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Monday 22 July 2024





Édouard-Alfred Martel was 30 years old when, in 1889, he decided to explore the Gouffre de Padirac. The young, intuitive, and visionary explorer had already spent several months preparing for the unusual adventure: going down into one of the hidden faces of the Earth, one of the most mysterious chasms ever explored...

He doubtless did not know, at the time, that the adventure would lead to one of the world's most significant geological discoveries.

“ To seek consolation for human behaviour by studying and admiring nature.
With no self-interest, no self-ambition, loving and practising science for its usefulness. ”

Martel's interest was not limited to underground areas. After visiting Yosemite National Park in the USA in 1913, he published a study on national parks around the world. As a lawyer, he knew the value of a definition to protect a work.

This is what he set out: «  "A territorial reservation with accurate boundaries, and within which appropriate legal provisions conserve and protect natural components, fauna, flora, picturesque sites, and in particular, geological and hydrological sites, against all destruction, deterioration, and disfiguration caused by humans.».

Thanks to that definition, the French authorities have been able to classify and protect several hundred sites in 70 departments.

Édouard-Alfred Martel was always passionate about geography, and won the first prize in geography in the Concours Général (a competitive exam for penultimate-year and final-year secondary-school students in France). At the age of 20, he descended the Adelsberg Grotto in Slovenia, then, in 1888, he organised an initial exploration of the underground river at Bramabiau, on the border between Gard and Lozère Departments. That marks the birth of modern speleology, which involves folding canoes, ladders, ropes, and more.

Having become a brilliant lawyer, he nonetheless left to his colleagues to deal with decrees and other legal matters to turn into reality the incredible dream of exploring the Gouffre de Padirac. On 9 July 1889, Édouard-Alfred Martel went ahead of his expedition companions and went down the steps of a floating ladder that hung down the 75-metre wall of the Gouffre.

He was then a seasoned explorer, but… no-one, not even he, knew what he would discover further below...

Carrying candles and a magnesium lamp, Édouard-Alfred Martel, who had been joined by his companions, entered the dark, unknown cavern of the Gouffre.

"No human has gone before us in these depths, no-one knows where we go or what we see, nothing so strangely beautiful has ever been presented to us, and spontaneously we ask each other the same question:
Are we not dreaming?
Edouard-Alfred Martel