From then on, this exceptional display of prehistoric art remained unseen, untouched, and undiscovered until 1994.

Due to the fear of damaging the great works in the Chauvet Cave, the French Ministry of Culture has banned all public access, with permission granted only to scientists and researchers. Only 280 people, including scientists, conservators, and specialists, were allowed to enter the cave for research or conservation purposes. This cautiousness stems from the artistic and historical tragedy that resulted in the severe damage and decay to the art of the Lascaux Cave in southwest France.

The vast number of visitors that entered Lascaux disturbed the fragile atmospheric equilibrium in the cave, introducing highly increased levels of carbon dioxide and humidity and encouraging the growth of bacteria and algae on the cave walls, which ended up covering some of the precious paintings. To prevent a repetition of this devastation, French authorities embarked on a grand project to create a replica of the Chauvet Cave a few miles away from the original.

 

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