Grotte Dordogne | History | Les Grottes de Maxange
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  • Exterieur 2013

The Mestreguiral quarry, where the Maxange Caves are situated, has been excavated for building stone by the Caballero family for two generations. In July 2000, quarrying work opened up a narrow cavity that appeared to continue inside the rock.
Driven by his instinctive curiosity, Angel Caballero, helped by some friends, decided to enlarge the passage, which was obstructed by earth. After three sessions of strenuous labour on hands and knees, the men – unexpectedly turned cave-explorers – emerged into a larger, vast gallery where they could stand up. They were completely astonished: there were natural crystallizations sparkling in all directions from where their torch-light struck. This took place on 15th. August 2000.

Angel Caballero had just discovered the first of the series of caves which he later named Maxange, in memory of his father, who had founded the quarry. “ Maxange” is, in fact, a composition of the abbreviations of Maximilien , his father’s Christian name, and his own, Angel. The find was reported to the Directorate of Prehistoric Antiquities, who confirmed following inspection by leading specialists in that field, that the cave system showed no trace of the former presence of man. The only remarkable thing to be noticed was the presence of scratch marks made by cave bears on the walls of the cavern. Moreover, great emphasis was made of the significance of the concretions that cover the roof and walls of the cave. Early in 2001, several experienced speleologists were invited, and they confirmed that the concretions were of outstanding interest and quality, the eccentric type in particular being rarely found in such profusion ( or of such beauty ) in other caverns.

So Angel Caballero found himself in a delicate dilemma

Either to continue exploiting his quarry, at the risk one day destroying “his” cave, or to preserve it, which would entail, unquestionably, his ceasing work as a quarry owner and the loss of his livelihood. Having hesitated, quite understandably, and having tried to balance differing opinions, he decided to launch the development of the cave to enable tourists to visit. The case for this decision was strengthened by the position of the site, at the crossroads of the major tourist routes of the Périgord. There was no time to be lost, however, because the quarry had ceased production, and the task ahead was immense: notably, thousands of cubic metres of clay and sand which blocked the way through the galleries had to be excavated to provide easy access for visitors.

By a stroke of luck, whilst trying to make another, easier, entrance for visitors, a second cave was discovered a little further on, in the quarry cliff-face. This second cave was completely obstructed by earth, and right through 2001 work went on to try to join the two caverns. At that time, initial contacts were made with the regional tourist bodies, in order to set up the project.

By 2002, the preparation work was becoming more and more intense.

Angel Caballero had fixed Easter 2003 as his date for opening the site. There was still much to be done. On 31st. May, a “ heavyweight ” delegation of the region’s tourist authorities came to visit, and showed enormous interest in the project. This official encouragement played its part in stimulating progress, and work was going along at quite a pace: the exterior development at the site was already well advanced, but the two caves were not yet linked. The topographical survey of the two galleries showed that they passed very close to one another, but did not join : what a disappointment ! Relying on the accuracy of the survey, a short tunnel was blasted and the link-up was accomplished on 17th. July. Excavation of the caves was completed two months later, then the electrical installation kept the technicians busy for the whole of the rest of 2002, and even the beginning of the following year.

At the start of 2003, the former stone-cutting workshop was undergoing a transformation into a well-appointed reception centre. Feverish activity prevailed to put the finishing touches to the final conversion works : access doors to the underground circuit, landscaping, play area, etc. The works were remarkably well conducted, and thanks to the professionalism of everyone involved, the site was able to open on the appointed date, 20th. April 2003, Easter Sunday. On 12th. June, the Maxange Caves were inaugurated by the Departmental authorities.

The caves have not revealed all their secrets: other passages in the system await to be cleared, and more wonderful surprises are in store: but that’s for a later date…