Grotte de Bédeilhac


Useful Information

Location: Near Niaux and Fontanet, Ariege.
(42.87174271063275, 1.5707122214022584)
Open: Christmas holdiays, Winter holidays daily 14:30, 16:30.
All Saints' day holidays, Easter holidays daily 14:15, 17.
APR to JUN daily 14:15, 17.
JUL to AUG daily 10-17:30, last tour 17:15.
SEP daily 14:15, 17.
OCT to APR Sun 15.
Closed 25-DEC, 01-JAN.
[2011]
Fee: Adults EUR 9, Children (6-17) EUR 5.50, Children (0-5) free, Students (-26) EUR 6.90, Family (2+2) EUR 24.
[2021]
Classification: SpeleologyKarst cave ArchaeologyPainted Cave
Light: torch provided
Dimension: A=690m asl, L=2,240m, T=12°C.
Portal: H=17m, W=40m.
Guided tours: D=90min, L=750m. Français - French English Español - Spanish
walking sticks, canes, strollers prohibited. Baby carriers and backpacks permitted.
Photography: forbidden
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: Henri Breuil, G. Vidal (1925): Découverte de peintures à Bédeilhac C.R. Acadédemie Inscriptions et Belles-Lettres. Séance du 14 août 1925, p.222 Français - French
R. Robert (1943): Nouvelles fouilles à Bédeilhac Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française, 1943, tome 40, No.10-12, pp. 276-281 Français - French
R. Robert (1946): Fouilles à la grotte de Bédeilhac Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française, 1946, tome 43, No. 9-12. pp. 322-326 Français - French
L. Nougier, R. Robert (1951): Hameçons néolithiques Bulletin de la Société préhistorique française, 1951, tome 48, No. 7-8. pp. 307-322 Français - French
A. Beltrán, R. Robert, R. Gailli (1967): La Cueva de Bédeilhac Zaragoza 1967 Français - French
Hans Georg Bandi (1988): Mise bas et non défécation. Nouvelle interprétation de trois propulseurs magdaléniens sur des bases zoologiques, éthologiques et symboliques Espacio, Tiempo y Forma, Série I, Prehistoria, t. I, 1988, pp. 133-147 Français - French pdf
René Gaili (2006): La Grotte préhistorique de Bédeilhac Editions Lacour, 2006 Français - French
R. Gailli (2006): La Grotte de Bédeilhac - Préhistoire, Histoire et Histoires Editions Larrey cdl, 2006 Français - French
Address: Grotte Prehistorique de Bedeilhac, 09400 Bedeilhac, Tel: +33-561-059506, Fax: +33-561-051315. E-mail:
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

1773 first description of the cave by Marcorelle.
1866 diggings by Édouard Filhol, Jean Baptiste Noulet and Felix Garrigou.
1906 first prehistoric paintings of bisons, horses, reindeer and ibex discovered by Edouard Harlé and identified by Abbé Henri Breuil and Hugo Obermaier.
1924-25 G. Vidal excavates the contents of the gallery which bears his name today.
1927 R. Sawtell, I. Treat and P. Vaillant-Couturier visit the cave and publish a description in the book Primitive Hearths in the Pyrenees. They describe some objects discovered almost on the surface in the middle of the Final Room: arrowheads, a scraper, and teeth of horses with bore holes.
1927-29 excavations by Joseph Mandement and B. Jauze on the terraces of the Room of the Fall. Discovered many engraved plates.
18-SEP-1929 declared a Historic Monument.
1929 one of the first films ever shot underground produced in the cave.
1935-39 excavations by the Commander E. Octobon and his son Robert in the Final Room.
1941 excavations of R. Robert at the entrance of the gallery on the right-hand side (published in the Bulletin de la Société Préhistorique Française (B.S.P.F.), 1943).
1944 levelling work by the Germans destroys the access ramp, R. Robert makes an excavations to rescue the content of Vidal gallery (published in the Bulletin de la Société Préhistorique Française (B.S.P.F.), 1946).
1940-1945 used as an underground factory.
1950 M. Martel discovers a Magdalénian hiding-place in Vidal gallery. An engraved plate of a rear-axle of a horse was found.
1950-53 excavations by R. Robert in the Vidal gallery (published in the Bulletin de la Société Préhistorique Ariégeoise (B.S.P.A.), 1953).
1974 for the movie Le Passe-Montagne by Christian Bernadac a plane starts from inside the cave.
1993-96 excavations by Michel Barbaza in the Vidal gallery (published in B.S.P.A, 1997).

