Tajo de las Figuras

TEMPORARILY CLOSED

The rock ensemble of Tajo de las Figuras, located in the municipal township of Benalup-Casas Viejas, is one of the most important rock jewels of the province and the entire peninsula. Found in 1913, they were declared Architectural Artistic Monument in 1924, and since then, it has been a settle of great interest for national and international renowned historians and researchers.

I.- GEOLOGICAL INTRODUCTION

The geological erosive action of water and wind on the sand stones of these mountains has lead to the apparition of precipitous and sheer forms, which are usually scored by the so called “canutos”, narrow and deep valleys of brooks that thanks to the microclimate inside of them, has a great variety and rich flora. The molding of the ladders of the mountains, affected by strong slopes, the existence of geological joints – big cracks –, the plasticity of the clays and the sliding of these can offer astonishing large forms whose surface presents masses of convex morphology and erosion or breaks that lead to falls, with beautiful formations of sandstones and small caves that have been used by the man since Prehistory. The amazing block of Tajo de las Figuras, one of all those that make up the landscape of the group of mountains Momia, allows the observation of several of these geological phenomena at the same time that shelters one of the most important cave painting stations of the south of Spain.

 

II.- TEMPORAL AND SPACIAL CONTEXT

Although there are paintings that some experts date them from the Upper Paleolithic and others in the Metal Age, most of the paintings correspond to the Neolithic Era. In the Neolithic the man was already sedentary and knew the agriculture and cattle industry. Ideologically he needs to explain to himself why things happen and for this uses the supernatural through and is worried, overall, about two aspects which are two sides of the same coin; fertility and death. This is logic in a context where the infant mortality was very high and the age average was around the thirty. This importance for survival through procreation and death is going to explain a great part of the life characteristics in the Neolithic; the apparition of the supernatural though, the existence of the different gods, the festivities and seasonal rituals and the artistic manifestations. In effect, the paintings, dolmens, and the anthropomorphic burials that we are going to analyze are completely related to fertility and death.

Thanks to the endorheic nature of the area, in the rainy period a great lagoon used to be formed, which is known as Lagoon of La Janda, that connected to its strategic position, near from Africa, concentrated a great number of birds, until making it one of the richest ecosystems of Spain. The position between two mountains in an area more or less rainy, adopted the existence of a river, Celemín, and a rich fluvial valley. Moreover, we have to connect it with the group of mountains with abundant hunting and possibilities for the defense. That is, the water, the valley, the lagoon, the birds, the deers, the rabbits, the antelopes, the small caves, etc. formed a perfect habitat for living. We also have to remember that they didn’t use to live in small caves, but in huts.

 

III.- FOR WHAT AND WHY DID THEY PAINT?

It is clear that historians do not agree about the purpose of these paintings. The theory about the hunting rise is discarded by most of the last scholars of these paintings. There is left, then, the magic-religious-sexual explanation. We will see how there are overlapped paintings which differentiate themselves from 500 years, which indicates that we are in front of sanctuaries with magic-religious functions. On the other hand, every time there are paintings, some near tombs do appear which demonstrates the relation with the matters of death and the importance of these. And finally, the matter of procreation and fertility. The phalluses abound everywhere and so do the procreation rituals.

 

IV.- CHRONOLOGY AND PICTORIAL TECHNIQUE

In this pictorial ensemble there are three types of styles that, at the same time are related with three chronological periods. It is semi naturalist of light red or black, where the figures are forming scenes and it is clearly seen what they wanted to represent. This style dates from the Upper Paleolithic and Mesolithic. Later, we find the semi schematic style where the dark red and green colors predominate, it is more schematic and it is closer to the hieroglyphic writing, being paintings from the beginning of the Neolithic. Finally, we find the white paintings, the most modern ones, from the end of the Neolithic, the Metal Age or even from the Roman époque. They are of a schematic style, that is, they represent an idea, not a shape.

 

V.- STATE OF PRESERVATION

In 1914 it appears the publication about the “Prehistoric paintings at the southern tips of Spain Lagoon of la Janda”) signed by Juan Cabré and Hernández Pacheco, two of the great scholars of cave paintings of the époque and History, a couple that later would join to it Abate Breuil, that along with his studies confirmed this area as the area with the most important cave paintings of the south of Spain. The two first refer to Mr. José Espina, Victor Molina and Rafael Bernal as the inhabitants of Benalup-Casas Viejas that make the paintings valor known to the scientific world. After this scientific consolidation there have been several studies about this environment that the University of Barcelona still continues nowadays. The archeological legacy includes besides this cave, six caves more, the tombs and some dolmen remains. 

