Mas d'Azil Village and Cave
Grand Site de Midi-Pyrénées
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Mas d’Azil cave – in the Ariège department of south west of France - is the only cave in Europe that can be crossed by car.
The cave was formed some 2 million years ago and is now famous for the many artifacts found here that bear witness to a human inhabitance during the prehistoric times of "Magdalenian" period – some 17,000 to 12,000 years ago - and "Azilian" period – between 12,000 and 9,000 years ago.
The best known items found in the cave are the painted pebbles (see photos) now world renowned and that transfered the name of the Mas d’Azil village to the "Azilian" historic period.
In more recent centuries the cave became a gathering and prayer place for persecuted religious minorities of the time like the Christians in the 3rd century the Cathars in the 13th century and the Protestants in the 16th century.
Today the visitor can admire the extended galleries of the cave beautifully illuminated by light designer René Stinville who created also the lighting for the “Place du Capitol” in Toulouse and the” Arc de Triomphe” in Paris.
The Mas d'Azil cave is listed a Historic Monument as well as a "Grand Site de Midi-Pyrénées".
The village of Mas d’Azil – situated at less the 1km away from the cave – was founded in the 13th century around a Benedictine abbey dedicated to Saint Etienne dating from the 807 AD (year of its first written mention).
In the beginning of the 14th century the village was fortified by its overlord Count Gaston I de Foix who found himself in a perennial war with its neighbors the Counts of Armagnac and Comminges.
In the 16th century Mas d’Azil like all its region (Navarre) becomes protestant and the abbey is destroyed (in 1569). At the peace treaty between Catholics and Protestants in 1629 the town’s fortified walls are demolished and the new Catholic Church is built starting from 1649.
The village features also a Prehistoric Museum which displays many of the artifacts found in the cave including the skull of a young 15 - 20 years old girl that lived in the "Magdalenian" period and who was named...Magda by the archeologists.