The Company Saga, an ongoing passion that began in 1897

First steps

  • Edouard-Alfred Martel and Louis Armand wanted work to be done to turn the site into an easily accessible show cave that would make their discovery famous. But it took nearly 30 years to overcome all the obstacles and make their wish come true.
  • First of all, Messrs Martel, Fabié (Mayor and solicitor of Peyreleau) and Causse (head railway worker in Meyrueis), together formed an association to develop and exploit the Aven Armand.
  • While Edouard-Alfred Martel searched in vain for investors to fund the site’s development work, Louis Armand organised visits for a handful of curious adventurers who weren’t put off by the 75 metres of ladders. The Great War put an end to those visits in 1921.

Birth of the company

  • Edouard-Alfred Martel, however, remained as unrelentingly determined as ever. In 1925, with the help of his loyal and tenacious assistant, Mr Fabié, and the support of Doctor Bompaire, chairman of Millau Tourist Office, he managed to attract the attention of Messrs Pin and Tondut, entrepreneurs from Toulouse who were both originally from Lozère and were carrying out water supply works for Millau town council. To facilitate access to the cave, they fitted the opening with a platform on which they placed a hoist to take a small metal skip up and down on a cable.
  • In April 1925, Messrs Pin and Tondut went down into the chasm and, as they themselves described, came out completely awestruck. Without hesitation, they started planning development work to enable the general public to visit the cave. They persuaded their friends from Toulouse to join the venture and, with them and a few other local stakeholders, proceeded with the establishment of an operating company.
  • With the help of Messrs Aldebert and Benezech, both from Millau Tourist Office, the company acquired the land and rights on 21 May 1925, and signed an agreement tasking Mr Layral, a solicitor from Millau, with the incorporation of a public limited company.
  • On 27 May 1925, a delegation from the Touring Club de France, accompanied by the National Tourist Board managers and the three national railway companies, came to visit the Aven Armand. Following that visit, the creation of the future company received unanimous support.
  • The Aven Armand public limited company was established in Millau on 9 July 1926. Its Board of Directors was made up of Edouard-Alfred Martel (chairman), Edouard Eiffel (vice-chairman), Henri Aldebert, Antonin Benezech, Ernest Besson, Charles Guibert, Isidore Pin, Armand Viré and Pierre Tondut.

The tourism venture

  • The works began simultaneously. They were considerable. Indeed, the aim was to: build a road connecting the RN586 road to the cave entrance; pierce a gently-sloping 208-metre tunnel down into the main cavity; build steps leading deeper into the cave; create footpaths into the stalagmite forest; install a four-colour lighting system designed by Fernand Jacopozi, who was the brilliant lighting technician responsible for the 1925 Eiffel Tower illuminations and the pioneering creator of the Paris lights.
  • The Aven Armand opening ceremony took place on 11 June 1927, marking the start of the tourism venture.
  • Since then, tours at the site have been significantly developed to make the Aven Armand a world-famous tourist attraction. During this time, regular investments have made it easier to access and enhanced the tour offering. Key developments:
  • 1952: A walkway is installed 90 metres above the chasm.
  • 1963: The tunnel is widened to accommodate a funicular railway. At this time, its originality lies in the fact that it is fitted with tyres (a first in Europe) to make it less noisy and protect the cave from harmful vibrations.
  • 1972: The Speleo Station is built to make the site more welcoming and increase the capacity of the funicular railway.
  • 1992: The lighting system is redesigned to incorporate a number of programmes that the guides can trigger by means of a remote control.
  • 2014: The lamps are replaced by LEDs to improve the quality of the lighting, creating an outstanding effect in the stalagmite and concretion displays as well as the cavity itself. A sound and light system is installed to create the “Jules Verne Tour: Journey to the Centre of the Earth”.
  • 2020: The Speleo Café is created, providing a lively meeting place with a restaurant serving local specialities that showcase local and sustainable products. To date, as we approach the centenary of the site’s opening to the public, some 10 million people have visited the Aven Armand.