Going west out of Santander
road turns into a motorway that runs to Oviedo
after twenty kilometres you can turn off to the north, along
side roads that take you back to the coast, and the old town
. It is one of those strange places which
seem to have had a different life from all its neighbours.
The houses have balconies of wood, and escutcheons sculpted on
the walls. As the guide book says, everyone seems to have been
, an 'hijo de algo', or 'son of someone'. It
is a tourist town, with quaint restaurants, a quiet town
square surrounded by sixteenth century houses, wooden
balconies everywhere, and massive stone walls, all surrounded
by gently undulating countryside of small fields and grazing
But the main attraction is under the fields: the caves of Altamira
which you can no longer visit, but you can, however, visit the
museum, which has a representation of the caves. There you can
see copies of the famous cave drawings of bison.
12,000 years ago the area was inhabited by Stone Age man, and
the caves are covered in black and red drawings of bison.
Unfortunately a build up of white mould, the result of people
breathing in the caves, led to the deterioration of the
paintings in the fifties and sixties, and the caves were re-
Human occupation was limited to the cave mouth although
paintings were created throughout the length of the cave. The
artists used charcoal and ochre or haematite to create the
images, often scratching or diluting these dyes to produce
variations in intensity and creating an impression of
chiaroscuro. They also exploited the natural contours in the
cave walls to give a three- dimensional effect to their
subjects. The Polychrome Ceiling is the most impressive
feature showing a herd of bison in different poses, two
horses, a large doe and what looks to be a wild boar
Further along the coast is the town of Comillas
its large university building on the hill. This is now lying
disused, and seemingly abandoned. It is, like so many official
buildings in Spain, large, solid, and forbidding, more like a
prison with a flashy frontage.
Pope Leo XIII founded the university as a Seminary in 1890 in
response to efforts made by the Marquis of Comillas to build
an institution for educating candidates to the priesthood. In
1904, the Universidad Pontificia was established when Pope
Pius X granted Comillas the power to confer academic degrees
in Theology, Philosophy and Canon Law.
During the sixties, the University was transferred to Madrid,
where its doors were opened to a broader range of students.
Further west are salty marshes where the trees have died,
leaving white stumps sticking up from the shallow water behind
great dunes of sand.
Further west still are the woods, the valleys, and the tiny
streams flowing into short estuaries, and then to the sea past
great spits of sand. It is like English countryside at its
best mixed with southern European beaches at their best.
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