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The Caves of Nerja: a shrine to Mother Nature

Spain never ceases to amaze me. And it looks like I may not be the only one to feel that way.

According to the World Tourism Organization, Spain is set to replace the United States as the world’s second most popular destination in terms of tourism, with 82 million visitors per annum.

Just last week, TripAdvisor released its annual List of Top Destinations on the Rise in the World and much to our delight, Nerja made it to the Top 10! Our sister city even came in 4th position on the list of European emerging destinations!

So what’s all the hype about Nerja?

This rather difficult-to-pronounce name for non-Spanish speakers was once a sleepy fishing village, but somehow it has managed over the years to keep its traditional charm, with its whitewashed houses and narrow streets.  The abundance of water in the area gives Nerja a tropical feel that will daze you, with a wonderful microclimate that supplies a variety of exotical fruits that one would not expect in this part of the world (mango, avocados, cherimoyas etc)

Nerja, Malaga, Spain

But talking about the many attributes of Nerja deserves another blog entry altogether! For now, let’s concentrate on one of nature’s most unbelievable gift: the magnificent Caves of Nerja, also known as the “Cathedral of the Costa del Sol”

History 

In January 1959, five young boys from the village of Maro discovered the caves while hunting for bats in an area known locally as ‘La Mina’. While pursuing the bats, they came upon a narrow opening and inadvertently stumbled on a sinkhole that would turn out to be one of the most important geological finds of our era.

What they discovered was nothing short of spectacular.  Once inside the pothole, they found themselves able to descend to a huge cavern (known as the “Sala de la Cascada or Sala de Ballet” used today for concerts) where they discovered the most amazing archeological formations but also human skeletons. Their first reaction was that those skeletons belonged to people who had previously found the cavern so they decided to backtrack.  Little did they know that the skeletons had been there for some 5,000 years when the caves were used as dwellings. They went back a few days later with their teachers who witnessed themselves their incredible discovery.

A few months later, a local photographer by the name of José Pardial immortalized the legendary caves by taking photos. Those pictures were first published in the local newspaper Diario SUR but quickly went around the globe.

Photo credit: Diario Sur

A few facts about the Caves

  • The caves began to form 250 million years ago
  • There are a series of huge caverns stretching for almost five kilometers and home to the world’s longest and largest stalactite, a 32-meter high column measuring 13 meters by 7 meters at its base. This massive whim of nature has held its place in the Guinness book of world records since 1989.
  • Entering the cave, you’ll see dramatically-lit stalactites and stalagmites that look like organ pipes, and evidence of human habitation stretching back 25,000 years.
  • Traces of pottery, ceramics, prehistoric tools, human remains and wall paintings have been found in the caves. Since its discovery, more than one million pieces have been cataloged. In 2012 some organic remains associated with paintings of seals which could be the first known work of art in the history of humanity
Paintings of seals dating back 42,000 years could be the oldest work of art ever
  • It is widely believed that humans inhabited the caves for about 4,000 years from about 25,000BC – right up to the Bronze Age. Wall paintings and skeletal remains indicate that the caves were lived in by small groups of humans. Packs of hyenas used the caves as a base during their absence.
  • By 21,000BC, the human population began to use the caves as a more permanent dwelling and also increased substantially in number. Shells, animal and fish bones pointed to a more advanced and permanent ‘society,’ that was making increasing use of pottery and tools. By 3,800BC, there was some form of organized farming around the caves and parts of the caves were used as burial chambers.
  • The caves are home to the world’s oldest Neanderthal cave paintings, dated as being over 10,000 years older than the previous record holder.  The six paintings of seals are the only known artistic images created Neanderthal man.
  • Neanderthal man, until very recently, was considered as ape-like and incapable of symbolism and creating artistic works. The cave paintings have dispelled this myth. The more recent discovery of Roman pottery, Moorish coins, and the presence of an unusual biodiversity have all confirmed that discoveries in the Caves are seemingly limitless and subject to incredible global speculation.

Concerts

The Caves have been hosting the annual ‘Festival de Música y Danza’ since they opened to the public in 1960 attracting many international stars including Rostropovich, Sir Yehudi Menuhin, Maya Pilsetkaya, Montserrat Caballé, Paco de Lucía, Bebo Valdés and José Carreras.  Enjoy part of a concert here

Imagine yourself for a moment listening to a concert in a huge chamber which forms a natural amphitheater with incredible acoustic, surrounded by 250 million years of history, a place that has been a cradle of human evolution, full of incredible formations emanating from the floor and ceiling.  This is a lifetime experience that you can’t miss out on!

Visiting the caves

There are 3 galleries – the show gallery, the upper gallery, and the new gallery – with each gallery containing a number of halls. The upper gallery and new gallery contain many of the prehistoric cave paintings, but tourist access to these areas is limited to special groups due to its complex location and to avoid damaging the existing artifacts.

The Caves are open every day except on January 1st (New Year’s Day) and May 15th (Romeria de San Isidro).

Opening times
Winter:  09:00 – 15:00 (closes at 16:00) – entry every 30 minutes, special hours during during Easter week.
Summer: 09:00 – 17:30 (closes at 18:30) – entry every 30 minutes.

Tariffs: Adults: €10, children aged 6 years to 12 years: €6.00, children under 6 years: free

There are different exclusive and night tours available outside normal hours.  For more information, visit the official site

Contact us for more information about your 2018 holidays in Malaga!

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