Santillana del Mar

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A Medieval Village and the Altamira Caves are reason enough to visit this monastery

Thursday, December 2nd, 2010

The monastery complex is composed of a Baroque 17th century church, cloister and convent (cells of the friars, refectory, chapter house and library).

In 1605, the Dominican friars of Santillana Del Mar were asked to settle in the hermitage. They accepted and became an independent monastery in 1611. The monastery complex is composed of a Baroque 17th century church, cloister and convent (cells of the friars, refectory, chapter house and library). The simple cloister is adorned with a fine collection of Baroque paintings, representing scenes from the life of Santa Domingo. Each of the six lateral chapels has a retablo dedicated to a saint.

Santillana del Mar is close to the monastery. Its inhabitants jokingly refer to it as the city of three lies: one, it isn’t saintly, two it isn’t flat (Llana means flat) and three, it isn’t by the sea. Despite its popularity and the fact that the city has become a tourist mecca, it is among the most perfectly preserved medieval villages in Spain. Santillana del Mar maintains an old-world atmosphere embodied by exquisite medieval buildings and cobbled streets. Its ensemble of 15th to 17th century golden stone mansions and palaces imbues the town with a distinctive character while offering a glimpse of the old country nobility of Spain. The houses are underscored by wooden galleries of iron balconies filled with flowers, their plain stone facades enlivened by coats of arms.

A short distance away are the Altamira Caves embellished with prehistoric rock paintings renowned for their beauty, vivid coloring and excellent state of preservation. Written application must be made months in advance to arrange a visit. The cave paintings were accidentally discovered by a hunter in 1869. Four years later, an archaeologist happened upon the underground chambers containing the paintings, most of which date to the late Magdalenian period, c. 15,000-10,000 BC. Often referred to as the Sistine Chapel of Cave Art, the ceiling of the chamber is emblazoned with animals. The caves’ most famous drawings are of bison. Predominantly painted in red, ocher, black and brown, the minerals used to create the paints were taken from the caves.

For more information go to: Monasteries of Spain