French Lascaux cave paintings include sparkle to hidden gem Gwangmyeong Cave

The fate of Gwangmyeong Cave has varied with the numerous happenings in the wild Korean modern history.

During the Japanese colonial duration (1910-1945), it was abused for precious metals like gold and copper for the Japanese. When the specter of exploitation had lastly gone, it ended up being a shelter for Korean refugees throughout the Korean War (1950-1953). In peacetime, the deserted gold mine functioned as a storage for salted shrimp.


Now, the perfectly changed cave in the city, some 14 kilometers southwest of Seoul, is holding an exhibit of French art work from some 20,000 years earlier. The occasion belongs to numerous cultural exchanges to honor the 130th anniversary of diplomatic ties in between the two nations.


The prehistoric cave paintings were mistakenly discovered on the walls of the Lascaux cave in southwestern France in 1940. In 1963, the cave was closed for fear of damage, and in 1979, it was designated a UNESCO World Heritage site.


While the elaborate replicas of the paintings have actually been exhibited formerly in a few nations, it is the very first time the antiques from the Old Stone Age are on screen in an Asian nation and, more meaningfully, near an actual cave.


In front of the entryway to the huge Gwangmyeong Cave stands a gallery developed with lots of containers. White dynamic horse drawings from the Lascaux cave stand out in stark contrast to the gallery's black outside.

Created by Pritzker Prize-winning French designer Jean Nouvel, the 863-square-meter gallery was developed with 62 containers, targeted at providing new life to otherwise useless product.


"We wanted to display the drawings inside the cave however had to give up because it was difficult to get the huge replicas through the small entryway," Gwangmyeong City Mayor Yang Ki-dae stated on April 15 in a joint press briefing with previous French Culture and Communications Minister Fleur Pellerin.

"I think our exhibit will be quite various from previous ones because this time it takes place near a real cave, not in a museum," stated Mayor Yang.


Stepping inside the rectangular containers, visitors instantly feel as if they are in a thick forest. Some 130 beam projectors shoot photographic images taken in the Lascaux location, developing camouflage patterns on the walls and the ceiling. The life-size reproduction of the Paleolithic illustrations, displayed in the poorly lit hall, is so sophisticated that visitors end up being entirely lost in time and space.


Along with the reproductions, the gallery tells the historic background and stories behind the rigorous restoration and reproduction procedure through a documentary, interview clips with historians and actual gadgets utilized for the restoration.


While the exhibition of the cherished historic paintings is absolutely worth a visit, Gwangmyeong Cave alone offers enough of a need to travel to the city.


Standing at the entryway to the cave, a cool breeze blowing from deep within the Earth jolts visitors as they stare down a long hallway decorated with vibrant lights, questioning exactly what may lie at the end.

The cave, extending 7.9 km in length and reaching 275 meters in depth, exudes history and secret.


The seven-level cave raises decades-old stories about Korea's tough history to chew on while plunging individuals into their youth dreams with a frighteningly deep, crystal-clear underground lake. The setup of a magical dragon, "The Lord of the Cave," and fanciful undersea creatures contribute to its wonderful charm.


The 41-meter-long, 800-kilogram dragon is the creation of Weta Workshop, the New Zealand special results company well-known for its deal with "The Lord of the Rings" and "The Hobbit" trilogies.


Since 2014, the city and the company have actually held the Gwangmyeong International Fantasy Conceptual Design Competition to nurture future talent in dream design and special effects. The winner has the honor of being welcomed to the company, some 9,000 km away from Korea, for a month-long internship to learn first-hand from seasoned technicians.


After passing the magical animal and Gollum, a popular character from "The Lord of the Rings," and climbing limitless wooden stairs, visitors arrive at the area that memorializes and honors the blood, sweat and tears shed by Korean miners.


Up until 1972, the cave was the greatest metal mine in the city. Different metals, consisting of gold, silver, copper and zinc, were mined from the tunnels that extend 78 km. In its prime, the daily production amounted to well over 250 loads, with 500 miners working at a time.


More just recently, the deserted mine was utilized to store salted shrimp-- an ingredient utilized by people in the Seoul metropolitan area when they make kimchi. The consistent cool temperature level of around 12 degrees Celsius made the cave a perfect place to maintain the food.


In 2011, the city purchased the privately owned cave to turn it into a traveler attraction. After years of restoration and advancement, the cave was transformed into a theme park, fitted with a fish tank, a concert hall, a wire rack and a dining establishment, opening to the public in April in 2014. For the past year, the remodeled cave was visited by almost 1.2 million people.


Park Se-in, a 32-year-old Gwangmeyong local, stated she was pleasantly surprised by its large size and the cultural offerings inside the cave.


"I regret that people still have no idea much about the cave. I am sure the cave will be the place to go when more people hear about it," she said.


With the unusual exhibition that "screens human life and touches individuals’ hearts," as the former French culture minister said recently, the cave is undoubtedly to end up being a must-visit travel location in Korea in no time.