This natural entry, a swallow hole in the plateau, was the only access until 1931. It is also called 'the pioneers' entry'.
It was slightly different then as a cone of scree rose halfway up the chamber and made things easier; this can be seen in engravings and photos. There have been numerous archaeological finds in the chamber, showing that it was occupied during all periods. It also served as a refuge for the 'Camisards' during the Wars of Religion.
Joseph Benoit Marsollier de Vivetière, a senior crown official, and his team had lunch here in June 1780, nearly 5 hours after leaving the village; the chamber has been called 'the dining room' ever since. He decided to enlarge the passage that was to lead a month later, in July 1780, to the highpoint of your visit: the descent into the cathedral chamber. Imagine their emotion when they saw this magnificent spectacle! Get ready, and mind you head in the low tunnel!!
Magnificent isn't it? Why a 'cathedral', you might ask.
First because of its majestic dimensions. The chamber is 120 metres long, 52 metres high and 48 metres wide…. or nearly! Indeed, in front of you the amazing wall called 'the curtain with a thousand columns' separates us from a small lateral nave. In the middle of this—you will be behind it shortly—is the 'balcony of the abyss' or the 'lovers' balcony'.
You can see at the side the remains of the first equipment installed to visit the cave: a wrought-iron handrail and a small passage cut into the rock for going all around the chamber at a considerable height. Visiting the cave took 14 hours; and it was dangerous. Two potholers lost their lives there in 1913! The route has since been called 'the devil's path'.
You are on a platform about 70 metres below the surface of the plateau, in the heart of the underground cathedral. In front of you, the famous 'Virgin and child' stalagmite in perfectly white calcite, like a statue, formed drop after drop for hundreds of thousands of years! No, you are not dreaming, and no we did not carve it! Nature handled it all. Around you, above you and below you are just columns, stalagmite formations and gigantic panels of drapery! The legend has it that in medieval times a young shepherd called 'Little John' was minding his flock on the plateau when he saw one of the ewes disappear into the swallow hole, the natural entry. The ewe had not been injured by the fall and was bleating at the bottom of the hole. Courageously, and doubtless fearing the anger of the owner of the flock, the young shepherd climbed down to recover the sheep.
But his curiosity got the better of him. Taking a torch, he went into the galleries of the cave. He even crawled along a small tunnel from which a draught blew on the flame of the torch. But what had to happen did happen. He was not a potholer. He slipped and fell 50 metres. The legend ends well for him. He did not kill himself, his torch did not go out and he managed to climb back out !!!! (there were no stairs).
But he must have had a pretty good bang on the head because when he came out, scared stiff, he told everybody that he had seen hundreds of fairies dancing furiously in a circle, led by a 'white lady'…. You can imagine how frightened the medieval people were! The legend of Cévennes fairies was born and is the origin of the present name of the cave. In southern medieval French, the language that used to be spoken here, the cave was called 'bauma' and the fairies were 'damaïselas', which is not very different to 'demoiselles' in French.
The name changed little by little. 'Bauma' became 'grotte' and the fairies became 'demoiselles'.
It's a nice story, and everything ended well. Even the ewe came out alive!
Here, after crossing a small suspension bridge above a large drop, giving a magnificent view of the depth of the cavity, the guide often 'makes the rock sing' by using the draperies as a lithophone. Listen, but please don't touch. You will soon be back at the upper station of the funicular and the panoramic terraces.
Before leaving, do ask for information about our region. Our tourist office is in Ganges, 5 kilometres away, a town forming a gateway to the 'Causses et Cévennes' area, on the UNESCO World Heritage list since 2011.
And we look forward to seeing you again soon in the 'Cévennes-Mediterranean' region.