Caves of Euskadi: the underground secrets

We propose a different form of tourism, a perfect fusion between history and nature. Today we discover the caves of Euskadi; full of paintings, archaeological sites and the footprints of the animals that inhabited them.

Cave of Pozalagua

cuevas en Euskadi

Arguably the most-well known of the caves of Euskadi is the Cave of Pozalagua, located 52 km from Bilbao, at Armañón Natural Park. More specifically, it is located in the Carranza Valley, one of the most beautiful and also secret places of Bizkaia. To go around the cave you have to use a metal walkway with handrails. In this cave you will admire the highest concentration of eccentric stalactites in the world. They branch out in all directions, intertwining and knotting, and create figures that seem to defy the laws of gravity. Access to Pozalagua is also available for people with disabilities through a platform.

Mines of Arditurri

cuevas en Euskadi
Foto de Sabino Orbegozo

The Mines of Arditurri are located in the bowels of the massif Aiako Harria, in the town of Oiartzun (Gipuzkoa). Its history goes back to the Roman age, when it was used to extract minerals that allowed them get silver. However, remains found in the vicinity of the mine indicate that activity could have started some time ago. The exploitation continued until 1984 and, after a series of research and improvement works, in 2007 an 800- meter long tunnel was opened to the public. Everybody should  visit the cave; lighting and sounds really make you travel to different eras. A German engineer, Wilhelm Johann Thalacker wrote in 1803 after visiting the mines: “Four hundred men working for two hundred years would not have been enough to drill all the tunnels”.

Cave of Ekain

cuevas en Euskadi
Foto de

In the inland of Ekain we find the most fascinating cave paintings of all Euskadi. In fact, they were declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO. The visit to Ekain also becomes a sense experience, because through a magnificent replica we can get to learn about life 15,000 years ago. In addition, it becomes an ideal plan to go with children, since they can learn how to hunt, make cave paintings or even make fire. They can also watch the deer that live next to the cave. The route to Ekain, through the beautiful Sastarrian Valley, becomes an attraction. It is located in Zestoa, in the province of Gipuzkoa, just a step away from San Sebastián and the coast.

Caves of Arrikrutz

cuevas en Euskadi
León cavernario. Foto de Oñati Turismo.

The following caves in Euskadi are those of Arrikrutz: 14 kilometers of tunnels composed of stalactites and stalagmites. The visitor can’t help but feel overwhelmed by the beauty of nature and the caves’ depth. They are divided into six levels, although the only tunnel that can be visited is number 53, since it has remained unchanged over time. The caves are located in the municipality of Oñati (Gipuzkoa) and were formed by the action of the water of Aldaola River against its rocks.

The most impressive thing is the number of animals that inhabited them. For example, traces of woolly rhinoceros, cave hyena and giant deer have been found, as well as cave bear bones and panther skulls. Nevertheless, the discovery of a complete skeleton of a cave lion is undoubtedly what most fascinates us.

Cave of Santimamiñe

cuevas en Euskadi

In the vicinity of Gernika-Lumo (Biscay) we visit this Magdalenian archaeological site. Among the caves of Euskadi, Santimamiñe has four different parts. From the entrance of the cave you can access the main room, where the first paintings appear. In the next room, also known as the Deep Zone, we find more paintings of bison and horses, as can be seen in the Antecámara, although they are not so well preserved. Finally, the set of figures of greatest interest is found in the Main Room, a wide four meter long and three meter wide space.

All the paintings in this cave were made with carbon. For conservation work it was closed in 2006 and reopened two years later, although the Main Chamber and part of the interior of the complex cannot be visited, they are open only for work research. In the nearby Hermitage of San Mamés there is an interpretation area where you can watch a virtual cave tour reproducing the original content stone by stone.

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