A publication of the Archaeological Institute of America
Gáldar was a political nucleus at the time of conquest in 1478, the seat of Gran Canaria's ancient rulers. The Spanish city, one of the first on the island, was built over the aboriginal settlement. Today, Gáldar lies in the center of the banana-growing region, important to the island's agricultural economy.
Gáldar is also the site of the famous Cueva Pintada (Painted Cave), discovered accidentally in 1873 by a farmer named José Ramos Orihuela, who was preparing the land for planting. Named a National Historic Artistic Monument in 1972, the cave was closed to the public and remained so at the time of my visit in November 1998.
However, I was lucky enough to be invited to the site and taken into the cave. The designs on the cave walls consist of red, black, and white squares, spirals, and triangles, thought to be symbols of female fertility. Such artwork could have been done to express religious beliefs or simply as decoration.
Preservation of Cueva Pintada is a concern. For this reason, no photography could be allowed in the cave. The pressing problem is that irrigation water is filtering though the volcanic ash rock of the cave, raising the humidity and causing the paint to fade.
The geometric figures painted in the cave are similar to those found on family seals, or pintadera. These seals were used on skin, clothing, pottery, and granaries, often to mark ownership. The colors for the paint in the cave were extracted from local muds. Pottery decorated with the same paints was also found at Gáldar, along with over 100 idols of human and animal forms. Incidently, Gran Canaria is the only island in the Canaries where painted pottery has been found.