Altamira Cave is on the top of a small limestone hill between the valley of Santillana del Mar and the valley of the River Saja. The surrounding scenery is dominated by meadows and eucalyptus plantations. However, a Palaeolithic park around the museum recreates the vegetation that existed in the area in the Late Pleistocene.
Regional Archaeological Context:
Altamira is one of the most important Palaeolithic rock art shrines in the world. In northern Spain, caves like El Castillo, La Pasiega, La Garma, Ekain and Tito Bustillo have similar ensembles of rock art. However the most immediate context of Altamira Cave consists of nearby sites like El Linar, Cualventi and Las Aguas.
The cave was discovered by Modesto Cubillas about 1872. It was studied by Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola who, accompanied by his daughter Maria, first saw the paintings in 1879. Since then it has been studied and excavated on several occasions, although the most significant work was by Alcalde del Río in 1902 and H. Obermaier in 1925. The most complete study of the cave was published by H. Breuil and H. Obermaier in 1935. Altamira Museum has recently started several research projects aimed at up-dating scientific knowledge about the Palaeolithic occupations in the cave and its conservation problems.
Archaeological evidence at the site:
Palaeolithic rock art and prehistoric archaeology.
Altamira Cave: The cave contains hundreds of rock art figures of many different kinds. The “Hall of the Polychromes” is famous for its spectacular paintings of bison, horses, deer and “claviform” signs. Further inside the cave there are many more engravings and paintings in black. The age of the representations ranges from the Gravettian (about 23,000 years ago) to the Magdalenian (13,000 years ago).
Replica of Altamira. The New Cave: Owing to the conservation problems detected in Altamira Cave, which restricts access to it greatly, Altamira Museum offers a spectacular alternative to visitors interested in seeing the cave and its art. Based on a precise survey and documentation of every geological and artistic detail, an almost perfect replica was built, including not only the “Hall of the Polychromes” but also the original entrance of the cave (a dwelling-space in the Palaeolithic), the archaeological excavation, an area of bear pits, and part of the passage known as the “Horse’s Tail”. Although it may not reproduce the emotion of the original cave, this replica is the best way to obtain a precise understanding of Altamira. The latest technology is used to explain how the cave was painted and what everyday life was like for its occupants.
Altamira Museum (Permanent exhibition: “The Times of Altamira”): Opened by the King of Spain in 2001, the modern museum is devoted fully to the Palaeolithic and includes the New Cave as well as the exhibition “The Times of Altamira” with a large number of archaeological objects, replicas, displays and audiovisual presentations to show the life of the people of lived in and decorated Altamira. There are also rooms for temporary exhibitions, educational workshops, shop, café, and a large park. The research area has a laboratory, restoration facilities, stores and a library.
Gravettian, Solutrean and Magdalenian
Type of Site: National Museum and Rock Art Cave
Adress: 39330 Santillana del Mar, Cantabria.
Telephone: + 34 942 818 815 / 942 818 005
Fax: + 34 942 840 157
Facebook profile: www.facebook.com/museodealtamira
Municipality: Santillana del Mar
Town: Santillana del Mar
Duration of the guided visits:
The modern museum is based on the permanent exhibition “The Times of Altamira”. It shows the Palaeolithic way of life, as well as reproductions of some the most important groups of rock art in Cantabria.
Workshops and Activities:
Prehistory workshops, workshops for childrens and for families, educational tours, temporary exhibitions and cultural activities program.
Nearby cultural destinations:
The medieval village of Santillana del Mar is near the cave, with 12th-17th century houses and the Romanesque collegiate of Santa Juliana. “Regina Coeli” Diocese Museum. Santillana Zoo, with a section about the “fauna of Altamira”.
Nearby natural destinations:
The coast of Cantabria (Santa Juliana beach at Ubiarco). Saja Valley. Monte Corona forestry reserve.
Accommodation near the site:
Restaurants near the site: