Portraits of People and Families

The explorers

An embedded plaque at the entrance to the well pays tribute to those first potholers with the inscription: “Martel, Armand and Viré, benefactors of the Causses, inventors of the most beautiful cave in the world”.

Edouard Alfred Martel

Born in 1859 in Pontoise, Edouard-Alfred Martel developed a passion for geography and natural science at a very early age. He was an avid reader of Jules Verne novels and was to become “the adventurer of the underground world”. In 1883, at the age of 24, he discovered the Grands Causses, the majestic beauty of the gorges and “the enchanting sculptures that lie beneath the ground”. From then on, he never stopped exploring all these “new oddities” as he liked to call them. From 1888 to 1893, he explored 230 abysses and caverns across the world and became globally considered as “the father of speleology”. This passionate man’s intelligence and comprehension were dazzling. He was a potholer, a hydrologist, a naturalist and ecologist ahead of his time, a photographer and the author of numerous publications. As a scientist and explorer, all his discoveries made him a driver of tourism development as he encouraged their adaptation to accommodate visitors. Discovered on 19 September 1897, the year when Edouard-Alfred Martel turned 38, the Aven Armand was the highlight of his outstanding career.

Louis Armand

Louis Armand was born on 23 August 1854 in Parrache, near Saint-Affrique en Aveyron. He trained as a locksmith before setting up as a blacksmith in Le Rozier at the confluence of the Tarn Gorges and the river Jonte. In 1888, Edouard-Alfred Martel needed repairs to be carried out on a small, dismantleable boat. On the advice of a friend, he called upon Louis Armand to repair the fragile skiff. Impressed by his skill, Edouard-Alfred Martel recruited him and, in 1889, made him the team supervisor. Edouard-Alfred Martel’s new companion gradually became his loyal friend and right-hand man, spending 20 years at his side for the majority of his expeditions in France and abroad. On 19 September 1897, he was the first to descend to the bottom of the chasm he had spotted the previous day, and thus discovered the Aven Armand, named after him.

Armand Viré

Armand Viré was born in Seine-et-Marne in 1869. He was a scientist whose brilliant career covered a particularly rich variety of fields. These included speleology, hydrogeology, prehistory, archaeology and radiesthesia, as well as biospeleology of which he was the founder. His works resulted in multiple publications and earned him a number of distinctions. In 1895, he met Edouard-Alfred Martel, and so began their long and close cooperation. He was the second person to descend into the Aven Armand, at the age of just 28, on 20 September 1897. He then participated significantly in the creation of the Aven Armand Company and its opening to the public.