Discovery and Exploration

Edouard-Alfred Martel’s moment of glory

Unexplored for thousands of years, the Aven Armand was an abyss, a chasm, the subject of terrifying legends like that of the devil’s throat, accused of swallowing herds and lost travellers. It was Louis Armand who discovered the cave. He then explored it with Edouard-Alfred Martel, the father of speleology, and Armand Viré, who invented cave biology, or biospeleology. Louis Armand, a blacksmith from Le Rozier, accompanied and supervised most of Edouard-Alfred Martel’s subterranean expeditions for nearly 20 years. On 18 September 1897, at the Hôtel des Voyageurs in Le Rozier, Louis Armand announced to Edouard-Alfred Martel, “Yesterday, on my way back down from La Parade, I stumbled on an enormous hole… the rocks I threw into it tumbled to hell with a din worse than anything I’d ever heard.” On the afternoon of 19 September 1897, an icy wind was blowing when Edouard-Alfred Martel, Armand Viré and Louis Armand arrived at the site. They were heavily equipped, with “a thousand kilos of ladders, ropes, telephone, camp bed and crates of lamps, clothing, supplies, tools, etc.”, wrote Edouard-Alfred Martel. Louis Armand was the first to descend the sheer 75-metre drop, with no major difficulty. As soon as he set foot on top of the conical obstruction, he exclaimed into the telephone, “Superb! Magnificent! A whole forest of stone! This is a real find!” “Mr. Martel, it’s splendid! There are at least 100 columns. The tallest must be about 25 metres. I’ve never seen anything like this.” At dusk he returned to the surface “his face beaming like never before and lighting up even more as he told his story”. The following day, 20 September, it was the turn of Armand Viré, then Edouard-Alfred Martel to make the descent. They mapped the entire site after discovering a second, 87-metre well leading further into the depths. The expedition continued until 21 September. Edouard-Alfred Martel states, “Since the chasm was unnamed, I decided on the spot that it would be called the Aven Armand.”