The Sistine Chapel of Paleolithic Art : Altamira Cave Paintings

Amazing Europe | | September 27, 2010 at 1:40 am


Famous for its vivid parietal art, the Altamira Cave Paintings were discovered in Northeren Spain by Paleo- archaeologist Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola in 1879. it is also known as the “Sistine Chapel of Stone Age art” as it features drawings and multi coloured cave paintings of wild animals and human hands. Altamira was designated a UN World Heritage Site in 1985.

Believed to be belonging to Magdalenian period according to archeological investigations, Altamira is the only site of cave painting in which the signs of domestic life extend into the first cavern which contains the actual painting. One of the interesting facts spotted by the archaeologists lead to the discovery that people at Altamira used more advanced technology than Paleolithic people which gave off less smoke and soot than torches and fats as used by the Paleolithic.

The pictures at Altamira Cave Paintings are world renowned for their extraordinary realism and colours. The paintings are mostly of animals mainly Bison. Bison holds a special mention in the Paleolithic life for his contribution to their food, clothing, making tools and foot coverings. Other animals painted include reindeer, wild boar and goats – all native to Cantabria. But you will find no mention of landscape.

Altamira cave paintings

Delving upon the materials and technology used by the cave painters, one discovers that they used natural earth pigments like ochre and zinc oxides in their paintings. The Altamira Cave Paintings boasts of use of three colours in one painting, whereas others used only one. The cave painters at Altamira used the facets of rock to complement the animal design instead of painting a flat picture.

Apart from painting figures of animals, the Altamira cave contains a numbers of abstract images and geometric shapes. At some places there are also some pictures of human hand stencils and sculpted humanoid masks. An earlier landslide saved these paintings from the ravages of time and erosion which left them protected. Picasso, the legendary painter famously proclaimed,’ after Altamira, all is decadence’.

Altamira paintings

Firstly visited by a handful of inquisitive locals, anthropologists and artists, soon the trickle of visitors became a flood which ultimately led to corrosion of the paint. In 1977 the cave was closed due to the damage caused to the paintings by exhalation of CO2  by the visitors. But the growing demand to allow for a restricted access to the Altamira Caves saw opening it once again in 1982. Only 160 visitors were allowed so the tours of the inquisitive visitors were booked three years in advance. But with the opening of replica like the one existed in the caves of Lascuax, the original caves were again closed down in 2002.Once again the caves have been opened to the public but this time the restriction is more only 30 people a day. I am wondering when will my turn come? But I will not give up as the wanderlust to know more and more about the Altamira caves is growing day by day.

Related Posts with Thumbnails


  1. Angie Williams says:

    I have been to Altamira caves couple of years ago and to say the least it was FANTASTIC! There are curvy paths and tunnels..And there are charcoal and haematite paintings throughout the length of the cave! In fact in Spanish culture, Altamira paintings are often referred to in the art world!

    Very soon we’ll be seeing the Spanish government re-opening the site of the cave paintings..So that we can show our children how rich history we have!

    Thank you for sharing information about the Altamira caves :-)

  2. Amos Michnik says:

    I had been to the caves ten years back..The polychrome paintings dating so old are indeed a marvel in today art world!
    Such unique paintings using three-dimensionality and same color yet offering a shade effect are indeed note-worthy!
    A must visit to this place when it re-opens late this year! Thanks :-)

  3. Sallie Weng says:

    The Altamira caves are the most influential piece of work in today’s art world ever since Picasso!
    Because of the extremely high quality and the well-preservedness of the paintings, they are indeed man-made but preserved by nature marvels!
    Thanks for sharing information about the Altamira Caves! :-)

  4. Kurt Sang says:

    Great post on Altamira caves..I found it really informative. Thanks! Keep posting more such knowledgeable articles :-)

  5. Peter Becerra says:

    Great post! Thanks for posting! I really enjoyed reading it! :-)

Leave a Reply

CommentLuv badge