Located in Santillana del Mar, on the way to the North Way, Cantabria, lies this archaeological site. It is a cave that was inhabited for 22,000 years, from 35,600 years ago until approximately 13,000 years ago (when the access to the cave collapsed.) It is currently part of the National Museum and the National Museum of Natural History. Research Center of the Altamira Caves, which functions as its home, protector and administrator of visits due to its antiquity and historical importance. Be patient, a little later we will tell you what this management is all about. We want you to be able to visit it understanding every detail, but first we are going to tell you the magnificent story of the discovery of “The Altamira Caves”.

Who discovered the Altamira Caves?

In 1868, Modesto Cubillas, a local hunter, practiced his favorite sport in the company of his dog. Everything was going normally until his faithful friend got trapped between some rocks trying to catch his prey. It was then when he was rummaging through the rocks to free him that he found the entrance to the cave. He decided to tell Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola, a neighbour with prehistoric studies.

Cave painting of a buffalo

He began his visits to the cave in 1875. He didn’t do it before because these terrains are full of chemical weathering of rocks and he thought it would be simple. But he did not realize the real importance of the find until 1879, when he decided to take his daughter to what was then just a simple cave. While Marcellin was doing his research and excavation work, she went deep into the cave, where artificial light is needed to see. Then, he saw buffaloes inscribed on the vault and told his father.

He, who at first thought it was just scratches on the walls because of the age, had to think about it and do a lot of research. In the end, he came to the conclusion that they were Paleolithic cave paintings and decided to report them in 1880.


It was precisely the time it took to make this deposit known that raised doubts. But it was a small thing if we consider that what really disturbed the historians was another fact. Until then, there were no known samples of art from this period of history (we place the cave between the Solutrense – 180.000 B.P- and Lower Magdalenian -16.500 to 14.000 B.P- ). At that time, three sites were discovered in France that changed the conception of history as it had been known until then: La Mouthe, Combarelles and Font de Gaume.

The Altamira Caves