Cave of Altamira, Santillana del Mar
Altamira is a cave, located near the town of Santillana del Mar in the region of Cantabria (north of Spain), famous for its Upper Paleolithic (a period between 40.000 and 10.000 years ago, in some contexts also called the "late stone age") cave paintings. These include drawings and polychrome rock paintings of wild mammals and human hands. The paintings in Altamira are particularly famous as they were the first prehistoric cave paintings to be discovered in Spain. Despite the discovery of the paintings being made public in 1880, the acknowedgement of the authenticity of the paintings did not come until 1902. The cave has since been declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO.
Archaeological excavations in the cave floors found artifacts dating back to the Paleolithic Age. Around 13,000 years ago a rockfall sealed the entrance to the cave, thus preserving its contents until its eventual discovery. The discovery of the paintings was made when a tree near the cave fell and disturbed the fallen rocks.
The drawings were made using charcoal, ochre or haematite, and the artists often scratched or diluted these dyes to produce different intensities of colour. They also used the cave's natural curves and contours to give their drawings a three-dimensional effect. The cave's ceiling is one of the most impressive features of the drawings. It depicts a herd of bison in different poses, a large doe, two horses and what appears to be a wild boar. Although numerous other caves in Spain contain drawing and art from the Palaeolithic age, none are as advanced as those in Altamira.
Altamira was completely closed to the public in 1977, as the paintings were being damaged by the carbon dioxide in the breath of the large number of visitors. However, it reopened in 1982 with limited access. This limited access led to a three-year waiting list to see the caves. As a result, a replica cave and museum were built nearby by Manuel Franquelo and Sven Nebel, so visitors could enjoy a copy of the cave's paintings without the wait. Currently, the cave remains closed to the public once more as a study is being made of the conservation conditions inside the Altamira cave.