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Sarkozy reveals national museum

Sarkozy reveals plan for new French national museum as he and Carla visit threatened Lascaux prehistoric cave paintings

A NEW national museum is to be created in the heart of Paris, on the site of the Archives Nationales in the Marais.

President Sarkozy made the announcement as he visited the prehistoric Lascaux cave in Dordogne on the 70th anniversary of their discovery.

Saying the new Maison de l'Histoire de France in the Marais would head a network of museums across the country, Mr Sarkozy also revealed that the state would support the construction of a new Lascaux 4 museum to host a centre dedicated to cave paintings.

The cave at Lascaux near Montignac, called the prehistoric Sistine Chapel, has been closed to the public since 1963 after it was found that the body heat and breathing of the thousands of visitors was damaging the 900 paintings.

They painting, estimated to be 17,300 years old, were being attacked by fungal growths.

Since then the only visitors have been once-a-week security checks and scientists under strict controls.

Mr Sarkozy, his wife Carla, her son Aurélien, and culture minister Frédéric Mitterrand were in a party of about 10 who entered the caves with the head of the Lascaux scientific team, Yves Coppens, and the curator Muriel Mauriac-Le-Heron.

They were in the cave for about an hour and Mr Sarkozy said afterwards: "It was like going into a cathedral, a sacred place. Carla and I were overwhelmed by what we had seen."

Mr Coppens said the cave was in "good health" but they were still in the dark as to why the black growths which had attacked the paintings had been reducing in size.

However, Laurence Léauté-Beasley, a leading opponent of France's handling of the care of the cave, said: "This is not so much a celebration as the eve of the funeral service for Lascaux."

Unesco last year threatened to place Lascaux on its list of endangered world monuments after the failure of efforts to end the fungal attacks.

The nearby Lascaux 2 replica receives 250,000 visitors a year to see reconstructions of the cave and many of its spectacular paintings of aurochs, ibexes, wild horses and bison.

Mr Sarkozy said that the first step towards creating the Maison de l'Histoire de France would be to reopen the gardens at the Archives Nationales next spring after being closed for decades.

Culture minister Frédéric Mitterrand will also lead a project for the first major exhibition which will be held before the end of 2011.

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