Cueva del Tesoro (The Treasure Cave)
The town of Rincón de la Victoria is located about 10 kilometres from the capital city of Málaga and is home to this well-known cave, which is between the two villages of La Cala del Moral and Rincón in the area known as El Cantal. The name cantal comes from the word cantales, meaning “small cliffs” that were formed during the Jurassic period and still jut out over the Mediterranean Sea at this point of the coast.
This cave is one of only three underwater examples of its kind in the world, and the only example of its kind found in Europe. The other two are in Asia and Central America (Mexico), respectively. It was home to zoomorphic paintings that are believed to date back to the late Upper Paleolithic, as well as more recent schematic art and various materials from Neolithic burials. At times, it was submerged under the sea.
The stories and legends told about it are numerous and date back to different periods: some to the Paleolithic Era, others to the first Bronze Age and the time of the Phoenicians, Romans, and Moors. Some of these are still being told today. Although the mysterious Arab treasure that is said to be hidden somewhere inside has yet to be discovered, the real treasure, which is the cave itself, is, indeed, a true treasure for visitors to visit.
A long time ago in this place, materials were deposited in the sedimentation area and, over time, some new layers of lime grew over this. This geological combination started to cause underground pressure, and due to sea currents and the smashing of the sea against the rock, the different galleries and holes were formed. These were later to break open the caves that ended up in the Cantales.
Through this process, the sea formed galleries that are typical of underwater caves with columns and tight passageways, which make up the basic structure of the Cueva del Tesoro. Later on, and once the area rose above sea level, fresh water filtered into the galleries forming stalagmites and stalactites, which are more common in land caves carved out by the erosive action of fresh water sources. After this whole process was complete the Cueva del Tesoro as it is known today was formed with its 500 metres of galleries and pools.
At the entrance to the cave there is an exhibition hall, which also acts as a display room for information as to the geological formation of the cave and its surroundings as well as some remains that have been discovered inside and have been preserved. Interestingly, the cave is true to its name as some real ‘treasures’ have already been found there, while there may be others that still await discovery. Amongst the ones already discovered, there are the cave paintings, which are unfortunately not in an area open to the public as yet. Besides these paintings, some ancient pieces of pottery from the Neolithic period, an arrowhead from the Solutrean Era, sharpened flints, small hand axes, and Phoenician and Arabic remains.
Marco Craso is said to have hidden inside these caves for several months in the year 86 BCE when he was running away from his persecutors Mario and Cinna. Plutarco mentions them as well, which is clear in his writings, compiled by Cecilio García de La Leña in his work, Conversaciones Históricas Malagueñas in 1789.
A long time before it was known that the Cueva del Tesoro was the only one of its kind in Europe and that there were only two underwater caves similar to it in the whole world, there were a lot of popular stories and legends related to it, which gave a mystic feel of sorts to it. Locals have even gone so far as to attribute unusual happenings there like strange visions and paranormal activity, as well as some sightings of saints or ghosts.
However, the one legend that has grabbed both visitors and locals’ attention over the last few centuries has been the one about the incredible treasure that was supposedly hidden inside the cave system in the 12th century by the Arabs who were trying to escape from the troubles in their own lands. The only main detail that differs from one story to another concerns the identification of those who deposited the treasure. Some say that it was a group of five Moorish kings who arrived at the Spanish coast loaded with too much gold and decided to store it up in the Cueva del Tesoro, while others have it that it was the Emperor of the Almoravids, Tasufin Ibn Ali, who was the sole owner of the gold.
El Dorado in Rincón de La Victoria was the object of quite a lot of visiting groups who in search of the hidden treasure and who changed the layout and conditions of the cave somewhat due to their searches. These changes made by the ‘treasure hunters’ were made over the sites of previous alterations, which made people even more suspicious about the presence of some real treasure. When some precious stones were dug up inside the cave in the 13th century, few people doubted any more that there really was a real treasure hidden somewhere in the depths of the galleries.
The first person to, literally, dedicate his life to the search for this treasure was a Swiss man by the name of Antonio de la Nari, who lived in the first half of the 19th century. He blasted several holes within the cave system and carved out galleries in his search. One of these holes is named after him: El Pozo del Suizo. However, he met his death in 1847 as a result of his careless use of the explosives when he was caught up in one of his own explosions. The memory of Antonio de la Nari remained alive for a long time after his death, something that is witnessed to by the fact that the caves were called Las Cuevas del Suizo (The Swiss Caves), for several decades.
