Top Ten European Cave/Rock Paintings

Top Ten European Cave/Rock Paintings

Europe is home to some of the most beautiful and insightful cave paintings in the world, including what many consider to be the “Sistine Chapel” of cave paintings, the Altimira Cave located in Spain.

  1. Altamira Cave (16,500–12,000 BC)

    Considered by many as the “Sistine Chapel” of Cave Art, Altamira (Spanish for ‘high view’) is a cave in Spain famous for its Upper Paleolithic cave paintings featuring drawings and polychrome rock paintings of wild mammals and human hands. Its special relevance comes from the fact it was the first cave in which prehistoric cave paintings were discovered, leading to a controversy during the late 19th century because many people did not believe prehistoric man had the intellectual capacity to produce any kind of artistic expression. It is located near the town of Santillana del Mar in Cantabria, Spain, 30 km west of the city of Santander.
    Links: Top Ten Spanish Attractions, Top 100 Spanish Paintings,,
  2. Lauscaux, France (15,000 BC)

    Lascaux is the setting of a complex of caves in southwestern France famous for its Paleolithic cave paintings. The original caves are located near the village of Montignac, in the Dordogne département. They contain some of the best-known Upper Paleolithic art. These paintings are estimated to be 17,000 years old. They primarily consist of realistic images of large animals, most of which are known from fossil evidence to have lived in the area at the time.
    Links: Top Ten French AttractionsTop 100 French Paintings,,
  3. Chauvet Cave, France

    The Chauvet Cave or Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave is a cave in the Ardèche department of southern France that contains the earliest known cave paintings, as well as other evidence of Upper Paleolithic life. It is located near the commune of Vallon-Pont-d’Arc on a limestone cliff above the former bed of the Ardèche River. Discovered in 1994, it is considered one of the most significant prehistoric art sites. The cave was first explored on December 18, 1994 by a trio of speleologists: Eliette Brunel Deschamps, Christian Hillaire, and Jean-Marie Chauvet, for whom it was named. On top of the paintings and other human evidence they also discovered fossilized remains, prints, and markings from a variety of animals, some of which are now extinct. Further study by French archaeologist Jean Clottes has revealed much about the site, though the dating has been the matter of some dispute.
    Links: Top Ten French Attractions,,
  4. Font de Gaume, France (17,000 BC)

    Font de Gaume is a cave in southwestern France near Les Eyzies. The cave houses a collection of prehistoric polychrome cave paintings and is a popular site for tourists. Prehistoric people living in the Dordogne Valley first settled in the mouth of Font de Gaume around 25,000 BC. The cave mouth was inhabited at least sporadically for the next several thousand years. However, after the original prehistoric inhabitants left, the cave was forgotten until the nineteenth century when local people again began to visit the cave. In 1901, Denis Peyrony, a school teacher from Les Eyzies, discovered the paintings inside Font de Gaume. The paintings date from the Magdalénien period. The cave’s most famous painting, a frieze of five bison was discovered accidentally in 1966 while scientists were cleaning the cave. Font de Gaume holds over 200 polychrome paintings and is considered the best example of polychrome painting other than Lascaux, which is now closed to the public. The paintings in Font de Gaume include depictions of more than 80 bison, approximately 40 horse depictions, and more than 20 mammoth depictions.
    Links: Top Ten French Attractions,,
  5. Cave of Niaux, Salon Noire, France

    The Cave of Niaux is located in Niaux in the Ariège département of south-western France. Like Lascaux it contains many prehistoric paintings of superior quality, in the case of Niaux from the Magdalenian period. From the very beginning of the 17th century the cave was of great interest for tourists who left numerous traces on its walls. People, visited the cave, did not imagine that the paintings of the “Salon Noire” were so old. Only in 1906 did captain Molar and his sons make a plan of the cave and discover the paintings of the “Salon Noire.” Niaux attracted the specialists’ attention. In 1907 it was investigated by H. Breuill and E.Cartailhac. But discovery of the “Salon Noire” paintings was only the beginning. In 1925 J. Mandeman found a gallery with some black paintings and called it Cartailhac Gallery. Later it was established that the paintings had been emerging on the cave walls during a long period between 11,500 and 10,500 BC. The main entrance to the Niaux cave used for visitors is now further up the hillside than it once was. In ancient times, there would have been several lower, smaller entrances.
    Links: Top Ten French Attractions,
  6. Cosquer Cave, France

