On the west coast of Cantabria in northern Spain:
An essential visit for every tourist visiting Cantabria, Santillana del Mar is undoubtedly one of the towns of most artistic and historical value in Spain, to the point that practically every building is a monument of interest.
Known as "the town of the three lies", since it is neither a "Saint", nor "flat" (llana) and has no "sea" (Mar), Santillana del Mar is the head of a municipality of 4,000 inhabitants largely dedicated to agriculture and livestock and, especially to tourism.
It is impossible to mention Santillana del Mar without also mentioning the Altamira Caves. Described as the Sistine Chapel of cave paintings, these caves probably contain the most famous prehistoric paintings in the world. The discovery of Altamira, at the end of the nineteenth century, sparked a considerable controversy and caused a great deal of commotion in the scientific community at the time, at first reluctant to admit the real antiquity of the paintings (14,000 years). The caves were found by chance in 1868 by Modesto Cubillas, who went on to inform Marcelino Sanz de Sautola, who would become their first great promoter.
Touring the villa:
The most famous part of the caves, known as the "Polychrome Ceiling", was not discovered, however, until 1879, during the course of a visit when Sanz de Sautola was accompanied by his daughter María. In the century following the discovery, the mass influx of visitors to the cave began to concern scientists, faced with the possible deterioration of the paintings. This led to total closure in 1979, which was then relegated to controlled closure in the interests of preserving the precious content. Nowadays, access to the caves is highly restricted, which is why the Government of Cantabria decided to build a replica and a museum for the general public.
Although the Altamira Caves are a fundamental part of Santillana del Mar, there is much more to see. Already in the ninth century, the Monastery of Santa Juliana was in existence, and this gave rise to the prestigious collegiate church of Santa Juliana in the eleventh century, the first and foremost exponent of Romanesque architecture in Cantabria. Around the collegiate church and its beautiful cloister, dating from the late twelfth and early thirteenth century, a centre of population sprang up that enjoyed great economic splendour. Proof of this can be seen in the town's sumptuous houses and palaces.
The Merino and Don Borja towers (today the seat of the Santillana Foundation) figure among the oldest civil buildings in this cobbled town which must be visited on foot to fully admire its beautiful medieval streets and buildings. This is the best way to discover such splendid buildings as the Águila and Parra houses (where the Regional Government has opened an exhibition hall), the Velarde Palace and Tower, the house of Leonor de la Vega, the Barreda, Tage and Villa Palaces and others too numerous to mention here.
Santillana del Mar is a centre of intense year-round cultural activity in the numerous exhibition halls and museums.
In its medieval cobbled streets we can also find many craftsmen's workshops and savour delicious milk and sponge, the town's traditional afternoon tea.
Nature has also been generous to this municipality, which boasts a magnificent coastline, excellent for fishing or visiting the quiet beaches of Santa Juliana and Ubiarco. Near the capital there is also a lovely zoo, to delight young and old alike.
In short, thanks to its history and natural riches, Santillana del Mar is one of the most attractive spots in Cantabria and one of the main centres for tourism.