Discovering the Mas-d'Azil caves

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Pebbles from the Mas - ©Didier Descouens / CC-BY-SA Pebbles from the Mas - ©Didier Descouens / CC-BY-SA
Le Mas-d'Azil caves Natural cavity Prehistoric site

The history

This mysterious cave was explored for the first time in 1888. The book La grotte d'Azil by Napoléon Peyrat mentioned the cave was frequented by Guilhabert de Castres, ″patriarch of the Cathars″ in the 12th century and by Calvin in the 16th century. Calvin, why not? Besides, a concretion in the cave is name ″Calvin’s throne″!

The cave was occupied by men since the Prehistory and especially during the war of Religion. Did you know that the cave’s entrances were fortified with a powerful rampart? A remain of those walls, destroyed during the French Revolution, was found: we could see on it Jeanne d’Albret’s blazon… king Henri IV’s mum!

People, during centuries, used this cave like a shelter (Waldensians, Cathars): that’s why they called it Mas d’Azil: in French it means ″refuge house″! 2000 persons could hide here.

The visit

The torrent Arize dug the cave into the mountain. In 1857, they linked the departmental road linking Pamiers to Saint-Girons to a natural tunnel which was part of the cave. So the village of Le Mas has the only cave in Europe you can cross with a car!

A room was called ″Temple room″. Why? We already saw that 2000 Protestants took shelter here in 1625, besieged by Catholics troops. Another room is also known as ″Abbot Breuil’s gallery″, because of the prehistoric engravings found by this man here. Among these drawings, we notice soles: yes, men ate fishes coming from the sea, at that time!

Don’t miss the Prehistory museum, displaying the finds made during excavations:

• Painted pebbles, engraved with iron peroxide: they are typical of the Azilian era, this civilization who used to live in this cave.

You can notice several patterns on them: points, circles, crosses… The book Guide des Pyrénées mystérieuses (editions Tchou) says it's the stylized representation of men and animals… or pebbles used as ″houses″ for the dead’s souls.

• The Magdalenian skull discovered in 1961: the only human remain found in the cave! The skull of a young girl with a missing lower jaw. Pieces of reindeer bones were put behind her eyes. So: why did they do this? Was it a funerary rite? A trophy? A victim of the ″sacred cannibalism″, says the Guide mystérieux? The museum displays the 3D representation of the girl’s face… her name is Magda!

• The gorgeous ″fawn with birds″, a propeller made of reindeer bone. A master-piece! We can see on it two birds perching on a big thing coming from the fawn’s behind. Um, I let you guess what’s that thing...

And also!