Altamira – an old dream of mine comes true

On Tuesday, 7th of May, we visit Altamira and the medieval town of Santillana del Mar.


The caves of Altamira – an old dream of mine comes true

When I was a child, I read the book about how the caves of Lascaux in France were discovered: Some children walked with their dog in the valley of the river Vézère in the Périgord. The dog disappeared all of a sudden. It had fallen into a hole that turned out to be the cave of Lascaux with the beautiful prehistorian paintings. The book then talked about Altamira that had been discovered earlier, in the late 19th century. I had seen the caves of Lascaux some 30 years ago (the copy) and I had always wished to see the caves of Altamira. Now I am here. My dream has come true. Oh yes, I know, what I see is a copy, but a well made copy. The bisons seem to look at me with their eyes wide open.

The prehistorian artists made use of the natural forms of the rock to place their animals. This one has been hit by arrows.

And this is another bison – just amazing.

An excellent museum is attached to the reproduction of the cave. The map shows the occurrence of prehistoric paintings in Europe, and such paintings have been found all over the continents (not only in Europe), as another map explains.

This was a wonderful experience and it would be wonderful with children, as there are many videos and animations that explain the history.


Strolling through medieval Santillana del Mar

Our Dumont announces Santillana del Mar as a medieval small town with palaces that have been built by “Indians” or Spaniards after having returned wealthy from the Americas. The Palacio de los Velarde is one example.

The palaces are decorated with coats of arms. 

Between the medieval buildings, there is the laundry house, and in the bar to the left, we have a zumo de naranja (an orange juice).

Santillana del Mar is pretty – I can understand Sartre who said that this is the most beautiful town of Spain. But that was at the time, when Sartre lived. The town is still pretty with all the houses perfectly renovated… but it is almost “too” pretty: Too many souvenir shops, too many bars, too many restaurants and too many hotels. The town just seems to live for and from tourists.

In the shops we learn about local products such as the quesado (a cheese casserole)…

or soboa (similar to our Madeleine). In a somewhat “normal” shop, I buy a sausage of jabalí (wild boar).

The Romanesque church of Santillana was built in the 11th century. It is dedicated to Santa Juliana. In Roman times, Juliana’s father found a husband for his daughter, but she had become Christian ad did not want a non-Christian husband. For that, her father tortured and killed her. She is buried in the church. This is the main gate…

… and this is the choir.

We pay the entrance fee and enter the cloister. Ursula says, look here – uoarmmmm, look, George kills the dragon by penetrating it with his sword – right in the middle.

The interior of the church is sober.

The altar is of Isabelline style from around 1500. Isabelline is late Gothic at the transition to Renaissance.

“Look, this must be a modern antependium,” Ursula says. But no, the antependium is from the 11th century. Not modern at all. Well, it is not the first time that we thought a Romanesque sculpture to be modern – Romanesque art just holds for ever.

On the antependium, the second person from the left is Petrus with his key, the other half reliefs cannot be identified. The altar, the antependium and the martyrdom of Juliana are carefully documented in the church.


Santillana del Mar has a beautiful Plaza Mayor,…

… with two towers from the 14th century.

After three hours, we leave the pretty town that is full of tourists and souvenir shops. WeIl, we had expected more local shops and more local people here – this really looks like an open- air museum to us.


Evening meal

We return to our Casona de los Güelitos and enjoy a nice dinner. We do feel at home in this cosy house.

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