Santillano del Mar
We stayed our first night in Spain on the edge of this beautiful little medieval village.The streets are narrow and cobbled, and only local traffic is allowed in.The houses mainly date from the 15th Century with a few modern 18th century abodes dotted around.
It was a pleasure to spend an easy day in warm sunshine (hooray) wandering around the laneways. We visited the Diocesan Museum, once an 18th century palace (so quite new really) which housed enough wood carvings of saints to last us a lifetime.Some were decidedly odd, indeed grotesque, but most were impressively old with the woodworm holes and missing limbs to prove it. The building itself was in a square with an internal courtyard surrounded by cloisters on the ground floor.Upstairs the floor was original and made of wide rough-hewn planks which creaked and groaned loudly with every step.
The centrepiece of the village is the Colegiata de Santa Juliana around which the medieval town grew. The first monastery here was founded in the 8th to 9th century and it became the church in the 12th century.The columns in the cloisters each had the most magnificently carved capitals - each one different: plants and animals, vines and fruits, monstrosities and angels, and all kinds of abstract patterns.The church itself had an organ where half the pipes were horizontal - it looked as if the poor organist would be deafened by his own music. Most interestingly the windows were all filled in, not with glass, but with thin panels of what was either alabaster or onyx.The light that shone through was muted by the soft golden colours of the stone.Unfortunately the effect was somewhat killed by the large, naked fluoro bulbs hanging down from the ancient iron chandeliers.
We experienced our first Spanish siesta.All the shops, banks and attractions closed at noon and didn't open again till 4, so we headed where the locals head: a place to eat and drink.On a terrace at the back of an old house converted to a bar and restaurant, we enjoyed paella and calamari in ink washed down with a jug of soft red wine.
The next day we were woken by the sounds of shotguns going off, and very loudly - whether it was shooting animals or for scaring birds from crops we have yet to discover.But it was a bit of a surprise early in the morning.
And alas the day was not to be the sunny warm day it had been the day before.All night we were lashed by thunderstorms, driving rain and high winds, and the rain continued into the day.Just as well we had left visiting the Altamira Caves till then.
Altamira, just outside Santillano del Mar, is the site of limestone caves where early European Man sheltered as long ago as 30 000 years.In some of the caves discovered in the 1800s are among the best cave paintings to be found in Europe.Unfortunately for us, though fortunately for the long term preservation of the artworks, no-one can now visit the caves.Quite simply the high humidity associated with people was destroying the paintings.But the museum, built on the site and full of vestiges of prehistoric humanity, has built a complete replica of the main cave.The Neocave is included in the entry ticket and only small groups are let in at a time.If this is a replica, then the real thing must be astonishing. The paintings of bison, lions, horses and deer are sublimely executed with the sure hand of a person who sees with the eye of an artist.These are not crude representations of the animals; these jump with life. The huge bison is skilful rendered with just a few perfect strokes. The colours are as bright as they would have been 16 000 years ago.Amazingly these painting are high on the ceiling of the cave and are found in complete darkness.How were they done so skilfully up so high?What source of light did they use in the deep recesses of the caves? So many unanswered questions.