Saturday, December 6, 2014

Santander, Spain (p3): Altamira, Paleolithic Cave, Santillana del Mar

Paleolithic Cave of Altamira, Santillana del Mar, Spain
(Continued from Part 2)

To protect the site, the actual Paleolithic Cave of Altamira has been closed to the public since 2002. Over the summer of 2014, the Spanish government reopened the cave to five members of the public (per day) who won a lottery and who were willing to don protective suits. Altamira is also a protected UNESCO world heritage site.

Tourists inside New Cave at Altamira
The Spanish built a "New Cave" inside the Altamira Museum, which is a replica of the closed site, to ease the congestion of visitors to the actual cave site. According to news sources, government officials argue for reopening the real cave, stating that the emotional connection visitors make is different when looking at the replica. They believe that the replica is less awe-inspiring to visitors. We'll have to judge that for ourselves.

Entrance to the Museo de Altamira
We had to purchase our tickets at a building behind us and down a slight hill (in the picture above). Tickets are inexpensive in order to allow more people the opportunity to see the museum. Apparently there are a large number of students, professors, and researchers that regularly visit the museum. You'll need a to get a ticket, too.

Compra de entradas
Tickets to the Museo de Altamira

Great to see you got your ticket so quickly.

Plano del Edificio del Museo de Altamira
Map of the Museo de Altamira
The exhibit is a bit larger than we first thought. We'll have to wait until 12:30 PM for our group's turn to go into the New Cave. Until then, there's an exhibit we can check out.

Bone harpoons. Museo Nacional y Centro de Investigación de Altamira © Ministerio de Cultura
Harpoons in the Exhibit
Various sections of the Exhibit have videos with headphones for listening. The default language is Spanish, however, holding down a button on the headphones switches the language to English. Which means we can actually listen in English at each station.

It's nearly 12:30 PM. We better head over to the entrance to the New Cave. In a few moments, the docent will open the door and let us in. Even though the New Cave is a replica, cameras are forbidden.

When the door opened we were ushered into a mini theater where we watched a movie about the caves. It was a neat representation of life in the cave over the extended period of time of its history. When the film finished, we made our way through a hallway into the New Cave. Watch the UNESCO/NHK video below to get a feel for what we saw.



If you want to open the video in a new window, click here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qyIfPbn0RDs

We took our time staring up at the cave ceiling. The researchers believe the artists used a straw and bowl method to blow the dyes onto the paintings. (Random sarcasm from Monique: "Looks like they were the first airbrush artists.") One thing to note is that the cave does not have low ceilings, so, the artists would have needed some way to paint images above their heads. There was no mention of scaffoldings or super tall ancient people, maybe they played "Light as a feather. Stiff as a board." Or perhaps, they had their pet mammoths paint for them...Hmmm...

Dancing Bison (Standing Bison)
The Dancing Bison is Sally's favorite. It is a polychrome bison. She likes the details in the multiple colors and the way the artist rendered the hair and legs of the bison.

A Sleeping Bison
 The Cave of Altamira by Jose Antonio Lasheras
Black Coal Bison














The Sleeping Bison is Jenn's favorite. You can't really tell from this picture, but the bison is painted on a large circular protrusion in the rock face. This gives the bison depth, which is what Jenn likes so much about it.

 The Black Coal Bison is Monique's favorite. It also is painted in a protrusion in the rockface that gives the bison depth. To Monique it seems like a sketch for one of the polychrome bisons, which makes her think some cave artist(s) never finished painting it. Just a thought.


The video is to Steely Dan's "The Caves of Altamira." We found the song while doing research for this post. We dug it and thought y'all might as well!

For more information about Altamira, click the link to The Cave of Altamira by Jose Antonio Lasheras. It includes more history with lots of pictures! or copy the link below into your URL address bar. http://museodealtamira.mcu.es/web/docs/Altamira_Adoranten.pdf

Without experiencing the "real" cave, we have no way to compare our emotional responses. That said, the Spanish government officials are wrong about the New Cave. We each experienced awe, inspiration, and a very real connection with the past. Additionally, we experienced appreciation for the present efforts taken to preserve that past.

 Thank you for reading. Stay tuned for more travel posts.

~JennMoeSa

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