Niaux Cave Paintings – Alliat, France - Atlas Obscura
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Alliat, France

Niaux Cave Paintings

Trek into the depths of the cave where 17,000-year-old paintings exist alongside 400-year-old graffiti. 

At the foothills of the Pyrenees in southern France lies the Niaux Cave, or la Grotte de Niaux, a giant cave complex with over 8 miles of underground passages and galleries covered in magnificent paleolithic rock art.

Staring at images painted a staggering 15,000 to 17,000 years ago is an awe-inspiring experience. Our prehistoric hunter-gatherer ancestors depicted the animals in their daily life—such as bison, horses, and ibexes—with impressive detail and skill.

More than a hundred paintings from the Magdalenian culture cover the walls of this cave complex, but the most vivid collection is located deep inside the cavern in the “Salon Noir” gallery, so named for the large black paintings found within. These images have been admired by modern visitors since at least the 1600s, as demonstrated by the 400-year-old graffiti covering the walls. 

There’s no light this deep in the cave; a flashlight guides you along the dark and cold trek over very uneven ground. Although the cave used to be filled with stalactites and stalagmites, these were removed hundreds of years ago to be sold, and you can still see the scars from where they used to hang as you walk through the cave. 

Know Before You Go

Access is only by guided tour, which must be booked in advance, especially for English-speaking tours. The paths are fairly steep and slippery and so not recommended for people with walking difficulties. No cameras are allowed inside the cave.