In the caves of Spain, explore early man’s Art 101 - The Washington
... On a different trip across the province of Málaga, in southern
Spain, we stopped in the ancient city of Ronda for the night (fantastic
gorge, beautiful old buildings, Arab baths). The next day, we drove
to the rural village of Benaojan, where a small sign directed us up
a dirt road to La Pileta, one of the few privately owned, open-to-the-public
caves with paintings in Spain.
We parked in a dirt lot with a few other cars and walked up a steep
trail and stone steps that ended by the mouth of the cave. A roofed
picnic area beside a small, unoccupied cabin provided shelter from
the sun. Near 1 p.m., the time of our tour, the cave’s iron door
opened; a few people emerged squinting at the sun. They were
followed by the cave’s guardian and tour guide, Tomas Bullon, the
great-grandson of Jose Bullon, who discovered the cave in 1905.
Bullon, who is trying — so far, without success — to persuade his
17-year-old son to join this family business, led us through the
cave opening into a small gift shop lit only by his battery-powered
lantern. He collected the entry fee of 3 euros each and handed out a
few more lanterns. Then he told us the rules: No photos once we left
the shop area — the flash is bad for the art, and the sensors are
bad for the bats, he said, and no touching anything (standard rules
in such caves). Inside, the cave was wet and cool. Water dripped
from stalactites formed over thousands of years. Bullon was eager to
speak in English, a rare but welcome opportunity for us. Along with
some British tourists, we took him up on it.
Cueva de la Pileta’s art is mostly black and red paintings of horses,
deer and one enormous fish. The art is thought to be about 25,000
years old. Miranda S. Spivack, 10-30-14.
Poems from Spain: Cueva de la Pileta. By paxphilia | July 7, 2010
Deep within this womb of stagnant time
The air smells of earth
Heavy darkness presses its hands
Against the small light of my lantern.
Looming rock formations
Ominous and protective
Elude the hazy light
Edges seep into black.
Human brains, crumpled figures,
Tongues of mangrove roots
Moon crater pocks and alien amoebas
Texture and form are torn from their normal definitions
In these twilight shapes.
New concepts birthed from minerals and erosion.
The discarded playthings of a wacky claymaker god
... However, the atmosphere was really Indiana Jones like! Only
without snakes and secret codes etc. Bats we saw. The cave was big,
sometimes the ceilings 50 meters high and at some ponts extremely
narrow passages. Small lakes were to be found, and everywhere
beautiful stalactites and stalagmites formed during thousands of
years. We saw Palaeolithic paintings of horses, bulls, fish, and
goats from 20.000-25.000 years ago... April 9, 2010
You’ll be just as surprised as we were: How is it possible that this
cave be so incredible and yet relatively unknown? At the door a
trickle of people are waiting to be astounded. Luckily the hoards of
tourists haven’t made it this far. Only ten minutes from Ronda
you’ll find cave drawings of bisons and fish dating from up to
20,000 years ago. The Cueva de la Pileta is a voyage into the past
that will leave you with your mouth hanging wide open... By Julio
Ruiz the 28 November 2009.
Ronda, Spain: Land of
bridges, bandits and bullfights.
Rick Steves. Thursday, December 17, 2009.
... To really see prehistory, day-trip
to the Pileta Cave, the best and most intimate look a tourist can
get at prehistoric cave paintings in Spain. The farmer who owns the
cave is a master at hurdling the language barrier. As you walk the
cool half-mile, he'll spend an hour pointing out which are five
times as old as the Egyptian pyramids. The Neolithic and Paleolithic
drawings of black, ochre, and red are mostly just lines or patterns,
but there are also horses, goats, cattle, and a rare giant fish,
made from a mixture of clay and fat by finger-painting prehistoric
Nerja cave vs. Pileta
gray_lady on Jul 24, 2006.
The caves near Nerja and Pileta near
Ronda are quite different in many ways.
1) The Nerja Cave is very highly developed; including a large
theater with built-in theater seats and a stage where concerts are
performed at certain times of year. You also have an opportunity to
purchase a picture of yourself, which was taken in the cave, as you
exit through the gift shop! Pileta is almost completely undeveloped,
and because the rooms are much smaller, you are very close to the
walls, and the stalactites and stalagmites. There is no Gift Shop!
2) Nerja is lighted throughout; Pileta is lighted only by the
lanterns carried by the guide and a few visitors in your group.
Incidentally, call ahead to get the schedule at Pileta -- groups are
limited to 25.
3) Cave paintings by some of the people who inhabited the caves
thousands of years ago are, in Nerja, not in parts of the cave which
are open to the public. In Pileta, some very interesting primitive
artwork and symbols are in view.
4) Perhaps the biggest difference to me, was that the Pileta cave is
a "living" cave -- there are underground ponds and trickles of water
verywhere, and you can see tiny droplets carrying bits of limestone
hanging from the bottom of stalactites as they grow. Nerja was
totally dry when we visited in May of this year, and many of the
stalactites and stalagmites were lying broken on the floor of the
cave, or missing entirely, with only stumps remaining.
5) I would think the children, as well as adults, would think Pileta
is a real cave experience, from the entrance, which is a small hole
in the side of the mountain, to the narrow passages (one must duck
in places) to the "living" stalactites and stalagmites. The Nerja
caves are inpressive for their size, but a bit too Disneyfied for my
Father of Prehistory.
The Abbe Henri Breuil: His Life and Times.
By Alan Houghton Brodrick. 1963, 90-93.
