EASTERN SPAIN HOSTS A GIANT UNESCO WORLD HERITAGE SITE.
Three winters ago, when we first crawled our sorry way into this small patch of Spain, it was with the sole aim of escaping a family bereavement. We felt a desperate need to focus on things new and to stare into the future. We were, frankly, too emotionally frazzled to make any detailed plans. We drove around the area, looking. No map, no focus, no joy. It felt better to be mentally and physically detached in a distant land, than at home with the confusion, hurt and unanswered questions that haunted all concerned.
There is something primeval about the ‘fight or flight’ reaction to life and death situations. We could not bring ourselves to fight over the causes of our horrible situation. We chose flight. Others did the same. Some like us took a break, others simply shut it all out, mentally. Luckily humans are blessed with a very old piece of brain, the amygdala, which drives our basic emotions. We had slipped into a primitive mental state, driven by how we felt, we drove as far away from what was harming us as possible.
We landed up in Spain, near a place called Denia and booked into a local campsite, this was to be our base for a few weeks.
As we drifted around this ruggedly handsome region, we kept passing a simple road sign to prehistoric cave paintings. After the third passing, we decided that we should allow some time and take a look. Somehow it felt right to spend time with the long dead, it might help to unscramble our minds. Perhaps we might gain a new perspective on our situation.
We turned off the main road and headed into a deep valley; olive terraces in the valley bottom and towering cliff faces above. We were completely alone. With no information to guide us, we pulled over into a shabby lay-by and pondered our next move.
At first all we could see was rock. Masses of rock. It was everywhere. Every crag had huge orange bowls scooped out, where the grey rock face had eroded away. We could see caves too, where these cliffs had weathered even more.
As we grew accustomed to this landscape, we noticed the anomalies: fences running parallel to the cliff face and what looked like information boards. Thank goodness for binoculars.
Off we raced, keen to see this ancient form of art; to meet kindred souls. The rock art awaited us, as it had generations of people before us, for seven millenia.
We made our way to the cliff face and found a good set of information boards. Then we set off along the path that runs along the cliff, near it’s rocky base, well above the farmland. But where were all these paintings?
Once again, we had to allow time to adjust to the melee of detail that is this cliff. Only then did we begin to see the squiggles and lines that are picked out in a deeper orange in these shallow ochre bowls.
We saw a lot of art that day. It was high up and a mobile phone is not the very best camera.
Those two images are side by side on the cliff face, as you can see, and some of this artwork is high up. Was there a path at the level of the paintings seven thousand years ago? I cannot imagine how folks would have accessed these places otherwise. So many questions are thrown up by this work. No matter how modern we think we are, we are no different to these people who lived here.
We continued to explore along the path finding big caves and stupendous overhangs.
We know very little about the many generations of people who have lived, loved, worked and fought in this grand valley. The images are almost all they have left behind for us to dwell upon. Many of the paintings would grace homes today; our aesthetic is no different. Seven thousand years ago these people, whether deliberately or unwittingly, left something for future generations to enjoy, on the simplest level and to try and understand. Perhaps that is the legacy everyone of us should strive for; the gift of something simple and pleasurable and, perhaps an enjoyable puzzle that keeps those that follow on after us guessing, just a little bit. This way, perhaps, we can make those who mourn us smile, despite the loss.
Pla De Petracos is about 6km North of the town of Castell de Castells on the CV-720. It does not cost a penny to walk the path, admire the art and read the signs. What an absolute bargain.
For more information about the Neolithic Spanish Cave paintings and their UNESO World Heritage Site status, click here.