They went in search of bats. They saw them emerge from a crack and decided to enter the bowels of the mountain to know their refuge. Everything was fine, until a series of stalagmites and stalactites blocked their way. They did not give up. They returned the next day with a hammer and a couple of lanterns. They managed to cross the barrier with blows and discovered an enormous space full of strange rock formations. Their happiness continued until they came across two skeletons. They panicked. "What if we were also locked in there?" Recalls José Torres, one of those five kids who, in 1959 and unknowingly, had found a place of great value for science, the Cave of Nerja. A place with formations that go back 800,000 years and that houses a large gallery of prehistoric art formed by about 600 motifs. The set was declared Well of Cultural Interest in 1985 and Archaeological Zone in 2005.
Next January 12, the 60th anniversary of that adolescent mischief is celebrated. Among the festivities, the public foundation that manages the space – which has a budget of 4.3 million euros for 2019 – has prepared a tribute to those boys who changed the history of their town forever. They will be the image of the city in the next edition of the International Tourism Fair (FITUR). And during the month of April they will exercise as guides those who want to rebuild with them their first excursion inland. Today, a third of the almost 300,000 square meters of cave are visitable. An experience carried out by 450,000 people every year. In Malaga, only the Picasso Museum surpasses him in visits.
Thanks to his adventure, today it is known that the cavity was inhabited for 25,000 years, although there are still not concluded studies that estimate that there are traces of the human being 40,000 years ago. Every few weeks objects and relevant elements of different stages of the history of humanity are discovered, which can be discovered in the museum located in the urban center of Nerja.
All this was ignored by those who simply wanted to discover the hiding place of so many bats. Your story could be titled The five and the secret cave and be part of the series of children's books by the English writer Enid Blyton. José was then 16 years old. It came from Sevilla and Maro -the town of Nerja where the cave is located- was the new destination of his father, Guardia Civil. There he had made some friends who wanted to teach him a place that was magical for them. They had explored it years before in a very rudimentary way, but never until as deep as that January 12, 1959. The director of the operations was Francisco Navas, aged 21 and the oldest of a group that also formed Manuel Muñoz, aged 18 and over. his brother Miguel, 13. "I was very scared," remembers the youngest of the mission. The fifth protagonist, José Luis Barbero – who was then 15 years old – died in 2007.
When the five left the cavity "terrified to see the skeletons" they had found in what is now known as the Hall of Ghosts, nobody believed them. That's why they went to school. None of them studied at that time – they had started working since they were little and they stepped more on the field to collect firewood, take care of the cattle or collect grass than the classrooms – but they trusted the teacher, Carlos Saura, who was little older than them. The teacher believed them. Word spread. And on June 12, 1960, the Cueva de Nerja was opened to the public with the launching of the first edition of the Music and Dance Festival that is still held today and they themselves are acting as guides to the visitors. "We did a course, because we had no idea of caving or anything that was inside the galleries," recalls Manuel Muñoz.
Some remained with this work only a few years, but others dedicated their lives to the singular space up to 50 years of their professional life, such as Muñoz. And the five have at least one son working there. They say they feel "an incredible pride" for that discovery "that was pure coincidence and thanks to a myriad of circumstances", as Francisco Navas recalls. Today, next to the hole in the ground through which they entered the first time, there is a monument that remembers these five kids. It is located in the so-called Plaza de los Descubridores. An adventure that changed their lives.
Guided tours with the accompaniment of a classical music quartet or a flamenco group will be some of the novelties that the Cueva de Nerja Foundation has foreseen for the celebration of the 60th anniversary of its discovery. Everything will begin on 11 and 12 January with various events such as parades, guided tours and musical performances, in addition to the opening of new spaces.
The visits can be made from then on in a dozen languages, since the audioguides will incorporate the explanations in Chinese, Japanese, Korean and Swedish. During June and July, an exclusive program will be created for the music festival that takes place every summer in the venue. "Each month of 2019 will be dedicated to a specific aspect, be it music, childhood or the discoverers themselves", explains José María Domínguez, manager of the monument, which aims to promote tourism experiences. "Like the nocturnal route, without electric light and only with frontals, that Miguel Joven -Tito performs in the series Blue summer– so that each visitor feels like a spelunker, "adds Domínguez, who stresses the importance of maintaining" an exact balance between the promotion and conservation of space ". The place, in addition, has renewed its logo, which will be the protagonist of the tenth National Lottery on Saturday January 12.