It happened on 11th January 1959. Five friends from Maro and Nerja went to a place which was known as the Mine. When entering the cavity, one of them notices a cool breeze coming out of it so, curious, decided to go in through a narrow cleft. Two massive stalactites prevented them of going in. It was already dark outside, so they thought that it was a better idea if they went back there on the following day with some tools to help them in. Using them, they were able to enter the Cave past the stalactites and after some difficulties they reached a gallery where their lamps were not able to let them see the magnificency of the Cavern. They soon noticed that the place had been lived in because they found some human bones and some ceramic bowls.
Their finding rapidly became news all around and the Cave was soon to be called Wonders, but finally it was decided to give it the name by which we know it nowadays, that is, the Caves of Nerja. Its opening as a touristic destination was in 1960, and soon was declared Historic Artistic Monument, in 1961.
The Caves have the highest standard of services and premises, which make the visitor feel comfortable, as well as wonderful. The parking area is large and it is guarded; the restaurant is also bar and cafeteria. The gardens are also for the benefit of visitors, with its rest areas. If the visitor is looking for souvenirs, these can be found at the souvenir shop at the Cave's entrance. The Caves are very well linked by a busline to Nerja and to Málaga.
TOUR INSIDE THE CAVE
With its 4.283 metre-long walk, although only an third of it is accesible to visitors, it has three entrances, from which two of them are natural. In the Cavern we can differentiate two areas: the Lower Galleries or touristic area and the Upper and New Galleries, which were not known until 1969 and 1970. Access to them is through a narrow passage located high in the Cataclism Lounge, although, for the moment, they cannot be visited. The Cave astonishes us because of the immensity of its lounges, of high ceilings and spectacular stalactites and stalagmites.
LOWER GALLERIES (accessible to public)
Going NE, the visitor feels overwhelmed by the immensity of the lounges of high ceilings and beautiful stalactites and stalagmites. They constitute approximately a fourth part of the Cave's total, being a formidable labyrinth. When descending towards the Sala del Vestíbulo or Hall Lounge, we find a significant archaelogic site, wall painting and some ceramic utensils, as well as other remains and human bones. Next, going along a narrow corridor excavated in the rock, we gain access to Sala del Belén or Bethlehem Lounge and its beautiful formations of columns and stalactites. There is also a glass case with th remains of a young woman's body, approximately 18 years of age and 1,63 cm tall. It is dated, approximately from 6.300 years b. C. Then, going thorugh the Sala del Colmillo(Fang's Lounge) towards a down headed staircase we shall get to a viewpoint, where all the immensity and beauty of the Sala de la Cascada o del Ballet (Cascade or Ballet Lounge). Descending the staircase we can admire the stalagmitic groups that form the cascade after which the lounge is named. In the centre there is a massive column that is over 15 metres tall; from the ceiling a large variety of stalactites hang. It is right there, in that magnificent scenario where the Music and Dance Festivals of Nerja Caves take place.
Going round the central column, we continue our tour towards the Sala de los Fantasmas (Ghost Lounge), where curiously, the stalactites have built a formation known as the Castle. Then, walking across the narrow area and up, we reach the espectacular viewpoint of the Sala del Cataclismo (Cathaclism Lounge). When walking down the staircase, we pass next to the Organs, that are formations where we can see some paintings and breakings that are believed were made during pre-historic times. This lounge is over 100 m. long and about 50 wide, reaching heights over 30 metres; it overwhelms the visitor with its massive central column, which is the largest column known so far, with its 32 metres high and its 13 x 7 metres base. Studies undertaken there reveal that about 800.000 years ago, this region suffered a great quake that cause the fall of enormous fragments that nowadays can be seen on the Lounge's floor, on the lowest area of the Cave. Following a stairflight downwards, the visitor gets to a place called El Puente (The Bridge), where to the right above the entrance to the Upper and New Galleries can be seen, although they are not accessible to the public yet. Then, going down the staircase and round the column, we start our way back to the entrance of the Cave.
UPPER AND NEW GALLERIES
The narrow way-in located up SE at the Sala del Cataclismo (Cathaclism Lounge) is the entrance to the Cave area that is yet not allowed to visits. It consists of three small galleries of transit called Sala de la Cocina (Kitchen Lounge), Sala de los Peces (Fish Lounge) and Sala de los Laberintos (Labyrinth Lounge). Then, four subsequent large lounges, the Sala de las Columnas de Hércules (Hercules' Columns Lounge), of 90 x 40 m and that was lived-in by humans in paleolithic times, as paintings have also been found there. The Sala de la Inmensidad (Immensity Lounge), which name tells us about the enormity of its dimensions, 135m x 95 metres. In the southern area there is the third lounge or Galería de las Nieves (Snow Gallery) with its 27,5 metres is below the Cave entrance level. It is deemed that the present freatic level is very close, as the crystal formations in contact with water level have originated what are called La Piñas (Pine Cones). The Sala de la Lanza (Spear Lounge) is named after a massice stalactite that fell from the roof and got stuck on the floor, it has 145 x 70 metres. Also, it presents the visitor with espectaculat views of a large Cavern area. Then, there is the Sala de la Montaña (Mountain Lounge), the last and widest of all (165 x 105 metres), with its impressive volume of 250.000 metres and an incredible chaos of blocks locatede in its centre; this lounge is located on the highest point of the Cave, where sediments witness the presence of a former underground river. We must remark another carachteristic of the Cavern in this lounge, however of great rarity: the formings named Uñas (Nails), that are calcium coverings on small rock fragments shaped like nails.
