Tag Archives: Cave Paintings

Travels in Spain, Cuevas El Aguila in The Gredos Mountains

Pedro Bernardo 20

“Wherever he saw a hole he always wanted to know the depth of it. To him this was important.”  Jules Verne –  ‘Journey to the Centre of the Earth’

After a perfect undisturbed sleep in the quiet village we woke to an immaculate blue sky and wide sweeping views over the expansive countryside and the surprisingly green fields sweeping down towards the city of Talavera de la Reina and beyond that to the Montes de Toledo rising slowly through the dispersing cloud.

Breakfast wasn’t served until half past nine so we had time for a walk into town where we were expecting to see a market in the Plaza de Torres but we must have got our days mixed up because the Plaza was quite empty.  We wandered lost around the streets that were beginning to stir into life and saw the same old men who had been there the previous night and clearly have nothing more to do all day in this tiny place than hang around the main square.

Perhaps they don’t even go to bed.

Breakfast at the El Cerro was excellent, just a simple affair of Iberian ham, Manchego cheese and toast with olive oil and tomato but it was quite perfect.  One of the hotel staff was very friendly and spoke good English and was interested in our travels around Spain and intrigued that we picked out of the way places like Pedro Bernardo instead of the well known tourist towns.  He told us that he wanted to move to Madrid and we assured him that we liked it better this way.

We told him that we were driving to Cáceres and he became quite insistent that we should take a short detour from our route and visit the Cuevas El Aguila, the Eagle Caves, in the foothills of the Gredos mountains but we had a long way to go and were not sure if we liked caves enough to go to the trouble.  When we checked out a few minutes later he reminded us again to make the visit and assured us that we would not be disappointed so it seemed rude not to go so we set off in the direction that he carefully marked on our map.

I liked Pedro-Bernardo, it was the sort of place that could go on a ‘must go back to one day’ list but I won’t go back because I fear that if I did it will have changed dramatically from how I remember it.  I’ll just keep it locked away in my memory.

The drive out took us to the  Sierra de Gredos which is a mountain range in the centre of the Iberian Peninsula, located between Ávila, Cáceres, Madrid and Toledo and has been declared a regional park.  We were on the road to Cáceres anyway so it wouldn’t delay us too long to visit the caves and when they began to be signposted we turned off and took a succession of minor roads to the attraction.

We followed a quiet rural road, a track really to a large but empty car park and parked close to the entrance and still not convinced that this was a good idea made our way to the kiosk and paid €7 each entrance and waited five minutes for the guide to take us inside.

As soon as he appeared and escorted us underground we were immediately glad that we made the detour because this was an awesome underground cavern, over twelve million years old and inside a great hall of six thousand square yards and over half a mile of pathway to walk through the great stalactites and stalagmites that rose and fell in majestic multi-coloured columns throughout the cave.

The guide apologised several times for being unable to speak English but we reassured him that this didn’t matter because so much of his narrative would have been superfluous anyway and we could imagine for ourselves what he was telling us.  As usual in underground caves he kept pointing out natural sculptures that, with a lot of imagination, had a resemblance to familiar icons – the Madonna and Child (several times), Bulls, Matadors and famous Spanish Kings and Queens.

The temperature inside the cave is constant throughout the year, with an average of twenty degrees celsius and it was this that led to its discovery in 1963 by a group of children who noticed water vapour escaping through a hole in the ground caused by the difference in temperature of the caves and the outside.  They crawled inside to investigate and discovered the Aladdin’s cave with all of its natural treasure and a year later the owners of the land, obviously sensing that there was gold in them thar hills, made it accessible and opened it to the public.

It took about forty minutes to complete the circuit of concrete paths and various viewing platforms and when we emerged back into the daylight we were so pleased that we had taken the advice to visit because this was one place that was certainly worth a detour.

The original plan was to drive to Extremadura and stop at the town of Trujillo but the combination of the later than usual breakfast and the unscheduled visit to the caves meant that our original timings now had to be reworked so we decided to miss Trujillo and drive the hundred and twenty miles straight to Cáceres instead.

The drive was effortless along a delightfully spacious motorway as we drove in a relentless straight line across Spain’s Central Plateau at some point crossing into the Province of Extremadura, the fifth largest in Spain.

