Amazingly, the cave paintings on Levanzo were not officially discovered until 1950. Before this, rumors circulated about images inside the caves, but the islanders didn’t realize how very old they were: some are 12,000 years old. The paintings are similar to the ones in Lascaux, France.
After hiking down to the cave entrance, we rested for a moment while our guide fired up the generator and turned on the lights. Eddie the dog was happy to relax as well.
For understandable reasons, photography was not allowed inside the cave. All of the images below are taken from la Grotta del Genovese website. Please visit the website for information, and if you have the opportunity, sign up for the tour! The excursion was not cheap, but it was worth every penny. The round-trip hydrofoil ticket to the island cost about €20, and the tour was €22.50 per person.
Our tour guide was immensely kind and patient. He knew only broken English, but he had learned the necessary words to explain the artwork to us.
First, we had to hunch over to walk through the narrow cave opening. After a few meters, the cave opened up and we could move around easily. Our guide beckoned us over to the wall and held up the light to reveal the first group of paintings.
The oldest images in the cave date back to the end of the Paleolithic era and are actually scratched into the stone. At that time, Levanzo was connected to mainland Sicily. Our guide pointed out the use of perspective and the beauty of this graffiti. The pictures are of bison and deer.
I was filled with the same sense of awe as when I saw the Birth of Venus in the Uffizi. My eyes teared up and my heart pounded. I was looking at 12,000 year old graffiti. Ancient humans crawled into that cave just to sit and create art by firelight. The animal outlines were instantly recognizable and elegantly executed. I was so amazed by the creativity. Even thousands of years ago, humans had the impulse to express themselves.
The actual paintings date from the late Neolithic age, or about 6,000-7,000 years ago. They were less artistically done. The animals were static and had stick legs. Still, I couldn’t believe that the charcoal-and-animal-fat paint has been so well preserved. This is thanks to the cave’s perfect climate.
Our guide pointed out fertility idols, saying repeatedly, “This is a man. He is a sexy man,” referring to the figure’s anatomical correctness. I had to bite my tongue to keep from laughing. There was also a tuna and a dolphin. By the Neolithic age, Levanzo had become an island. The people fished and raised domesticated animals. I believe that the tuna is the oldest known image of a fish in the world.
After seeing the cave paintings, I can better appreciate that the art humans create today is a continuation of a tradition that began thousands of years ago. Many of us are driven to create some form of art, even though we are not sure when or if anyone else will appreciate it. It’s like shooting a message into the universe without an address: “This is what I see, this is what I value, this is who I am. Does anyone else understand?”
12,000 years later, I do understand. I have seen the same animals that the ancient artists drew, and I too think they are beautiful. I understand that these animals were vital to the lives of Paleolithic and Neolithic humans. Some of the pictures had a religious significance, and many people today create art for religious reasons.
After about fifteen minutes of gazing at the paintings, the tour was over and we had to hike back up to the car. Too soon our guide delivered us to the village. Taking the cave painting tour is one of the most amazing things I’ve ever done.