The Cueva de Nerja (Spanish for ‘Caves of Nerja’) stretches for 4,283 m, but only a third is open to tourists. Besides enjoying great popularity with tourists for its beautiful speleothems, the Cueva is of archaeological interest because it houses 30,000-year-old remains of human occupation, from the Upper Palaeolithic to the Neolithic.
The caverns began to form about 5 million years ago. Rainwater filtration into the rock through cracks and the carbon dioxide supplied by vegetation dissolved the materials, creating different types of cavities. Since at least 25,000 years ago, the Caves of Nerja have served as a dwelling or symbolic burial place.
A group of young locals accidentally discovered it in January 1959. After the first explorations were carried out, an article was published by the local press, and the relevance of the site was made public in view of the size of its rooms and the archaeological remains found there. For this reason, the Málaga authorities decided to study the cave itself and its tourist potential.
Nowadays, a significant part of the cave is open to the public. The standard tour covers a series of halls comprising about a third of the galleries. The cave features two natural entrances and one human-made opened to visitors in 1960.
The cavity can be divided into three areas:
- Galerías Turísticas (Spanish for Show Gallery), which are open to tourists;
- Galerías Altas (Spanish for Upper Galleries), and
- Galerías Nuevas (Spanish for New Galleries).
The latter was utterly unknown before 1969-1970 and is entered via a narrow raised passage located in the Cataclismo hall. However, this area is not open to tourists. The dimensions of the halls and the beauty of their speleothems are spectacular. The tour (by appointment only) takes five hours and is organized in small groups. The main halls to be visited during the tour are accessed as follows: Sala de Vestíbulo (the Entrance Hall), which is the most important area in terms of archaeological finds; Sala de Belén (the Hall of the Nativity), embellished by magnificent formations; Sala del Ballet (the Hall of the Ballet ), where performances are held periodically; Sala de los Fantasmas (the Hall of the Phantoms), named after the shapes formed by its parietal concretions; and Sala del Cataclismo (the Hall of the Cataclysm), which is over 100 m-long and features over 30 m-high ceilings. The world's largest column can be found here, measuring 32 m high with a maximum section of 13 x 7 m. In fact, it was awarded a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.
The areas not open to the public are home to spectacular formations, with enormous roofs covering several dozen metres which are teeming with stalactites.
The Caves of Nerja archaeological site outstands for the quality of its content and the broad spectrum of the different stages it covers.
Prehistoric people settled there throughout the Upper Palaeolithic (Aurignacian, Solutrean and Magdalenian), as has been confirmed by the excavations carried out in recent years. The cave paintings date from this same period. Among them, the most remarkable ones are those composing the fish group in the so-called Sala de los Delfines (Hall of the Dolphins), in the Upper Galleries, as well as the black painting depicting a goat.
The Epipaleolithic period is represented with the abundance of geometric microliths and a burial site. The Neolithic levels contain important finds and extensive material covering from the Ancient Neolithic to the Late Neolithic, proving how an agricultural economy flourished at that time. On the other hand, the Chalcolithic is shown at the highest levels.