However, it was Mr Manuel Laza Palacio (who was the owner of the caves at that time), who carried out the most detailed study of these caves that has ever been conducted, which lasted almost four decades up until his death in 1988. Some gold coins from the time of Yusuf Ibn Tasufín were found in the area during his years of intense study, and this was enough to keep the legend about the hidden treasure alive.
Thanks to the years of commitment to his research and study of the cave system, Mr Manuel Laza discovered one of the three existing prehistoric sanctuaries in the southern peninsular. The first, which is dedicated to Hercules, is situated on the Rock of Gibraltar. The second, which is in the National Park called Cabo de Gata (Almería), was built to honour Venus Marina. Both of these were built by the Greeks and Romans respectively on the original sites of Phoenician and Tartessus sanctuaries. However, the most important of them all was the one constructed to honour the Moon Goddess, whom Rufo Festo Avieno called Noctiluca in his famous poem Ora Maritima. This sanctuary connects the Iberian settlers and the first population groups to arrive at the coast; the Phoenicians.
Laza Palacio once said in the Gibralfaro magazine back in 1972: “I have been the fortunate one privileged enough to have discovered this Prehistoric sanctuary which contains the very essence of the beginnings of the city of Málaga. This sanctuary dedicated to the moon, this ancient grotto became, in many ways, the womb of what was to become the ancient city of Malaka. […] When we were able to enter the deeper, hidden galleries at the bottom of the Cueva del Higuerón or del Suizo after some titanic efforts, and we caught a glimpse of that limestone figure that looked like a woman wrapped in a cloak, and with a large round eye which could well have been her head, we saw a large greyish stain on the floor that looked like ashes. I took a sample and had my brother analyse them only to be told, to my surprise, that it was lime phosphate; that is to say, remains of human bones. Furthermore, at the foot of this rather strange shape, there was a kind of double-pointed altar, which was the work of the natural erosion process, which had miraculously created this half-moon form in the rocky outcrop.”
Discovered in 1955, its characteristics reminded Laza of the descriptions given by Professor Glotz regarding the sanctuary dedicated to the moon found on the Greek island of Crete. “In the same way, the description that Tito Livio gives of the image of the Goddess Cibeles, the Mother of the gods and at the same time the Goddess of the Mediterranean, led me to conclude that the Cueva del Higuerón was the Prehistoric sanctuary which Festo Avieno mentions in his historical and geographical poem. And what is more, we should take into account that amongst the few cave paintings discovered by Breuil, the animal that is most seen is the mountain goat, which happens to be the animal that was always associated with the worship of the Moon Goddess.”
The figure of Noctiluca is considered to have been the most important spiritual symbol in the whole Mediterranean region. She was also an object of worship in Syria where she was known as Astarté, in Egypt as Isis, in Greece as Hécate, Cibeles and Afrodita: Noctiluca is the Mother of the gods, the female aspect that is given to the moon’s actions of controlling life and agricultural cycles.
VISITING THE CAVE
The visit begins with an exhibition of archaeological remains which are laid out in displays on the walkway down into the cave system. The first stop, as such, is at the Sala de la Virgen, where visitors can see El Pozo del Suizo, which was blasted out by Antonio de la Nari. From here the walkway passes through the Sala de Marco Craso, which is so named as it is said that he used it as a hideout when he was trying to escape from Mario y Cinna. The areas where the cave paintings were discovered are not accessible to visitors.
Continuing the tour of the cave system, visitors come to the Sala del Águila, which is so named due to the presence of a rock formation that resembles this bird. From here, the way enters the Labyrinth-like galleries and into the Santuario de Noctiluca, Goddess of the moon, the night and fertility.
The route finishes off on this side once the visitor has been through the la Sala del Volcán, where there is a cavity that turns into a deep fissure that probably goes right down to the sea. On the way back, the route passes through the Sala de la Virgen and from there into the beautiful Sala de los Lagos, which has a very unique and special charm all of its own.
La Cueva del Tesoro (located in El Cantal Alto) can be visited every day. The guided tour lasts about 45 minutes.