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Prehistoric art in Asturias

It is well worth dedicating two days to this route. The rock paintings and carvings that we are going to see belong to what is known as Franco Cantabrian art, a style which extended along the Cantabrian and Atlantic coast of Spain and France in the Solutrean and Magdalenian periods (between 20,000 and 10,000 years ago).

We start the route in the interior of Asturias in the district of Cabrales, where we can learn all about the Cave of La Covaciella, part of the ensemble of Palaeolithic Cave Art of Northern Spain, which has been awarded the World Heritage designation.  As the grotto is closed to the public, visitors can go to the Casa Bárcena visitor centre in Carreña de Cabrales. The next stop is 30 kilometres away in the district of Peñamellera Alta, the site of the La Loja cave. It is located in the area of El Mazo, beside the Deva river. In its interior there are various etchings of animals, which some scientists have interpreted as depicting a herd of aurochs (precursor of today's cows) being hunted by a wolf.

We then head for the coast. Some 10 kilometres on, beside the cliffs on the Cape of San Emeterio (Ribadedeva), we come to the cave of El Pindal, one of the finest examples of rock art in the region. It has various groups of paintings (in a predominantly reddish colour) and carvings representing a variety of animals, of which the figures of the fish and mammoth are particularly interesting. Others have a mysterious symbolic character which has yet to be understood.

From this point our route continues along the N-634 coast road. Some 16 kilometres ahead a short detour takes us to the Idol of Peña Tú. This is a rock shelter with various paintings and carvings, showing particularly a human figure surrounded by geometric and symbolic symbols which give the site its name.

We rejoin the same road and continue on until we reach the town of Ribadesella (about 38 kilometres). Beside the town centre, in the Macizo de Ardines massif, there are ten caves which were inhabited during Palaeolithic times. Two of them, known as La Cuevona and Tito Bustillo, form part of the Cultural Itinerary. The cave of Tito Bustillo is particularly interesting, and has up to 12 groups of carvings and paintings throughout its 800 metres, including some of the most beautiful known prehistoric representations of horses.

Continuing on along the N-634, we head inland again. In Arriondas we take the AS-114 towards the historic town of Cangas de Onís (22 kilometres). Below the chapel of La Santa Cruz there is a dolmen, an old mortuary chamber decorated with chiselled engravings and geometric paintings in red and black.

Some three kilometres ahead we come to the cave of El Buxu. In addition to the usual carved and painted figures (including a range of animals, geometric motifs and animal shapes), the cave was also the site of an important discovery of stone and bone tools, as well as small sculpted figurines.

The last of the caves on this route is located a little further away, in the district of Candamo. Here we end our route with a visit to the cave of La Peña de San Román, a genuine shrine of rock art. Its carvings and paintings are arranged in chambers and settings which have been baptised with such evocative names as El Camarín (the chapel), Salón de los Grabados (hall of carvings), the Galería de las Batiscias (gallery of the Batiscias) and the Sala Baja de los Signos Rojos (the lower room of the red signs).

To make the most of the route, in addition to Llanes and Ribadesella, it is worth spending some time in the historic town of Cangas de Onís and paying a visit to the shrine of Covadonga. This is a centre of pilgrimage for the Asturian people, and, according to legend, stands on the site of the battle of Covadonga, the first Arab defeat at the hands of the Christians.

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