    The Cosquer cave is located in the Calanque de Morgiou near Marseille, France, not very far from Cap Morgiou. This cave, the entrance of which is located undersea nowadays, was discovered by Henri Cosquer in 1985 and declared to the authorities in 1991.
    Links: Top Ten French Attractions,
  7. Pech Merle Cave Paintings, France (23,000-14,000 BC)

           Pech Merle is a cave which opens onto a hillside at Cabrerets in the Lot département of the Midi-Pyrénées region in France, about 35 minutes by road east of Cahors. It is the home of one of the few prehistoric cave painting sites in France which remain open to the general public. Extending for more than a mile from the entrance are caverns the walls of which are painted with dramatic murals dating from the Gravettian culture (23,000 BC). Some of the paintings and engravings, however, could date from the later Magdalenian era (14,000 BC) This area once had a great river flowing through it, cutting underground channels which were later used by humans for shelter and eventually for mural painting.
    Links: Top Ten French Attractions,
  8. Val Camonica, Italy (10,000 BC)

    The ancient history of Valle Camonica begins with the end of last ice age, around 15,000 years ago when the glacier, melting, creates the valley. The inhabitants, who had begun to visit the valley already in epipaleolithic, settled from the Neolithic. They were called by Romans the Camunni, people of uncertain origin, famous for stone carvings: in Val Camonica they left about 300,000 petroglyphs, which made the area the largest center of rock art in Europe. Towards the end of the first century BC Valle Camonica is attached to Roman Empire and founded the city of Cividate Camuno, with spas, theater and amphitheater and a sanctuary of Minerva, among the largest in the Alps.
    Links: Top Ten Italian Attractions,
  9. Astuvansalmi Rock Paintings, Finland

    The Astuvansalmi rock paintings are located in Finland at the shores of the lake Yövesi, which is a part of the large lake Saimaa. The rock paintings are the largest found in the whole of Scandinavia. They consist of 65 paintings. The rock paintings were officially found by the Finnish archaeologist Pekka Sarvas in 1968, though locals knew about them already before that.
    Links: Top Ten Finnish Attractions,,
  10. Cueva de La Pasiega, Spain

    Cueva de La Pasiega, or Cave of La Pasiega, situated in the Spanish municipality of Puente Viesgo, is one of the most important monuments of Paleolithic art in Cantabria. It is included in the Unesco schedule of Human Heritage since July 2008, under the citation “Cave of Altamira and Paleolithic cave art of Northern Spain.”
    Links: Top Ten Spanish Attractions,,
  11. Bonus: Magura Cave Painting (10,000 BC)

  12. Bonus: Creswell Crag Paintings, England

    Creswell Crags is a limestone gorge on the border between Derbyshire and Nottinghamshire, England near the villages of Creswell, Whitwell and Elmton. The cliffs of the ravine contain several caves that were occupied during the last ice age, between 43,000-10,000 years ago. The caves contain occupation layers with evidence of flint tools from the Mousterian, proto-Solutrean, Creswellian and Maglemosian cultures. They were seasonally occupied by nomadic groups of people during the Upper Palaeolithic and Mesolithic periods. Evidence of Neolithic, Bronze Age, Roman and post-medieval activity has also been found there. The main phases of Stone Age occupation were at around 43,000 BC then in a period between 30,000 and 28,000 BC and then again around 10,000 BC. To this day the finds at Creswell Crags represent the most northerly finds in Europe.
    Links: Top Ten English Attractions,
  13. Bonus: Cussac Cave

    The Cussac Cave (Buisson-de-Cadouin, Dordogne), was discovered on 30 September 2000 by Marc Delluc, a speleologist who immediately told Norbert Aujoulat about it. Aujoulat did the official expert assessment of the cave on 8 October 2000, together with Christian Archambeau. From the first they recognized the authenticity and the archaeological importance of the engravings and of the human skeletons, the resemblances of the art in Cussac with that in Quercy (in Pech-Merle in particular), and the likelihood of all the art being Gravettian.
  14. Bonus: La Marche, France

    La Marche is a cave and archaeological site located in Lussac-les-Châteaux, a commune in the department of Vienne, western France. The carved etchings discovered there in 1937 show 15,000 year-old detailed depictions of humans. The cave paintings at this site are controversial and many doubt their authenticity.
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