Willoughby Cole Verner was a British officer
who, after retiring from the army, bought a house near
Algeciras, opposite Gibraltar across the Bay. In this
he spent a good deal of each year not only because the
climate suited him but also because the wild, deserted
valleys and mountains northwards shelter a rich treasure
of bird life, and Verner was a keen ornithologist. To
day the way from the sugar-cane-fringed water meadows
of the lower valleys up to the rock-ringed plateau of
runs through a country where you see hardly a sign of
human life, save a goatherd here and there, and if you
are lucky you may glimpse the great golden eagle
swooping or gliding.
Verner spent a good deal of his time wandering about
on muleback accompanied by a single guide. While he
was prospecting one day to the west of Ronda perched
over its precipitous ravine, the guide remarked, "Over
there near Montjaque and Benoajdn there s a mysterious
cave the people call La Pileta." It seems it was as long
as 1902 that some peasants seeking guano for fertilizer
gan to let themselves down with cords into a pit which
its bottom had an opening leading into a cave. As there
were mysterious markings on the walls, the cavern got
the name of Los Letreros.
curiosity aroused by what his guide said, went to see.
He had no interest in or knowledge of prehistoric
matters but he did explore the cavern (then very
difficult of access) and, when he returned to England,
he wrote articles (in the Saturday Review), entitled "Letters
from Wilder Spain," and these attracted Breuils
attention. The year was 1911.
Twelve months later Breuil, Obermaier and Verner were at
La Pileta, which was to reveal some surprising things.
The cavern was occupied by Man during long ages, or at
any rate, for periods over a long lapse of time. There
were neolithic and Bronze Age hearths and implements as
well as several human skeletons, one at the bottom of a
deep chasm. These looked as though they might be the
remains of men and women sacrificed or, at any rate,
allowed to die as offerings, maybe, to the spirits of
the cave or the waters. The bones show no signs of
mutilation, norwere they buried, possibly because the
victims were just allowed to starve to death in the
recesses of the earth; bloodless sacrifices being
suitable to some religious demands.
Many years after Breuil s time at La Pileta (i.e., in
1935) the so-called "Venus of Benaojan" was found, a
terra-cotta amulet about 21/2 inches high (exactly six
centimeters), shaped rather like a "double axe" and with
two holes at the top (making "eyes" and also holes for
suspending the object), two knobs figuring breasts lower
down and at the bottom a mass of dots representing the
pubic hair. The object dates from the Bronze Age and so
is some 3000 years old but it is evidence of the "Eye
But the paintings are the chief attraction of La Pileta.
A considerable number of them are in the naturalistic
style of the northern Spanish prehistoric caves and not
at all like the Levantine paintings.
to the animal pictures is an immense mass
of signs, some obviously stylized representations of
animals together with an abundance of comb-shaped and
other patterns which occur also in much later times. The
symbolical, schematized art of these later ages has,
roots deep down in palaeolithic ages. Obermaier worked
out a series of designs ranging from simple but
recognizable forms of men and women right up to the
signs on Piettes Azilian pebbles.
La Pileta is now quite easy to reach. A road has been
made that leads nearly to the cave s entrance. Since
Breuil s time new galleries have been explored though
they do not add very much to the evidence the Abb
gathered, and La Pileta de Benoajdn (Monaco, 1915) by
Breuil, Obermaier and Verner is still the best book on
Of course the startling revelation of La Pileta was that
right down in the Spanish South there flourished in Late
Old Stone Age times a naturalistic art closely related
that of southwestern France and northern Spain.
southern and northern Spain and southern France were at
some epochs linked together in culture. No doubt the
of communication lay around the coasts, the coastal
being then much wider than now...
Fossil Bones of Man discovered by
Colonel Willoughby Verner in a Limestone Cave near Ronda, in the
South of Spain.
By A. Keith. Man, 11, 1911, 154-160.
During the winters
1909-10 and 1910-11 Colonel Willoughby Verner explored a large and
unknown lime-stone cave at Ronda in the south of Spain. On the walls
of the cave he found drawings, some of which are similar to the
crude art of the caves in North Spain. In the superficial strata of
the floor he found the remains of the pig and goat with parts of
human thigh bones, all coated with a thick layer of stalagmite.
Fragments of a primitive type of pottery were also found. In a
deeper and presumably older part of the floor he discovered the
fragmentary remains of a human skeleton of a peculiar type. The
bones are mineralised and were embedded in stalagmite.
An examination of the
parts show that they belonged to a man of about 1480 mm. in height
(4 feet 10 inches), of stout and muscular build. Although
corresponding to the Bushman in stature, he differs from that race
in many characters of his skeleton ; in the points wherein he
differs from the Bushmen he agrees with the early Neolithic European
races, but he possesses certain peculiar features which distinguish
him from both of these and from all modern races. Beyond the
mineralised condition of the bones, their peculiar features and the
remains of an apparently extinct form of ibex found with them, there
are no means of estimating the degree of antiquily of this peculiar
Ronda type of man. Nothing is known of the physical characters of
the artists of the Spanish caves. It is possible that the man
discovered by Colonel Verner may prove to belong to the artist race.
Cave art. Unknown
animal at Cueva de la Pileta.
Cueva de la Pileta, by
In 1975, my wife, Janet, and I traveled in Andalusia after reading a
National Geographic article on the region. We sought out La Pileta,
which was in the countryside outside Benaoján.
We climbed the rough-hewn stone steps cut into the mountain wall to
explore the cave but found the entrance to the crypt closed with
steel bars and a heavy padlock. All we could see was a sign in
German, which read, “Der Fuhrer ist in der Höhle” (the leader is in
the cave). “Der Fuhrer,” in this case, was not A. Hitler, but the
tour guide, one of the descendants of La Pileta’s discoverer, the
fourth generation to own the cave...