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Paleolithic Painting in Northern Spain

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Although I learned about a lot of European history in school and at university, I was still completely unprepared for the sheer density of historical beauty in Spain. There has not been a city I have visited that didn't have a Roman wall, a medieval chapel, an Islamic tower or something similar. It seems as though the countryside, space and relaxed pace of life in Spain has meant that the longevity and beauty of these historical artefacts have been better preserved than many other places. Today I wanted to go even further back in time than the Roman aqueduct in Segovia or the Roman theatre in Merida. The northern coastline of Spain can offer something even more ancient - the Neolithic caves at Altamira, in the Cantabria region in the northern part of the country.

A look at our ancient ancestors

These paintings were begun more than 35,000 years ago, when humans were hunting and gathering their way around the wild and savage countryside. The caves are close to Santillana Del Mar, a small town with only a few thousand inhabitants. The level of preservation in these particular caves is incredible, mostly due to their hidden and deep nature. The caves are at least 1 km long, and some of the paintings are deep down in the cave, completely untouched by wind, rain or other eroding and fading forces. The caves were discovered in the late 19th Century when young daughter of an archaeologist stumbled across the drawings whilst wandering in the surrounding rocks.

Because of the extreme age of the paintings, the government decided to close them to the public in 2002, and despite plans to open them again because the environment had stabilised, it was decided to prioritise the condition of the art, so they remain closed to visitors for the most part. Since 2015 you can visit the caves, but tours only operate on Fridays at 10:40. Only five people can get inside on any wee, and even then there are strict clothing and photography guidelines. However, you can get all the information and see all the art at the nearby National Museum and Research Centre of Altamira.

Nearby Caves and Nature

Only a short drive away, subterranean fans can find the Rogeria Caves, where bats and fantastic limestone formations coexist. There have been around 30 different species of invertebrates discovered here, with four different species of bat as well. There is also a small zoo and marine park nearby. The Zoo Santillana del Mar features aquariums, flamingos and even lions and white tigers.


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The author

Joe Thorpe

Joe Thorpe

I am Joe. I grew up in the UK, have lived in Africa and Paris, and now reside in Spain. An outdoor enthusiast, I like nothing more than to find a deserted beach, build a campfire and enjoy the view.

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