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Caves in Cantabria

Caves in Cantabria Cueva El Soplao (imagen cedida por cuevas.culturadecantabria.com)

If we had to compare the mountains in some areas of Cantabria with something, we would do it with a Gruyere cheese due to the high number of caves they have inside. With the technology we have nowadays the vast majority of the caves of the region have been explored. The discovery and study of some of them have been associated with great archaeological findings that have marked a before and an after in the understanding of the history of humanity.

If we had to compare the mountains in some areas of Cantabria with something, we would do it with a Gruyere cheese due to the high number of caves they have inside: around 6.500 caves!. With the technology we have nowadays the vast majority of the caves of the region have been explored. The discovery and study of some of them have been associated with great archaeological findings that have marked a before and an after in the understanding of the history of humanity.

Catabrian caves can be today classified into three types: protected, visitable and unexplored.

When we speak about protected caves, we are speaking about the 10 caves declared world heritage by UNESCO. This figure gives us an idea of the cultural and heritage importance of these cavities for this region and for the world. Some caves are as known as the cave of Altamira, probably the best known cave in the world. Some other caves are less known but equally valuable: Chufín, Hornos de la Peña, Las Monedas, El Castillo, Las Chimeneas, La Pasiega, El Pendo, La Garma and Covalanas.

Of these, the most noteworthy caves that can be visited are the following:

  • Cueva de Altamira, The Cave of Altamira is located near Santillana del Mar. This cave, called the "Sistine Chapel of Quaternary", is relatively small (270 m (890 ft)) and contains the rock paintings of sixteen bison, several depictions of deer, the largest of which is 2.25 m (7.4 ft) tall and of horses. The cave has been included in UNESCO list of World Heritage Sites since 1985. However, due to conservation reasons this cave is currently not visitable. In any case, next to the cave you will find the “Altamira Museum” which contains a replica of the cave at real scale and worthwhile visiting.
  • The Moro Chufin is located in an exceptionally beautiful setting, in the Nansa River valley. Despite the fact that the surroundings have been altered by the construction of La Palombera reservoir, its location in an area of cliffs, the dense foliage and the constant presence of water make the entire visit enjoyable. Its spacious vestibule has witnessed important periods of human occupation occurring around 15,500 B.C. and even in previous periods. Looking out from the cave mouth must have given a privileged viewpoint over the valley, making it an excellent hunting base.
  • Cueva de Hornos de la Peña is located in the crag known by the locals as Peña de los Hornos. In this south facing crag, the entrance area stands out in the landscape for its arch shape. The immensity and openness of the entrance vestibule attracted the last groups of Neanderthals and the first Homo sapiens to occupy the cavity vestibule, the most exterior area, as a place for habitation. The truly underground or interior area, accessed by a low-lying, narrow passage that opens out into different sectors of medium proportions, houses the greatest artistic treasure. Hornos de la Peña displays one of the most complete series of engravings in the Cantabrian region. The chronology of paintings found in this cave may hark back at least 15.5000-13,000 years B.C.
  • Cuevas del Monte Castillo. The Monte Castillo caves, located in Puente Viesgo, are a set of four cavities. Two are open to the public: El Castillo and Las Monedas. On the banks of the Pas River, on its way through Puente Viesgo, Monte El Castillo rises up, a cone-shaped limestone hill, which inside hides an intricate labyrinth of caves. These caves were frequented by man at least over the last 150,000 years. Five of them have artistic expressions dating back to the Paleolithic, particularly in El Castillo, discovered by H. Alcalde del Río in 1903 and the most important cave of them. This cave has been researched archaeologically, the results of which are a reference point for understanding human development and behavior in Prehistory, in southwest Europe. The walls of the almost 275 meters followed by the visitor in this cavity, where the majority of these artistic expressions are distributed, exemplify the techniques, themes and graphic resources used by the artists of the Upper Paleolithic to express a part of their way of thinking. At present this cave have the most ancient paleolithic art of the world of at least 40 800 years of antiquity. Horses, bison, doe, aurochs, stags, goats, a mammoth, etc., are part of the catalogue of animal figures, a varied bestiary representing some of the animals that lived alongside man. References to the human figure are numerous although cut short, expressed by hand, and with over 50 in this cave, they are a special motif.
  • Cueva de El Pendo is located in Escobedo, Camargo, in the proximities of Santander. It is characterized by the large size of its main cavity. In fact, the main entrance of El pendo cave is spectacular!. Among its paintings you can find several Hinds, a goat, a horse and other animalsunidentified, these are painted about eighty meters from the entrance. The figures have been made with pigment iron oxide of red color, extracted from the own rocks of the cave.
  • Cave of La Garma, is located north of the village of Omoño, in the municipality of Ribamontán al Monte. It was found to wall paintings and fossils in a Lower Gallery, one of the best preserved Magdaleinian period floors. It is part of the Cave of Altamira and Paleolithic Cave Art of Northern Spain World Heritage Site. 
  • Cueva de Covalanas isThe Covalanas cave, the cave with red hind, lies on the northeast slope of Monte Pando, over the El Mirón cavity, used as a habitation at least for the last 45,000 years. It was surveyed in 1903 by L. Sierra and Hermilio Alcalde del Río, two key figures in archaeological research in Cantabria. Its discovery sets it at the origins of prehistoric science and, more specifically, of palaeolithic art. This is a small cave, with two galleries sharing an exterior shelter zone apparently not used as a habitat. The gallery on the right houses the graphic cave wall expressions. After two small series of dots, 65 meters from the entrance, the first animal forms appear.


Other caves worth visiting despite not being protected are:
 

  • The Soplao Cave:  This cave was discovered at the beginning of the 20th century while exploitating the mines of Florida. This cave is considered one of the great wonders of geology, treasuring a paradise of speleothems (eccentric stalactites, stalagmites, lava flows, columns, cave pearls (teeth of the dog, etc.). El Soplao is a cave which can be visited comfortably as a tourist guided visit or as a an adventure-visit (with equipment of caving given by the organization). The visit in any case to this cave is unbeatable and you will enjoy making a tour through the spectacular, abundance and diversity of its eccentric formations. An authentic game of shadows and lights. In addition to its geological value, the cave and its surroundings are home to an exceptional heritage of mining industrial archaeology, with over 20 km of galleries. Mining operations were oriented to the extraction of sphalerite and galena, two of the best ores for the production of zinc and lead, respectively.
  • Cueva de Cullalvera:  At the foot of Monte Pando, Cullalvera Cave is part of a highly developed karstic complex covering around 12 kilometres, where the action of water and time on the rock have carved out an exceptional cave. This large sized cave has a spectacular entrance mouth where a strong, fresh current of air welcomes the visitor. In these magical surroundings, the large entrance mouth emerges from a leafy Cantabrian oak wood with a considerable ecological value. Inside the cave, equipped with facilities for the disabled, the route is lined by a handrail. The spectacle of light, sound and water introduces the visitor to the history of the cave, harking back to remote eras of Prehistory.

We have to highlight that there are many other visitable caves by making caving routes. The difficulty of making these routes will depend of the cave and the stretch to go, so we always recommend to contract a local company's specialised in this type of caving routes. If we have to recommend an area, we encourage you to visit the caves in Ramales de la Victoria, an authentic experience of sensations.

Do you want to learn more about this caves?

Please look at these websites:

http://cuevas.culturadecantabria.com/en/

http://www.elsoplao.es/default.php

http://www.cantabriaorientalrural.es/patrimonio/listado/8/cuevas-naturales.html

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