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Other Cave Stories:

Drogarati Cave and Blue Lagoon, Kephalonia

Altimira Caves, Spain

Blue Lagoon, Capri

Krakow, Wieliczka Salt Mine

Lanzarote – Cueva de los Verde

Cave Houses of Guadix

Llechwedd Slate Caverns, Wales

 

Click on an image to view the gallery…

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Off-Season

On the final morning of the visit to Santillana del Mar the weather proved to be a disappointment, I could hear rain on the window as I started to stir and when I did the window check I could only report back that the sky was grey and it was drizzling.  At breakfast our host confirmed the worst and informed us that the forecast was gloomy all day so we decided that it was probably a good day to go and do something undercover and perhaps visit a museum.

Read the full story…

 

Northern Spain – The Caves at Altimira

“I visited the Cave of Altamira while traveling in Europe with two friends in 1968.  Once inside, I was of course in awe, not only of the age of the paintings, but also of the delicacy and skill with which they had been executed. I think we tend to look down on our distant ancestors as primitive and stupid, but cave paintings like those at Altamira remind us that they were not.”                         Susan (Washington) – Blogger

On the final morning of our visit to Santillana del Mar the weather proved to be a disappointment, I could hear rain on the window as I started to stir and when I did the weather check I could only report back that the sky was grey and it was drizzling.  At breakfast our host confirmed the worst and informed us that the forecast was gloomy all day so we decided that it was probably a good day to go and do something undercover and perhaps visit a museum.

After breakfast we settled up and said goodbye and took the road out of Santillana Del Mar and then followed signposts to the Altamira museum on the edge of the town.   I wasn’t expecting a great deal to be honest so was surprised to find a very big car park and a large building built into the hills.  I was about to learn about something else that I was completely unaware of – Cantabria is the richest region in the world in archaeological sites from the Upper Paleolithic period (that’s the Stone Age to you and me).  The most significant cave painting site is the cave of Altamira, dating from about 16,000 to 9000 BC and declared, with another nine Cantabrian caves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site.

Well, you learn something new every day it seems!

Altimira cave painting

Around 13,000 years ago a rockfall sealed the cave entrance preserving its contents until its eventual discovery which was caused by a nearby tree falling and disturbing the fallen rocks.  The really good bit about the story is that it wasn’t discovered by Howard Carter, Tony Robinson or Indiana Jones but by a nine year old girl who came across them while playing in the hills above the town in 1879.

Her father was an amateur archaeologist called Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola and he was led by his daughter to discover the cave’s drawings. The cave was excavated by Sautuola and archaeologist pal Juan Vilanova y Piera from the University of Madrid, resulting in a much acclaimed publication in 1880 which interpreted the paintings as Paleolithic in origin.

So well preserved were the paintings however that there ensued an argument about authenticity and some believed the whole thing to be a hoax and it wasn’t until 1902 that they were eventually accepted as genuine.

In the mellow afternoon we walked tthrough warm wet grass and eucalyptus trees with the sound of oak leaves crisp underfoot. Across a metal walkway and a wooden bridge until we reached a small door that stood resolutely shut. The reason is that only a handful of people each week, selected by lottery, may enter the real caves and nothing else will achieve access.

So we continued to the visitor centre and paid the modest entrance fee of €2.40 and went into the museum, which turned out to be a real treasure with interesting displays about the Stone Age, or the Paleolithic period if you prefer, with the highlight of the visit being a full size recreation of the original cave and its precious paintings.

Today, you see it is only possible to see this copy because the actual cave is now closed to the public.  During the 1960s and 1970s, the paintings were being damaged by the damp breath of large numbers of visitors and smoke from Fortuna cigarettes and Altamira was completely closed to the public in 1977, and reopened with only very limited access in 1982.

altamira[1]

Very few visitors are allowed in per day, resulting in a three-year waiting list.  It would be nice to go into the actual cave but actually the replica allows a more comfortable view of the polychrome paintings of the main hall of the cave, as well as a selection of minor works and also includes some sculptures of human faces that cannot be accessed in the real thing.

And, let me tell you, these people were really good painters.  The artists used charcoal and ochre or haematite to create the images, often scratching or diluting these dyes to produce variances in intensity and creating an impression of remarkable and sophisticated contrasts and they also exploited the natural contours in the cave walls to give a three-dimensional effect to their subjects.

The painted ceiling is the most impressive feature showing a herd of bison in different poses, two horses, a large doe and a wild boar.  Other images include horses, goats and hand prints created from the artist placing his hand on the cave wall and spraying paint over it leaving a negative image of his palm.

Numerous other caves in northern Spain contain palaeolithic art but none is as advanced or as famous as Altamira.

