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Cueva de la Pileta: Marvel at Prehistoric Cave Paintings in Sierra de Líbar

Rosario Pérez

The Cueva de la Pileta, still unknown to most travellers and nestled within the Sierra de Líbar mountain range (seven kilometres from Benaoján), is a surprising sanctuary filled with beautifully conserved cave paintings dating back 30,000 years.

The rugged landscape that surrounds the town of Benaoján in the Sierra de Líbar mountains, which lies between the Sierra de Grazalema and the Serranía de Ronda, holds some incredible secrets for lovers of caving, palaeontology (fossils) and archaeology. The Cueva de la Pileta, with cave paintings dating back to the Palaeolithic and Neolithic eras is still very little known. This cave which is comparable to the other more “famous” caves which are more exploited as tourist attractions, such as those at Altamira and others in northern Spain and southern France.

Here, in the south of the Iberian Peninsula, just 15 kilometres from Ronda, you can immerse yourself in the caves of prehistory for over an hour, and walk among magnificent stalactites and stalagmites, through jaw-dropping rooms and galleries. From time to time, you might even be startled by a group of some of the thousands of bats that inhabit this cave.

Cueva de la Pileta, Sierra de Libar Bats

The site was discovered in 1905 by José Bullón Lobato, a peasant who came across the cave while noticing groups of bats departing from the cave while searching for “guano” (a type of fertilizer made with animal excrement) for his farmland which he had leased in the nearby Rancho del Harillo. The news of his discovery did not take long to spread and attracted the famous researchers such as Willoughby Verner, a retired colonel who lived in Algeciras and who, a few years later, would speak of La Pileta in his book “Letters from Wilder Spain. A mysterious cave”.

Anthropologists Henri Breuil and Hugo Obermaier were other scholars who arrived in the early years of the 20th century to investigate the cave paintings, which shortly after, in 1924, would be declared a National Monument. That year, an iron gate that still serves as access to the cave was also erected, after Tomás Bullón, the son of the man who discovered it, found the current entrance (the same, which was used thousands of years ago during the prehistoric occupation of the cave).

Cueva de la Pileta, Sierra de Libar

In 1933, Tomás discoved the “Nuevas Galerías” (“New Galleries”), where human skeletons were uncovered for the first time. Two years later, the so-called Venus de la Pileta was also discovered in the Galería de los Murciélagos (“Bats Gallery”), and the “Gran Sima” gallery was descended for the first time: a 72-meter-deep vertical well located at the end of the Sala del Pez, in the northern part of the cave. At the base, petrified human and animal remains were found. It was not until 1992, that a new horizontal gallery was discovered on the walls of the Gran Sima. This contained beautiful crystals which had not previously been seen, and which was named the “Bullón Gallery”.

Small Group Tours of the Galeria Principal (Main Gallery)

For security and conservation purposes, the Main Gallery of the Cueva de la Pileta, on the upper level, is the only area that is open to the public, with guided tours of small groups provided by members of the Bullón family, who are the descendants of the discoverer and who take care of the site.

During the 500 meters of the circuit, where visitors will need to carry small portable lamps, you’ll walk through the areas known as the Gallery of Bats, the Castle Room, the Central Nave, Thermopylae, the Lake Cavern, the Gorge, the Organs, the Bath of the Moorish Queen and the Fish Cavern. You will marvel at some of the many Franco-Cantabrian style paintings and engravings, many of them from the Paleolithic era, over 30,000 years ago.

Cueva de la Pileta, Sierra de Libar, José Bullón Lobato, prehistoric cave painting

You will find paintings of deer, horses, goats, bulls, a bison, and even fish and a seal. These are particularly interesting because of the distance of the cave from the sea. The guide will slowly draw your attention to each of these in a theatrical manner with the use of a flashlight. There are also many schematic and abstract paintings in black from the Neolithic era.

Cueva de la Pileta, Sierra de Libar, José Bullón Lobato, prehistoric cave painting

Visitors can buy a guidebook and postcards of the paintings since photography is not permitted in the cave. There are areas where access is more complicated and dangerous in which visitors are not allowed, but which also contain paintings and Karst formations of great beauty. Among the oldest of the Palaeolithic representations, there are also hands, snakes, lynxes, abstract signs called “turtles” and human shapes in yellow, red or black.

Cool Facts:

  • Although the oldest human remains found inside date back 30,000 years, the geological age of the cave is 150,000 years old.
  • The temperature inside the cave, stable throughout the year, is 15º C.
  • The path that ascends from the parking area (686m altitude) to the entrance of the cave (711m altitude) has 101 steps.

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