Prehistoric Rock Art Trails

Prehistoric Rock Art is the art of the first Europeans. It is the first major cultural, social and symbolic expression that we possess of Humankind. It appeared in Europe 42,000 years ago and developed throughout the Upper Palaeolithic, Neolithic, the Copper Age and the Bronze Age, until the Early Iron Age in some regions. It consists of figurative manifestations and schematic forms and abstract shapes, made with drawings, paintings or prints on the walls of caves, rock-shelters and open-air rock outcrops, and also on some Megalithic constructions.


Since the scientific recognition of the Cave of Altamira in 1902, Prehistoric Art has constituted an important cultural and tourism resource for Europe, most notably in regions of southern France and northern Spain. Altamira and Lascaux caves were formed in an emerging world within prehistoric tourism, and in the 1960s experienced a boom that came to endanger these sites. In fact, until recently, the tourist offer based on rock art sites has lacked an adequate structure and a policy capable of combining conservation with appropriate tourism uses, in line with the public’s needs. Fortunately, in recent years this area has evolved greatly and has begun to develop thematic museums and centres to receive large numbers of visitors in comfort while protecting the artistic rock art.

More than 150 Rock Art sites are open to the public in Europe, concentrated in countries like Norway, Sweden, Ireland, Great Britain, Italy, Portugal, and particularly, France and Spain. Many are small sites (a cave, a rock shelter, a small museum ...), but there are locations with significant tourism infrastructures where it is possible to see large archaeological sites. Technological development has enabled the construction of excellent facsimiles of panels of paintings and engravings, including fully reproduced caves and rock shelters, which makes it easy to display this art to thousands of tourists without compromising the original sites, many of which can only receive a few visitors per day or no visits at all.

The cultural and tourist interest of the first art of the Prehistory of Europe has been noted by UNESCO recognising as World Heritage such sites as Alta (Norway), Tanum (Sweden), Brú-na-Bóinne (Ireland), Valcamonica (Italy), the caves of the Vézère Valley (France), Altamira and other caves of the Cantabrian Region (Spain), the rock shelters with Levantine art of the Mediterranean coast (Spain), Foz Côa and Siega Verde sites (Portugal-Spain) and the last one, the Cave of Pont d´Arc named Chauvet (France). Also by the recognition of European Cultural Route that the Council of Europe awarded this art.

Nearly 1.5 million visitors come each year to the places where the first inhabitants of Europe produced their transcendental rock art, an art full of symbolism motivated by religious belief and full of references to Nature. A naturalistic art in the beginning, but later also schematic and with a capacity for abstraction that would not be repeated until the early twentieth century.