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UNESCO has inscribed the decorated Cave of Pont d’Arc, known as Grotte Chauvet-Pont d’Arc, on the World Heritage List. It is the culmination of a tireless campaign by the Rhône-Alpes Region and its partners to protect and promote this priceless site.
"This day is no more than an instant in time, but it marks for us the universal recognition of our ancestors' talent." Jean-Jack Queyranne, President of the Regional Council, felt both deeply touched and proud on hearing the long-awaited news that the UNESCO World Heritage Committee, at its meeting in Doha, Qatar, had inscribed the decorated Cave of Pont d'Arc on the World Heritage List. The inscription is the outcome of years of work by Rhône-Alpes and its partners, primarily in designing and financing the exhibition area - the biggest replica in the world - scheduled to open in April 2015, a few hundred metres away from the original cave.
It is the end of the suspense for the entire region, though it had good reasons to hope. The prehistorian Jean Clottes, who surveyed the cave a few days after its discovery, said that "this unique cave, with its marvellous paintings, deserves to be listed by UNESCO". This gem presents three characteristics that are seldom found together: its great age; its excellent conservation; and the richness and abundance of the artistic representations: 1,000 drawings, including 425 animal figures.
A peek into the future replica of the Pont d’Arc cave, a 32,000 year-old site boasting some of humankind's oldest artwork.
Work on the reproduction of the Pont d’Arc cave, the world's largest replica, is currently in full swing. The site is set to open its doors in 2015 in Ardèche. Dozens of professionals in different fields are working together to reproduce the cave and its treasures as faithfully as possible. A framework made up of several hundred metal chassis has been assembled and covered in wire netting, based on high-precision scans of the original. A layer of concrete covered by landscape mortar will serve as the base for artists whose work will be approved at every step of the way by the project's scientific committee.
In space that is close to 8,000 m2 (floors, walls, ceilings), the challenge is to tell the same story as the cave's first occupants: the earliest artwork used red paint, then simple but powerful hand prints near floors littered with bones (mostly animal), and finally the apogee: immense frescos (up to 70 m2) that made use of advanced painting techniques (scraping, the stump technique, perspective, etc.) and showcased lions, panthers, and horses crossing paths with rhinoceroses and mammoths. A silent history that has been preserved for millennia and now becomes a perfect replica of this world heritage.
Human occupation of Rhône-Alpes began at an early stage, as can be seen in the rock paintings in the Palaeolithic sanctuary (32,000 years BC) of the Grotte Chauvet cave system, in Vallon-Pont-d'Arc (Ardèche). Traces of the Neolithic period (3,000 BC to 1,000 BC) are present more or less all over the region (Lake Paladru, Lake Le Bourget, etc.). The Celts, who arrived in the Rhone valley, Northern Dauphiné and the Alps around 650, left very few traces. From the Gallo-Roman period there is little more than a few remains, but what remains they are! For example, on Fourvière hill, the Roman Odeon and the great theatre represent a unique ensemble in France. The High Middle ages (from 500 to 1000) left few visible traces: the choir school in the Saint John Episcopal group in Lyon, the village of Charavines and the agricultural settlement of Larina (in Hières-sur-Amby).
From the middle ages to the French Revolution, noblemen and religious orders built more than 800 castles (chateaux), churches and monasteries. Among these are the Château des Allymes and its military architecture at Ambérieu-en-Bugey, Tour de Crest in Drôme, the highest castle keep in France, or the Castle of the Dukes of Savoy, which dominates the town of Chambéry. The whole region abounds with religious architectural world heritage. Romanesque art is also present in Rhône-Alpes, with Saint-Martin-d'Ainay Basilica in Lyon or the abbey church of Cruas in Vivarais. For gothic enthusiasts, apart from the cathedrals of Vienne or Lyon, the Benedictine abbey of Ambronay (10th and 15th centuries) and the flamboyant church of Brou (16th century) bear witness to the variety of this style in Ain. Under the influence of Italy, the French Renaissance left its mark with the Maison des Chevaliers in Viviers, Château de la Rochelambert in Velay and, near Feurs, Château de la Bastie-d'Urfé.
The baroque period has marked the Tarentaise and Maurienne valleys, with over 60 churches and chapels. The only large ensembles of classical art are to be found in Lyon. The quarter of Les Terreaux dates back to the 17th century, Place Bellecour to the 18th century, while the Fourvière basilica dates from the end of the 19th century. When it comes to the contemporary period (20th century), we should mention Sainte-Marie de la Tourette convent and the Firminy ensemble, which are both the work of Le Corbusier. Firminy is one of the most complete ensembles in the world (after Brasilia), and the Part-Dieu quarter of Lyon. And, rounding off the 20th century, the TGV station at Lyon-Saint Exupéry airport, which came into service in 1994, is a site where concrete, steel and glass come together to form the image of a bird with giant wings.