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Report 1947: The Dordogne

By Winnick from Texas, Spring 2011

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Page 9 of 19: June 21 - Lascaux, Montignac, St. Leon sur Vezere, La Roque St Christophe, La Madeleine

photo by Mike Winnick

St. Leon sur Vezere

Lots of visits today in the Vezere valley. This area is well known for its abundance of caves with paintings and Cro-Magnon and Troglodyte man.

We started with our visit to Lascaux II. The original cave had to be closed because the millions of visitors each year were causing humidity to rise as well as various destructive growths that were damaging the paintings. So, just like at Egypt's Abu Simbel, where they relocated the entire monument to avoid the flooding river, here they built an exact replica of the original caves and their paintings using the latest technology so that it was exact to within five millimeters of the original site's construction though a few hundred meters away in another cave. Although Lascuax II cave is a reproduction, the artistic workmanship and effort that went into reproducing this cave is incredible.

Pech Merle was very good and very large with multiple rooms to go through. Lascaux is very short, two large rooms of about 80 meters in length. But the quality of the paintings was magnitudes better. It is amazing to see the artistry of people that lived 17,000 years ago, their use of color and their precision considering all they could do was spit colors on the wall or daub color on with fur, while using their hands to act as a template and form the shape.

We then stopped in the small village of Montignac, close to where Lascaux is. Montignac is another medieval village with the Vezere River running through it and interesting streets, houses and river area. This village welcomes you with brilliantly colored paper flowers strung on wires crisscrossing the streets. We would later find this same welcome in some other villages in the area.

Then on to St. Leon sur Vezere, a very small village on the Vezere, with a small historic center where we stopped for Le Dejeuner sur l'Herbe (lunch on the grass). We ate at picnic tables along the river where two cats, a Siamese and a fluffy black one, joined us to eat what we didn't.

Then we were off to La Roque St. Christophe. This is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. The area, over a kilometer in length on five levels of cuts in the cliff-side, was first inhabited at least 25,000 years ago by people who lived under the overhanging cliffs that were eaten into the soft mountainside. They built houses there much like the Anasazi cliff dwellers in Arizona. The site is a few hundred feet above the river and the views panoramic.

Our final stop was at La Madeleine (no, not the restaurant), a site inhabited by troglodytes (prehistoric men who lived in caves) over 17,000 years ago and then continually through the middle ages by following civilizations. It was only discovered in 1863. This too was an area built into caves, or rather openings in the rock face of the cliff to which were added stones and rocks to form walls, rooms and protection.

Music Festival

On the way to dinner tonight we discovered that there was a music festival in Sarlat to celebrate the summer solstice. As we walked around the streets on the way to dinner we noticed bandstands being set up for the evening on many streets and squares.

After dinner there were tons of people walking the streets and the center of the village was blocked off to cars for the festival. There were at least 50 different musical acts set up around the town, playing everything from rock, pop, jazz, country, classical, small and large acts plus dancing in the streets.

We came upon a group called Sarlat Country Dance. They wore cowboy hats and boots and performed country line dancing to American country music! There were 95 in the group and we talked to one of the members who said they had been doing this for five years. What an experience to be a part of this celebration.

We thoroughly enjoyed the evening and at 11:30 headed back to the apartment.

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