Description

The Grotte de Bédeilhac (Cave of Bédeilhac) is located in the basin of Tarascon-sur-Ariège. Its a huge entrance portal made it a good shelter for humans during the middle and late Magdalénien. This is proven by two horizons with human remains, which were excavated in various locations in this cave. Dating was possible by the style of the discovered remains, and by the ArchaeologyC14-dating.

The cave has a huge entrance portal. In old photographs the entrance section is used as a parking lot. This is a result of the enormous size, up to 40m wide and 80m high and almost 1km long is the main passage or "entrance chamber". As a result of its size it was used for various purposes. The level floor of today is a result of its use as an underground factory during World War II. It started with Emile Dewoitine, an aircraft manufacturer in Toulouse, who had the idea of setting up his assembly plants in the cave. The French military occupied the cave from 1938, and they started leveling the entrance floor. But soon France was occupied and the French army retreated, and no plane had been built inside the cave. Then the Germans discovered the cave in 1943 and levelled the cave floor for 350m and and laid a concrete base for the first 100m on which aircraft were stored and buildings constructed. On the first 350 metres of cave floor they destroyed most of the archaeological deposits. Again the cave was not really used to produce planes and stories about newly constructed planes starting from the cave to join the war are just legends. But nevertheless this is how the entrance hall got its level concrete floor.

But the destructions are not yet over. After the war the cave is again occupied by the French army, who made it a material depot. Then a local company used it as a storage place for sand and gravel from the neighboring quarry, for which a hopper and electricity was installed.

The famous photograph with a plane starting from the cave is much younger. In 1972 pilot Georges Bonnet achieved a unique sporting feat and a world first. He twice landed and took off from the cave with a small plane. The pilot and the cave became widely known. In 1974 Ariégeois Christian Bernadac filmed the movie Le Passe-Montagne inside the cave. This movie tells the story how the Germans built an aircraft factory in Bédeilhac. And again the cave has to suffer damages, on one evening the film set in the cave caught fire and there was the danger that the fumes would damage the paintings. Fortunately it was an exceptionally rainy year and the smoke was cleaned by the high humidity.

But there are many legends around the plane and the movie. One tells that the test pilot Georges Bonnet from Tarbes launched his plane from inside the Bédeilhac cave for the movie. Also wrong is the story that the plane which is exhibited inside the cave until today landed in the cave in 1972, and was unable to leave again. Its quite astonishing that it is impossible to find out the true events of this rather recent cave history. So websites, cave guides and visitors do their best to make up fantastic stories about planes and caves. We understand the faszination, its a little bit like the movie Sky Captain and the World of Tomorrow.

Unique are clay sculptures, which were only found here and in three other sites: Tuc-in Audoubert, Montespan and Labouiche. They show bisons and vulvas. There are engravings of animals on the floor, mostly horses and bisons. It is quite hard to even see them, it is necessary to place a lamp at the exactly right spot to see the shadows. Special are also black positive hand prints on stalagmites. Most hands were made by spraying colour on the hand, so the hand is a negative inside a patch of colour. Here the hands were painted with black mangane, probably by covering the hand in colour and then pressing it on the stalagmite. Other findings are flint scrapers, teeth of horses with bore holes, and many paintings and engravings on the walls.