HOT Properties Magazine Archive
Natural Wonders - Hidden Depths
From the snowy peaks of the Sierra Nevada to the sandy shores of the Mediterranean, and from ancient forests to inland lakes, Andalucía is a region of spectacularly contrasting landscapes. But some of Nature’s most magnificent creations of all are without doubt, the multitude of breathtakingly beautiful yet little-known caves and grottos that lie beneath.
Report: Carolyn Mowlem
Literally honeycombed with caverns, mainland Spain, the Balearics and the Canaries, all boast more than their fair share of underground marvels. In Málaga alone, more than an astonishing 1,500 caves have been registered, although due to their depth, steepness or complexity, around 500 can only be explored by expert pot-holers. As you’d expect, there are several caving clubs, the largest of which is the FAE (Andalusian Potholing Federation), more than half of whose 5,000 members are malagueños.
The best known of all caves in Málaga is the Cueva de Nerja. Arguably the Coast’s leading tourist attraction, it was discovered quite by chance nearly 50 years ago, when a group of local teenagers went in search of the bats they’d seen fluttering around an entrance to the La Mina well shaft. Following a breeze inside the rocky cavity, they eventually found themselves inside a huge underground chamber thousands of years old.
Opened to the public in 1960, although visitors may currently only admire around a third of this underground treasure trove of impressive stalactites and stalagmites, the Cueva de Nerja comprises more than four kilometres of chambers, passageways and tunnels. Human remains dating from around 6300 BC and pre-historic cave paintings have also been discovered, several of which are on display. In addition, the Cueva de Nerja is world renowned for its International Festival of Music and Dance, celebrated annually in July, and this summer hosting its 48th edition. Over the years, the awe-inspiring natural auditorium has been the perfect backdrop for the unforgettable voices of Kiri Te Kanawa, Montserrat Caballé and Alfredo Kraus, the baton of maestro conductor, Sir Yehudi Menuhin, and several world-class ballet companies.
Other notable Málaga caves include Rincón de la Victoria’s Cuevas del Cantal system discovered in 1918, whose prehistoric cave drawings are said to date back some 30,000 years. The Zafarraya Cave in Alcaucín – where thousands of stone tools, animal bones and human remains have been found – is similarly ancient, while a study is currently in progress to compare the paleolithic paintings of animals, humans, hands and ancient symbols found in the Cueva de Ardales with similar prehistoric art discovered in the Chauvet Cave in southern France.
Regions of Málaga particularly rich in caves (some of which require a permit to enter while others are restricted to those accompanied by a qualified guide) are the Sierra de Ronda, with the Cueva del Gato and Cueva de la Pileta; the Sierra de las Nieves (Cueva de la Tinaja, Cueva de los Organos and La Araña); El Torcal near Antequera; and the marine grotto - La Cueva del Tesoro, at Rincón de la Victoria.
For the most experienced of pot-holers - those with a knowledge of diving, and suitably armed with specialist equipment - the 1,090-metre deep GESM, located in the Sierra de Tolox, is something of a holy grail. The third largest chasm in the world, and the biggest in Spain, by far the lion’s share of this monumental quirk of Nature still remains to be explored.
Further afield, close to the village of Aracena in Andalucía’s most westerly province of Huelva, the captivating Gruta de las Maravillas cave system dates back more than 11 million years. Discovered in 1911, it was the first cave in Spain to be opened to the public – in 1914 – and consists of some 2,200 metres of galleries, just over half of which can be visited. With no fewer than twelve main caverns of enormous proportions, including the ‘Cave of Shells’, ‘Cave of Jewels’ and ‘The Cathedral’, and together with six large subterranean lakes, the sheer splendour of the Gruta de las Maravillas (Grotto of Marvels) has, over the years, served as an inspiration for a multitude of artists, musicians, poets and writers. The cave system is open every day, with guided tours lasting just under an hour.FURTHER INFORMATION Federación Andaluza de Espeleología: www.espeleo.com Fundación Cueva de Nerja: www.cuevadenerja.es Gruta de las Maravillas: www.andalucia.org
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