Going underground to learn about Andalusia at the dawn of time.
The history of Andalusia stretches back a long, long time. Paintings and remains of tools discovered in the multitude of caves around the region indicate that prehistoric man flourished here. Now you can learn more about those early Iberian inhabitants at a unique cave museum in Piñar, some 30 miles north of Granada.
A train-on-wheels takes visitors from the village to the entrance of the Cueva de Las Ventanas, the Cave of Windows. Guides lead you on a one-hour tour taking in nearly half of the caves 1,300-yard length. The tour not only reveals marvellous rock formations and underground pools, but also provides an instructive insight into the life of early man, thanks to exhibits placed strategically along the way. Although there is a drop of 125 feet, due to a clever network of ramps there are no steps and the cave is wheelchair accessible. This underground Guggenheim has attracted 50,000 visitors since it opened in autumn 1999.
The Cueva de Las Ventanas was inhabited by man 25,000 years ago, while finds in the nearby Cueva de la Carigüela, discovered in 1951, indicate human presence 100,000 years ago. But the story of man in Andalusia goes back much earlier than that, as excavations near the Granada village of Orce show.
The town made headlines in 1982 when a bone fragment was discovered there, claimed to have belonged to a child who lived 1.7 million years ago. This would have done away with all the existing theories on the arrival of man in Europe, but controversy raged in the scientific community over both the nature of the bone and its age. The fragment, affectionately known to locals as La Galleta (the Cookie), is kept under lock and key in the town hall, while a copy is on display in Orces Museum of Prehistory and Palaeontology. There are also exhibits of numerous fossils of animals including elephants, rhinoceros and sabre tooth tigers discovered in the region, which millions of years ago bordered a vast freshwater sea.
In 1997 the Andalusian regional government took direct charge of the excavations, enlisting the aid of the universities of Granada and Malaga, as well as foreign universities and scientific institutes. Each summer some 40 archeologists continue to dig at various sites in the vicinity and have turned up tools which indicate the early presence of man, although current investigation is focusing more on the animal life which flourished here in prehistoric times.
If you visit this part of the province of Granada, it is only suitable that you stay in a cave, à la Fred Flintstone. But unlike those prehistoric dwellings, modern cave homes have all the comforts todays traveller could wish for. Four miles from Orce, much of the village of Galera is made up of caves carved into the soft rock. It was here that caves were first adapted for use as holiday accommodation, by the Casas Cueva company, back in 1992. Today, they have 22 caves on their books, sleeping two to eight guests. Beautifully restored and decorated with rural motifs, the only thing missing is air-conditioning: its not required, as these subterranean homes naturally maintain a comfortable temperature year round.
Cueva de Las Ventanas - Ayuntamiento de Piñar, 18568 Piñar (Granada), Spain. Tel. 34 958 394 725. Fax 34 958 394 613.
Museo de Prehistoria y Paleontología - 18858 Orce (Granada), Spain. Tel. and Fax 34 958 746 183.
Nearest airports: Granada and Almería
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Copyright © 2001 An Andalusian Experience. Text by Mark Little. Photography by J. D. Dallet - A Freelance Spain production
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Copyright © 2000-2006 Mark and David Little & J.D. Dallet