For 12 years, visitors wanting to see Spain's prized prehistoric
But from today, small groups of visitors will again be allowed in the cave, which has been described as the
The vast cavern complex, in the Cantabria region of northern Spain, was made a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1985. It is covered in paintings dated to between 14,000 and 20,000 years ago of animals including European bison and bulls.
From now until August, on a randomly selected day of the week, visitors to the replica cave in the Museo de
Up to 192 lucky winners are expected to visit the cave in total. While they admire the red and black paintings on the limestone walls, researchers will measure their impact on the cave's temperature, humidity, microbiological contamination and CO2 levels.
The results will be used to determine whether or not the cave can be reopened to the public, a controversial decision that has pitted the local tourist economy against government scientists.
The site has been closed several times, starting in 1977 after scientists warned that body heat and CO2 levels from the 3,000 daily visitors were deteriorating the paintings. When the cave was re-opened again, to a limited amount of visitors, the waiting list swelled, leaving people waiting up to three years for a tour.
The cave was again closed to the public in 2002 after scientists blamed body heat, light and moisture for the appearance of green mould on some of the paintings.
Since then, the regional government of Cantabria has been lobbying for the site to be reopened. However a 2010 report by the
"The people who go in the cave have the bad habit of moving, breathing and perspiring," was one of the conclusions. The report made it very clear that the cave shouldn't be open to visitors, lead researcher Sergio Sanchez Moral recently told Publico.es, warning: "The consequences of doing so are immeasurable."
"We also take a risk when we hang our best paintings in museums," he said. "It's a controlled risk."
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