Sunday, 28 May 2017

Carcassonne Day 3

Today Antoine picked us up and we went to The Prehistory Theme Park which reconstructs the lives of the people who made the paintings. The onsite museum has reproductions of the paintings from Niaux, as well as from other caves in the area, so these are the images you will see below as photos are not permitted to be taken in the caves.

These were the views of the Pyrenees on the way, with the wild poppy fields just allowed to be.

The parkland at the Prehistory Theme Park were just beautiful, here if you look at the rocky outcrop on top sits a ruin of a castle.

A few examples of the animals that the cave paintings are of.

This is a carving on bone.

In only 4 of about 60-70 caves in France there are also carvings of animals on the ground rock as shown below.

More carvings on bone and antler.

We then drove to the most famous prehistoric cave in Europe. It lies in the Ariege an area rich with prehistoric sites. There are more than 2 kilometres of galleries, with a hundred or more superb paintings of bison, horses and ibex, most of which are in the famous ‘Salon Noir” 800 metres from the entrance. Many of the paintings are done in the classic style of the Magdalenian (around 13,000 BC), outlined in black or red pigment.

Although these are replicas in the museum we did stand within meters of these paintings, something that is so extraordinary to think for so many thousands of years man had been in these caves painting on the very spot where I stood.

The entrance to the cave today it is not the original opening to the cave which is further inside the cave.

The view from the cave over the whole valley is just spectacular. I have been just stunned at the beauty of this land (The Pyrenees) it just makes me want to dance along singing songs from The Sound of Music, so much beauty in such a peaceful and tranquil setting that you can just feel, not only look at. So absolutely spectacular.

After our cave tour I asked Antoine if we could stop at Nôtre-Dame de Sabart a chapel dating from the 8th century, it is located between the communes of Tarascon-sur-Ariège and Ussat in the department of Ariège . According to legend, the foundation of this chapel dates to the Great Karl in 778 to have this built as a place for housing a black Madonna.

Legend has it that in 778 Charlemagne set up camp in the vicinity of Tarascon (Ariège) with the intention of engaging the Saracens. While following the enemy’s trail on the evening of September 8 he found himself at the mouth of a valley that his horse refused to enter. Digging his spurs the horse still refused to move ahead. Twice more he tried to urge the beast forward it remained obstinate; he would not enter the valley. After his third try a luminous Virgin appeared. As Charlemagne gazed upon her, we must imagine not without much awe and wonder, the Virgin disappeared as suddenly as she had appeared. At dawn the emperor assembled his army at the spot of the apparition. They began to dig and discovered a bronze statue upon which was written “Our Lady of Victory.” The soldiers erected a stone altar on the spot. According to the legend, it was his horse’s stubborn refusal to advance which prevented Charlemagne from entering the valley and walking straight into a Saracen trap which would have almost certainly led to his defeat.

The emperor decided to carry the Virgin of Victory to the abbey of St. Volusien at Foix, but after two attempts the statue miraculously disappeared and returned to where she had originally appeared. This was clearly where she wanted to be venerated; Charlemagne ordered a chapel built at the place, thenceforth called Sabart.

Here are the water pipes carrying the water down from the mountains to be bottled as Water from the Pyrenees. The photo does not show the extent or the size of the pipeline.

We stopped at a village Fanjeaux built about the 9th century with a 13th century church built atop the mountain, the age of the village and its buildings was amazing and the view out over the landscape breathtaking.

Here is the old weight building from ancient times used to weight all produce so there were no disputes about the exchange of goods and money etc.

What a day we have had. Amazing. 

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