Spain’s finest prehistoric art, the wonderful paintings of bison, horses, deer and other animals in the Cueva de Altamira, 2.5km southwest of Santillana del Mar, was discovered in 1879 by Cantabrian historian and scientist Marcelino Sanz de Sautuola and his eight-year-old daughter María Justina. By 2002, Altamira had attracted so many visitors that the cave was closed to prevent deterioration of the art, but a replica cave in the museum here now enables everyone to appreciate the inspired, 13,000- to 35,000-year-old paintings. These magical carbon-and-ochre illustrations are particularly special for depicting completely coloured-in beasts, rather than animal outlines (as in other Cantabrian caves).
Since 2014 the Altamira authorities have begun allowing five lucky visitors, randomly selected by lottery, to enter the real Altamira cave each Friday morning. People entering the museum before 10.30am on Friday will be offered an application form if interested; the drawing takes place at 10.40am.