The museum's history goes back to the creation of a Board of Directors in 1924, but its current home was opened in 2001, in a building planned by the architect Juan Navarro Baldeweg. The protection of the cave of Altamira has been the main factor in its location, design and construction. With its minimalist architecture, the building is integrated into the landscape to form a continuation of the essence of the cave of Altamira and has been designed to house the spaces in which the work of the museum is carried out: the permanent collection, including the reproduction of the famous polychromes room, laboratories, seminar rooms for activities, an auditorium, a library, and a shop.
The National Museum and Research Centre of Altamira is a state-owned museum pertaining to the Directorate General of Cultural Heritage and Fine Arts of the Spain Ministry of Culture and Sport.
The times of Altamira
The Museum’s permanent exhibition explores the "times of Altamira". It is divided into two main areas: the exhibition galleries devoted to the art and culture of hunter-gatherer groups in the Upper Palaeolithic, and the Neocave, the reproduction of the cave of Altamira.
The permanent exhibition "The times of Altamira" gives visitors a closer look at the prehistoric era of the Iberian Peninsula. Different aspects of prehistoric life in Altamira are shown: art, culture, life, etc. The life of the hunter-gatherer groups of the Upper Palaeolithic age is revealed through the archaeological objects on display, which take into account their original context and show how they were used and created.
Hunters and gatherers satisfied their requirements for survival by selecting natural resources through hunting, fishing and gathering. Part of their daily routine took place inside the caves, around the fire. Visitors can find out about their diet, the preparation of skins for making clothes and personal ornaments, the organization of the society and its relationship to its surroundings, the economics of exploiting the surrounding environment, seasonal movement throughout the land, and the main archaeological sites in Cantabria.
The reproduction of the cave, the Neocave, presents Altamira as a Palaeolithic venue, a habitation site and a sanctuary. This meticulous and exact reproduction, made in full scale, reconstructs the cave of Altamira as it was between 22,000 and 13,000 years ago, when it was inhabited by groups of hunter-gatherers. The remains of the everyday life of its inhabitants can be found in the hall area, where there are large collections of fauna, shells, charcoals, and utensils made out of flint stone, antler and bone, as well as the remains of pigments and objects of furniture that provide information about their way of life.
The art surprises the visitor, especially the colorful roof with its bison, horses, deer, goats, and painted and engraved symbols. It is in this part of the cave, scarcely penetrated by daylight, where the spaces of ritual and myth begin. This collection of animals and symbols represents a worldview, the spirituality of the hunters of the Upper Palaeolithic age and the start of our history.
The art of Altamira stands out on account of the quality of its paintings and engravings, as well as for the diversity of techniques and styles, and the collection of art spanning a period of more than twenty thousand years. It is the most spectacular embodiment of cave art and constitutes the masterpiece of brilliant painters.