The entrance to the real cave is not so impressive however…

Twelve Treasures of Spain – Altamira Caves at Santillana del Mar

“I visited the Cave of Altamira while traveling in Europe with two friends in 1968.  Once inside, I was of course in awe, not only of the age of the paintings, but also of the delicacy and skill with which they had been executed. I think we tend to look down on our distant ancestors as primitive and stupid, but cave paintings like those at Altamira remind us that they were not.”                         Susan (Washington) – Blogger

The “Twelve Treasures of the Kingdom of Spain” was a contest/poll that was conducted by the Spanish Television Company Antena 3 and the radio broadcaster Cope. The final results were announced on 31st December 2007.  I thought it might be interesting to take a look at the eight out of the twelve that I have visited.  Second in the competition were the prehistoric cave paintings of Altamira.

On the final morning of my visit to Santillana del Mar the weather proved to be a disappointment, I could hear rain on the window as I started to stir and when I did the weather check I could only report back that the sky was grey and it was drizzling.  At breakfast our host confirmed the worst and informed us that the forecast was gloomy all day so we decided that it was probably a good day to go and do something undercover and perhaps visit a museum.

Catalonia Spain Besalu Door

After breakfast we settled up and said goodbye and headed back towards Santillana Del Mar and then followed signposts to the Altamira museum on the edge of the town.   I wasn’t expecting a great deal to be honest so was surprised to find a very big car park and a large building built into the hills.  I was about to learn about something else that I was completely unaware of – Cantabria is the richest region in the world in archaeological sites from the Upper Paleolithic period (that’s the Stone Age to you and me).  The most significant cave painting site is the cave of Altamira, dating from about 16,000 to 9000 BC and declared, with another nine Cantabrian caves, a UNESCO World Heritage Site

Well, you learn something new every day it seems!

Altimira cave painting

Around 13,000 years ago a rockfall sealed the cave entrance preserving its contents until its eventual discovery which was caused by a nearby tree falling and disturbing the fallen rocks.  The really good bit about the story is that it wasn’t discovered by Howard Carter, Tony Robinson or Indiana Jones but by a nine year old girl who came across them while playing in the hills above the town in 1879.  Her father was an amateur archaeologist called Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola and he was led by his daughter to discover the cave’s drawings. The cave was excavated by Sautuola and archaeologist Juan Vilanova y Piera from the University of Madrid, resulting in a much acclaimed publication in 1880 which interpreted the paintings as Paleolithic in origin. 

Altamira Postcard

So well preserved were the paintings however that there ensued an argument about authenticity and some believed the whole thing to be a hoax and it wasn’t until 1902 that they were eventually accepted as genuine.

We paid the modest entrance fee of €2.40 and went into the museum, which turned out to be a real treasure with interesting displays about the Stone Age, or the Paleolithic period if you prefer, with the highlight of the visit being a full size recreation of the original cave and its precious paintings.  Today it is only possible to see this copy because the actual cave is now closed to vistors.  During the 1960s and 1970s, the paintings were being damaged by the damp breath of large numbers of visitors and smoke from Fortuna cigarettes and Altamira was completely closed to the public in 1977, and reopened with only very limited access in 1982.

altamira[1]

Very few visitors are allowed in per day, resulting in a three-year waiting list.  It would be nice to go into the actual cave but actually the replica allows a more comfortable view of the polychrome paintings of the main hall of the cave, as well as a selection of minor works and also includes some sculptures of human faces that cannot be accessed in the real thing.

And, let me tell you, these people were really good painters.  The artists used charcoal and ochre or haematite to create the images, often scratching or diluting these dyes to produce variances in intensity and creating an impression of remarkable and sophisticated contrasts and they also exploited the natural contours in the cave walls to give a three-dimensional effect to their subjects.

The painted ceiling is the most impressive feature showing a herd of bison in different poses, two horses, a large doe and a wild boar.  Other images include horses, goats and hand prints created from the artist placing his hand on the cave wall and spraying paint over it leaving a negative image of his palm.

Numerous other caves in northern Spain contain palaeolithic art but none is as advanced or as famous as Altamira.

The entrance to the real cave is not so impressive however…

Cantabria, Meet the Flintstones!

Altimira cave painting

With the entire content of a pharmacy store in my system fighting the cold  man flu I had a better nights sleep but I was still woken in the middle of the night by the curious footsteps in the corridor outside.  I was tempted to investigate but this insane boldness was only temporary and I settled instead for the pulling the bedclothes over my head option and staying put instead.

Read the full story…