Going up the stairs and finding the paintings there can be quite disappointing due to their state of preservation. Its vision is difficult (overall at the beginning and if there’s no humidity in the air) due to it covers the painting with a cover of calcium-carbonate. This cover has been made by man in the last two or three decades. The reason is simple. In conditions of humidity, when it rains from November to May, it is the best moment to see it. When there was no humidity the man used to wet them for looking at them better, and that water, and not any other, has been the creator of that cover of calcium-carbonate that makes difficult its vision. Eighty years ago, Hernandez Pacheco and Cabré located more than 500 figures in this cave and today, is hardly to see three dozens of them. Its entrance is about 3 or 4 meters above the ground floor on a straight wall of the Tajo river, produced by a fault. It is 8 meters deep and between 1,5 and 2 meters tall and from 3 to 4 meters wide.

 

VI.- THEME

There is a triple division; on one hand, animals, on the other hand, humans, and on the other one, abstract signs. Among the animals there are two species that stand out; deers and birds. The deer is the main protagonist of these paintings, which is still part of the current fauna of these mountains, until the point that many authors think these men considered it to be a deity. There are also birds everywhere, which is also a great characteristic of these caves, the repetition of this kind of animal, a fact that does not repeat in other areas of cave paintings in Spain. The explanation is easy; we are in the Lagoon of La Janda. Besides these animals, in this cave and in the other six of the set, there appear bulls, foxes, horses, wolves, antelopes, etc. The second type of character is the human figures as they do appear figures of men, children, women, goddesses, etc. The third elements are the signs, which are of great importance in these caves: Do not forget that the predominant style is the schematic and that its repetition is so large that many authors consider we are in front of the beginning of writing, although a hieroglyphic one. Among the most important ones we find nests, huts, bows, suns, stars, boats, and others whose meaning we don’t know. Among all the signs the most important and the most repeated ones is the hieroglyphic of the “shepherd of the sheep”, universally found since the year 2000 B.C., a sign that does not only means the pride of the man having a flock of sheep but also asking the deity for the proliferation of it.

 

VI.- MAIN PAINTINGS

In ‘El Tajo de las figuras’ cave, we distinguish two parts, the hall and the internal chamber. The most important scene and the oldest one is located on the left. In this scene there are 9 human figures; three warriors, three women, two kids and a goddess or virgin. In the centre of the scene we find a big deer with 12 and 7 oil lamps (both are magical numbers). It seems that the sense of this composition was a prayer for the fertility of the human beings. This is the most important and oldest scene of the set of painting caves of the area. It is made in a semi naturalistic way and the experts date it from the Mesolithic and the light red color is predominant.

On the right part the hall appears with another red big deer, also of semi naturalistic style and it is surrounded of a series of paintings almost imperceptible with a more clearly schematic style.

In the internal chamber of the cave we can see on the walls and on the ceiling as well, a multitude of every kind of figures, being remarkable the deers, birds, diverse symbols and some figure that could represent the shape of a boat.

 

VIII.- OTHER ARCHEOLOGICAL REMAINS

At the exit we find some remains of a possible dolmen, a type of burial from the Metal Age and some tombs dig out on the rock. The importance death had for these men is clear, as well as its relation with the paintings. We hope you are allowed to go up to the Cave of the Arch. Cabré y Hernández Pacheco appointed this name due to the big natural arch of the rock that comes before the cave, where there is a platform as an altar. From there a huge landscape can be seen. We are going to analyze three kinds of paintings and styles. On one hand, the paintings from the Mesolithic or the beginning of the Neolithic are the oldest ones. In this group of light red it is remarkable two naked human figures, surely a man and a woman hunting deers. On the right in the same color, there are two animal figures that could be antelopes.

On the left, of semi schematic style, dark red or brown there are other more modern figures dated from the end of the Neolithic. They do represent a bull, a snake and a wolf respectively.

A little bit upper, there is a large amount of pictorial lines, dots and symbols of a clearly schematic style, dated from the late Bronze Age or even from the Metal Age (one thousand years before Christ). They are the three same styles that we find in the cave of El Tajo de las Figuras.

Other caves or shelters found in the area, which probably you won’t be allowed to visit, are the “la cimera” or “los sochinos” cave, the black cave, the cave of the Treasure and the “Arroyo de los Pilancones” and “las dos puertas” caves. Next to this great pictorial group we have seen, there are two more caves in the area, one in Los Barrios in “el Bacinete” cave and the other one in the Centre of the Sierra de las Momias. From the paintings of Bacinete we take the logo of the Centre.

Benalup-Casas Viejas City Council

C/Cantera, s/n

11190 Benalup-Casas Viejas

Telephone: 900 71 35 70

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