The Grotte du Mas d´Azil, discovery of a world-famous prehistoric cave in Ariège

Le Mas-d'Azil
The Grotte du Mas d´A ...

Ariège has a vast underground natural world and majestic caves that have survived the ages. Located in the heart of the Planturel massif, the Mas d'Azil cave is probably the most spectacular example. This gigantic cavity contains one of the most famous prehistoric caves in Europe and has even given its name to a period of Prehistory through the exceptional remains that it has delivered over the course of explorations: the Azilian. On the banks of the Arize, sheltered by a huge porch, the Mas d'Azil cave offers visitors a real journey through time! Classified among the Great Sites of the Pyrenees, this unusual and grandiose place is imperative to discover during a stay in Ariège.


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An exceptional site


Mas d'Azil cave


We are traveling the winding road through the valley towards Mas d'Azil when suddenly a gigantic rock wall pierced with a natural porch stands in front of us! The road continues under the cavity for a length of 420 meters plunging us into semi-darkness. Here is the only cave in Europe that can be crossed by car! A sensational introduction.  

Let's go back in time! Two million years ago, the Arize river stumbled against the cliff and hollowed out a porch 70 meters high and wide to cross the Plantaurel massif and come out five hundred meters further. In the 19th century, construction work on the road under the cave yielded the first archaeological remains that allow us to identify a prehistoric culture still unknown. The site captures the attention of archaeologists, collectors and historians, and excavations continue to this day.  

The magic of the cave

Mas d'Azil cave  Mas d'Azil cave
Mas d'Azil cave
Entrance and ticket office of the Grotto

Located along the road, a reception building gives access to the entrance to the cave. However, you must park your vehicle before the tunnel to take on foot a footbridge that runs along the road above the river to reach the building integrated into the cave. Our guide is waiting for us and it is in a small group that we enter the enclosure of this geological curiosity, classified as a Historic Monument since 1942. We enter the first room of the cave of incredible dimensions, the Temple room, and we leave. immediately carried away by the magic of the place. The superb lighting of the cavities reflects its immensity and it is with wonder that we admire the geological formation of the cave. The modern and immersive lighting was entrusted to René Stinville, who notably highlighted the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. Light-emitting diodes are installed all along the route so as not to release heat.


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In the footsteps of our ancestors

Let's go for an hour of guided tour to relive the excavations of archaeologists through their discoveries: superb engraved and sculpted objects including the famous " bird fawn " as well as animal bones from the Ice Age testify to the documented presence of mammoths, woolly rhinos, bears and prehistoric humans.  

In this immense natural shelter where these animals first took refuge, different cultures succeeded one another at the hinge between the hunter-gatherers of the Paleolitic and the sedentary of the Neolithic: the Aurignacians (40,000 BC), the Magdalenians (16,000 years BC) and the Azilians (13,000 to 9,000 BC). Here no stalagtites or stalagmites, it is a dry cave, inhabited today mainly by colonies of bats.


Mas d'Azil cave

The Temple Hall

Mas d'Azil cave

The Bear Gallery contains multiple bones - Photo © LIONEL RUHIER


The Hall of the Temple is the largest in the cave. We then cross a succession of various galleries which all played a role in the social life of prehistoric men. In the gallery of Flint was discovered the propellant of the " bird fawn " and a pierced stick which represents the front of a horse. The guide presents us with intact replicas to illustrate its explanations on the ingenuity of these artists and formidable hunters. Then comes the Mandement room, named in memory of Joseph Mandement, this journalist and photographer passionate about Prehistory who initiated excavations in 1937. His finds were exceptional: a network of incredible galleries and above all, the skull of a young Magdalenian girl who shook historians across the world. The visit continues by exploring the Bear Gallery which houses many bones of these wild animals which reigned supreme in prehistoric caves. Finally the Piette room, located on the right bank of the Arize, is named in honor of Edouard Piette, the first real archaeologist of the place with his excavations undertaken between 1887 and 1894. He is also the one who brought to light a new prehistoric culture: that of the Azilians.


Mas d'Azil cave

Mas d'Azil cave A succession of impressive rooms and galleries - Photo © LIONEL RUHIER

Mas d'Azil cave


After an hour of captivating visit, the interpretation center allows you to understand in detail the life of the first men who occupied the site thanks to an interactive museography and reproductions of paintings and engravings inaccessible to the public.


Mas d'Azil cave

The Interpretation Center

Mas d'Azil cave

Photo © LIONEL RUHIER

Coming out of the cave, a strange feeling of existing today thanks to these prehistoric ancestors seizes us. Could they imagine for a moment that 40,000 years later visitors of the 21st century would marvel at their place of life and at all this priceless heritage handed over to Humanity, eager to discover their past!  

The Museum of Prehistory of Mas d'Azil

To extend the visit and discover the rich collection of objects found in the cave, the Museum of Prehistory is located 800 meters away, in the heart of the town of Mas d'Azil. It will perfectly complement this journey through time! It is free to access with the entrance ticket to the cave.

Enjoy your visit in the footsteps of our ancestors!  

Reservations recommended all year round.


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Report and photos produced by Lesley Williamson for the Toulouse Pyrenees Guide


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