Altamira is famous for its splendid cave paintings but you may have to wait as long as 3 years to view them. Such is the fame of these fascinating ancient paintings. These fabulous caves are near Santilliana in Cantabria, just 30 kilometers away at Santander's west. However, replicas of high quality are available close by for your quick viewing pleasure.
These caves were an accidental discovery in 1868 by Modesto Cubillas; he was a hunter who found them, but proper excavation came about only in 1875 by a Santander nobleman, Marcellino Santuola when his daughter, Maria, discovered the paintings in the cave.
At first, there was doubt about the authenticity of the cave paintings as they were very well preserved in such good quality. It was only at the start of 20th century that the cave paintings were acknowledged as authentic when more ancient remnants were further discovered in the same vicinity. The Altamira cave paintings became the main proof of the existence of the Magdalénian culture in south Europe.
Most of the cave paintings comprise images of bison among a couple of wild boars, horses, one hind and anthropomorphus human figures sporting animal heads with hand prints and outlines. These images were finely drawn with only black, ochre and red colors. The image scale and textures applied brought out the dynamism of the animals drawn even on the rough wall surfaces.
Symbols on the cave walls indicate habitation from the Aurignacian period with further evidence of the Solutrean period followed by the Magdalenian periods with the discoveries of stone materials and organic remains.
Extreme care has been taken to preserve this beautiful and unique architectural masterpiece by limiting the number of visitors per week to 160 only. Hence, the waiting list is up to three years. This is because the carbon dioxide humans exude can damage these masterpieces easily.
A further preservation effort is to make a replica of the cave in a museum which was specially built with a RDI laboratory. Now, many of the cave images have been reproduced to shorten the waiting list of viewing the cave images. At least 200,000 visits benefited from this museum in the few months of its opening.
This new museum, which was built in 2001, cost 25.5 million euros. It is known as the only prehistoric art museum that allows research and restoration works on the original cave and its images. The man-made replica in the museum measures 9m x 18m with dozens of the original cave images put on display. Today, more and more cave images are being added to this cave replica for the benefit of the visitors.