Think of the last time you were in the presence of something really old. Was it a cherished possession of one of your family members? Was it a used book or antique that spoke to you from a dusty hole-in-the-wall shop? Think of your impulse to handle it and let your mind wander to the people who touched it before you. Who were they? How did they live? What daily dramas did they endure and how did they differ from yours today?
I found myself musing over these same questions this summer at the mouth of El Pendo cave in Cantabria, Spain. It is one of a number of Paleolithic caves in the north of Spain known for preserving, thanks to the constant museum-like conditions of caves, some of the oldest art that we have. The entrance to the cave is constructed like the most alluring architectural residence - after a short stroll down a lush wooded path, a rock facade appears. An iron gate keeps you from seeing around the corner though you'll crane your neck to see as far as you can. If the gates are closed, it is because the guide is with a group. Enjoy the scenery and wait. You will be rewarded with the opportunity to travel back in time and stand meters away from original paintings by artists who lived in this very cave 30,000 years ago. The urge to know the people who lived here and created these mysterious pieces of art is overwhelming. My imagination got the best of me:
Unlike its more famous counterpart in Cantabria, the cave of Altamira, El Pendo still offers you the opportunity to view the actual paintings rather than replicas. But if you're looking for an intimate, non-touristy experience, go soon. Construction is underway for a vineyard and tasting room that will no doubt make El Pendo a more popular destination.
El Pendo Cave; Cantabria, Spain
World Heritage Site: Altamira Cave and the Paleolithic Cave Art of Spain