La Cueva de la Pileta – Neolithic Cave Art

A few years back when I was traveling in Southern Spain in the region of Andalusia. In that region there are a series of white washed towns located at the tops of hills. Besides being picturesque, the town locations aided with defense as this was the last area contested by the Moors at the time of the Spanish re-conquest of Spain in the late 1400s. These towns are know simply as “Los Pueblos Blancos” or the white towns. While this region seems very old to most Americans, what we were looking for was much older. Near Rhonda, the home of bull fighting, and located above the village of Benaoj├ín we had read of the existence of a cave which contained Palaeolithic cave art. Unlike the better known caves in Europe, this cave is still open to the public and tours are given daily by the family of the farmer on whose land the cave resides.

We drove off of the beaten path in search of this cave. Our route led us through these small villages and at least once led us down a street that rapidly diminished to a walk way. The road got smaller and smaller until I literally needed to wait for a elderly woman to step onto her front step until there was room for me to pass by. We turned a corner and were stuck. I was not sure the car would even be able to make the next corner. Finally with my wife positioned at the front of the car and our friend positioned at the rear we inched back and forth until we could make the corner. It turns out we had missed a key turn in the road without realizing it when the road nearly doubled back on itself in the Andalusian hills.

With our sense of direction reestablished we arrived at the small parking area for La Cueva de la Pileta without incident. A short hike up the hill leads to to a metal gate that bars the entrance to the cave. There was no one else waiting when we arrived and we were left waiting with no instruction and only the hope that this was in fact our destination. As we waited more and more people gathered which raised our confidence that we were, at least, in the right location. The small group that gathered came from all over the world but predominantly from Europe. We exchanged stories in English and other shared languages with an intrepid group of travelers. This is not the sort of destination where you are likely to see a bus full of Japanese tourists pull up. We had heard that tours were conducted every half an hour but this is not the sort of operation run with precision. After waiting for some time (more than half an hour) the gate opened to disgorge the previous small tour group and we were permitted to enter. We paid our small entry fee, were instructed not to use our camera’s flash and set off behind our guides.

The only source of illumination in the cave is a pair of oil lanterns carried by the guides. We followed them through a series of chambers and down a series of ladders deeper into the cave. Here and there along the walls of they pointed out drawings of horses, fish and game animals. There were also simple hash marks made on the wall as if someone were keeping track of time. Some time ago, very long ago, a small group of the earliest Spaniards (probably not related to today’s Spaniards but to the Basque people) to shelter in this cave. The oldest cave art is estimated to be about 25,000 years old. Archeologists say that the pottery found in this cave is some of the oldest found in Europe.

Overall this family run destination provided a remarkable trip far from the beaten path of tourist crowds and a wonderful and rare peak back into pre-historic time.

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