Caves of Nerja
Nerja's most spectacular attraction is undoubtedly its fascinating caves, located just three kilometres from the centre of town. They include archaeological treasures such as paintings over 20,000 years old and other pre-historic remains. One of the enormous natural caverns has been transformed into a concert hall, where many performances are staged during the summer. Each summer Nerja celebrats International Cave Festival, with the participation of many top international entertainers.
LAS CUEVAS DE NERJA
Las Cuevas de Nerja (the Caves of Nerja) are a series of naturally formed caves and caverns in the hills of Maro, 4km North-East of Nerja, some of which have taken up to two million years to form. The caves contain the widest naturally-formed column in the world, at 32m high and 13x7m at its base. Formed by the merging of a stalagmite and stalactite, it has held the Guinness World Record since 1989. The caves also famously host the annual Nerja International Festival of Music and Dance. A visit to these caves is a truly unique experience. In 2010 the caves were the most visited attraction in Málaga province.
The site is steeped in both geological and archaeological interest; cave paintings depict images of goats, horses, deer, seals and birds, drawn using red and black pigments. The images have been dated between at 25,000 and 3,600 B.C.
The Nerja caves were used by many different tribes including: hunters, fishermen and harvesters, from the Neolithic to Paleolithic period, and the Bronze Age. For this reason, these caves are one of the major references for the study of prehistory in the southern Iberian Peninsula.
The discovery of Las Cuevas de Nerja revolutionized Nerja, converting this agricultural and fishing town into one of the most popular tourist destinations in Andalucía.
FORMATION OF THE CAVES
Rainwater passes over the surface of the impermeable rock that forms the hillside, to the permeable earth and limestone rock above the caves, which it is able to seep through. Where the permeable and impermeable rocks meet, a sinkhole is formed. It is through this hole that the caverns would later be discovered.
The water passes through the sinkhole and travels through existing strata and cracks in the rocks, dissolving the soluble calcium and washing away the non-soluble elements of the rock, creating cavities which grow progressively larger over time through further chemical erosion.
The stalactites and stalagmites are formed by the dripping of the calcium bicarbonate solution from the roof of the cavern, leaving deposits hanging from the roof and on the base where it lands. When a stalactite and stalagmite grown large enough, they eventually meet and join together, forming a column - like the world record-holding column found in these caves.
The formation of the caves, and a column of this size, have taken millions of years. You will notice, as you pass through the caves, that these processes haven't stopped; you can see, hear and feel water dripping from the roof of the cavern.
DISCOVERY OF THE CAVES
On 12 January 1959, five local boys (Francisco Navas Montesinos, Miguel Muñoz Zorrilla, Manuel Muñoz Zorrilla, José Luis Barbero de Miguel and José Torres Cárdenas) from the nearby village of Maro, decided to go hunting for bats in a pothole known as ‘La Mina'. They spent the night there watching the bats swooping in and out of holes in the rocks. Curious, the boys decided to return the next day with tools to dislodge stalactites blocking another entrance in the pothole, allowing them to climb through. They were then able to descend into a huge cavern where they uncovered human remains and ceramic pottery. Excited, the boys rushed back to tell friends and family, and later the local authorities, who sent an expert to examine the remains and a photographer to document the discoveries.
Due to all of the research and documentation that had to be completed after the discovery was reported, photos of the caves were not published in the press until 100 days after the date of the original discovery. They were published in El Sur newspaper and named Cueva de las Maravillas, which was later changed to Las Cuevas de Nerja.
Eighteen months later, on 12 June 1960, the caves were opened to the public. The inauguration was marked by a music and dance festival, at which La Tour de Paris ballet group and the Málaga Symphonic Orchestra performed. Every year since, in the first two weeks of July, The Nerja International Festival of Music and Dance has been celebrated in the caves, as their natural acoustics provide an unparalleled performing environment.
On 15 June 1961 the festival was declared a Monument of Historical and Artistic Interest.
INSIDE THE CAVES
Inside the caves you will learn about their history and use as: a Neolithic burial site; a hyenas´ hide-out; a pantry (or a fridge, due to their consistently cool temperatures) for storing farm produce; a shelter for livestock; and a home. There is also information about the archaeological (ceramics and tools) and scientific (early herbal medication and treatments) discoveries made in the caves.
Just over a third (106,286 m3) of the total volume (264,379.33 m3) of the caves is open to the public - they are so vast it would be impossible to maintain and monitor the entire maze of caverns, and also a very long walk!