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The public galleries of the Nerja caves.
The public galleries of the Nerja caves. / J. Rhodes.

Underground is cool

  • Some of the caves open to the public in Malaga province are veritable art galleries. Rumours of buried treasure and possibilities of further discoveries make them even more fascinating

Nerja’s famous caves are a favourite among visitors and locals alike, while Rincón de la Victoria’s Cueva del Tesoro is a relatively unknown secret, despite being the only marine cave in Europe.

An underground favourite

Quite possibly the only places in the whole of Malaga that remain chilly, even when the temperature soars above 40, are the numerous caves the province boasts.

The most famous of the has to be the Nerja cave, or series of caves, situated to the north of the town, at the entrance to the neighbouring village of Maro.

The caves were discovered on 12 January 1959 by five local boys who had gone pot holing in the area known as ‘La Mina’. They are said to have removed some stalactites, only to discover an enormous cave littered with skeletons and ceramic pots. They ran home to tell their families and friends and a later visit by scientists really unearthed the enormity and importance of the boys’ discovery.

The original discoverers have met at the cave on 12 January every year, although one of them, José Luis Barbero, died in 2007. There is a sculpture commemorating the five at the entrance to the caves.

Today the Nerja cave is one of Malaga province’s most visited attractions and home to the International Festival of Music and Dance which runs throughout June and July.

In fact only one third of this underground treasure trove is open to the public and scientists believe there could be more to discover. An archaeological dig is currently under way in part of the cave not open to visitors and according to the caves’ chief conservationist, Luis Efrén Fernández, there is a high probability that the caves are older than currently thought. So far only evidence that Homo sapiens have used the caves, but he doesn’t rule out the possibility that their history could extend as far back as Neanderthal times.

Cascades, ghosts and cataclysms

The three sections, or ‘halls’, open to the public are called the Cascade Hall, the Phantom Hall and the Cataclysm Hall. The first is so called because of a series of formations, known as ‘gours’, which resemble a large waterfall. The phantoms that welcome visitors to the second hall are nothing more than stalagmites, but the ghostly shadows they cast on the walls of the cave give the section its eerie name. Finally the result of a huge earthquake 800,000 years ago led to a series of stalagmites and stones being thrown around the Cataclysm Hall, hence the name by which it now goes.

The caves are also a veritable art gallery, with around 320 examples of prehistoric masterpieces. However, for conservation reasons, the majority are located in the High Galleries and cannot be visited by the public.

Opening times

The Nerja Caves are open all year round and in July and August the times are 9.30am to 6.30pm. Visitors are advised to book tickets in advance (www.cuevadenerja.es) and audioguides are available in six languages. Private group bookings may also be made and guided tours are available. The Cuevatren is a tourist train which operates a regular service between Nerja, the caves and Maro and buses from Malaga and Torre del Mar also go to the caves.

Rincón de la Victoria's treasure

Discovered in 1951 by Manuel Laza, the Cueva del Tesoro in Rincón de la Victoria is the only marine cave open to the public in Europe. Historical artefacts from Neolithic to Islamic ceramics were found in the cave and legend has it that Muslim emperor, Tasufin Ibn Ali, hid treasure in the cave. A series of ‘rooms’ are named after objects and cave paintings found in them, including the Eagle

The Cueva del Tesoro.

The Cueva del Tesoro. / G. Gúzman

Room, so called because of a figure of the bird looks like it is diving on prey from the sky, and the volcano room gets its name from its slightly higher temperature due to being the deepest part of the cave. The caves are free to visit on Mondays.

For more information and opening times visit: www.rincondelavictoria.es/turismo.