THE NERJA CAVE FESTIVALS
The official opening of the Cave took place in June 1960. For the occassion a Classic Ballet Festival was organized inside the Cavern, where the French Ballet Company "La Tour de París" played Tchaikowsky's "Swan Lake" amongst others.
Ballet and opera have been through the years the most represented but not the only ones, as other national and international artistic expressions, such as Flamenco have not been forgotten. Between 1990 and 1996, the most important artist, such as Mistislav Rostropovich, had a concert to which our first Lady,Her Majesty Queen Sofía of Spain, was amongst the hundreds of people in the audience. On the 47th Festival, the shows ranged from Gospel and Jazz, played by the Los Angeles Gospel Singers to Flamenco, with the great José Mercé singing.
THE CAVE AND HUMANS
From the year of its discovering, multiple archaeological campaigns have been undertaken, which results have confirmed the relevance of this prehistoric site. The periods in which it was inhabited by humans comprehend a wide chronological and cultural context, from about 25.000 years, with a rich asset of prehistoric art. Investigation undertaken at the Sala de la Mina y del Vestíbulo (Mine Lounge and Hall Lounge), near the former entrance, have prooved them to be one of the richest areas in the whole cave, therefore, of major human occupation. On the eldest levels that correspond to the Upper Paleolithic, a few instruments and materials of the Aurignacensis Period (25.000 b.C)have been found. From 18.000 to 14.000 b. C., the Cave shows us human burials of three adults and one child of Cromagnon type that would have lived on a humid and cool climate. There are also some paintings of horses, goats and deer, as well as curves, crosses, dots, parallel lines, sketches and spots without shape, all of them in black and red. These paintings are found in both Galleries, that is in the Lower and Upper ones. From the Magdaleniensis Period (14.000 to 9.000 b.C.) there are bone harpoons that witness the implantation of this extraordinarily important hunting implement in the south of the Iberian Peninsula. To this same Period corresponds a small painting group dolphin-shaped and some stones painted with lines and other geometric signs.
From Epipaleolithic Period (9.000 to 5.000 b.C. ) some blade-shaped utensils and scrapers, as well as a burial site. The Neolithic – Old, Middle and Recent- (5.000 to 2.800 b.C), of humid mild climate, is a fundamental period for the Cave, for it is proven that humans expanded their living and burial areas towards the lower and inner lounges, that is, the Cascade, Ghosts and Cathaclism Lounges. We can say that its inhabitants belonged to a productive community that stocked their food and kept domestic animal, also they complemented their diet with acorns, wild olives, pine nuts, seeds and pulses. Ceramic appears along with personal ornaments such as bracelets engraved with paralel stripes, shells, pebble necklaces, bone rings and many more. Apart from the rich ceramic material decorated with cords or simple and deep incisions, the spheric shape predominates although there are also some flat bases. The handles of the implements are made of string and the objects found are, amongst others, blades, silex knives and bone burils. Also, some cereal silos and human remains have been found, dated between 4th and 3rd millennium b.C.
And finally, we shall talk about the Copper Era or 3rd millenium b.C. Although there are no remains of that metal in the Cave, there are some small ceramic pieces which shape tend to be of flat base and a limited lithic industry of fragmented silex blades. Also, many ceramic loom weighs and tensors, which proof the existence of and incipient textile activity.
Hunting is represented by arrow heads which base is straight or concave and is registered by human shaped drawings made in red, that were carrying some objects in their hands. These paintings, located at the Sala de la Torca (Round Depression Lounge), could also represent dance scenes. To this period correspond some well preserved burials, as well as some red human shaped paintings at the Cataclysm Lounge and the Upper Galleries' Lounges, with outline representacions of female deities.
Towards 2.000 b. C, the bell-shaped vase appears in the Cave, which was already used in most part of the European continent. The Cave seems to have been abandoned by humans during the last years of the 2nd millennium b.C., although some utensils belonging to the Argaric Bronze Period have been found. The entrance to the Cave was sealed using water carrying rocks and other material and so the use by humans ended until it was discovered in 1959.
And last but not least, we must remark the existence of a curious kind of prehistoric art in the Cave: the presence of a group of what has been called “casseroles” or round erosions made on the columns or calcic formations, very close to the entrance of the Cave, but not beyond the Catalysm Lounge. So far, no interpretation or meaning has been found about them, nor their utility or period in which they were made.