We took a bus to Santillana del Mar on Saturday. It was drizzling, and we appreciated not hiking through the industrial outskirts of Santander as we exited the city. The main structures in Santillana are part of a true medieval village and fascinating to see. Visiting on a weekend, however, meant lots of tourists in town!
Santillana reminded us a little of St. Augustine in that it the buildings and history are archaeological treasures, well preserved, and filled with expensive tourist treasures from ice cream shops to a leather goods store.
We stayed in an albergue in the medieval village that had been converted from a convent. Each room was private with a sink and shared bathrooms down the hall. It was such a comfortable stay and the hosts really strived to meet pilgrim needs. There was a lovely breakfast the next morning to see us on our way.
The real treat in Santillana was about a 2.5-mile walk out of town – the caves of Altamira. These are actually a complex of caves known for their prehistoric art, the oldest of which was painted 36,000 years ago.
The caves are closed to the public and protected because of their value and fragility, but the archaeological museum, Museo de Altamira, and the Neocaves, a life-sized reproduction of the caves and their art, open this ancient world to a broad population of visitors. They are nothing short of phenomenal in the way they have been conceptualized and carried out.
We had time to visit the archeological museum before the Neocave exhibit. The museum situated the Altamira cave art both in the context of its time as well as the development of the humans on earth. When we visited the Neocave exhibit, what fascinated us was the reality of the exhibit. Suddenly, we were in a cave as it existed many thousands of years ago.
Life-sized and with a true opening to the outdoors, the exhibit first explained that both fire and the results of the hunt were maintained and processed near the cave opening. The art was further within, and the exhibit provided modern representations based on archaeological evidence of how the art was made. Thank you to Blair Jones, fellow pilgrim, for letting us use some of his photos of the Neocave exhibit.