A local man, Modesto Subillas discovered the caves in 1868. In 1875 he led Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola to the caves for the first time but Sautuola, an amateur archaeologist, through the ‘marks’ in the caves were not made by humans. Sautuola changed his mind after visiting the Third International Exhibition in Paris in 1878 and decided to research the caves. He first published in 1880, but was met with scepticism. The importance of the caves was not acknowledged until the early 1900s after other, similar sites had been found
The cave is in a hillside overlooking a green valley with views of Santillana del Mar. Several interlinked caves and passages lead c.270 metres into the hillside, but only the cave mouth was actually inhabited. A rockfall in 12,000 BC sealed the entrance to the caves and so the paintings were preserved. It is not clear when the opening to the caves became clear.
A Museum close to the caves gives full details and has a reconstruction of the cave mouth and some of the painting. The earliest paintings date back 36,000 years … !
Altamira near Santillana del Mar is an interesting visit, but also disappointing. The site was crowded, and the reconstruction was completely lacking in atmosphere, which is what you might expect. Having once visited a similar site in France I found this disappointing. There are other, similar sites in Northern Spain with remarkable paintings.
Today Suances is a very popular tourist resort, with five beaches, good surfing, and lots of fishing. The town is on the River Saja and in Roman times the town was Portus Blendium, named after an early tribe, the Blendios.
Visits to Altamira near Santillana del Mar and nearby Suances were a very relaxed way to spend our last full day in Northern Spain. And we were blessed with good weather and sunshine!