The culture minister for the Cantabrian government, Javier López Marcano, confirmed today that the first visitors would be allowed into the Altamira caves at the end of the summer, once the technology to monitor the impact of tourists on the cave paintings has been installed.
A committee to safeguard the Altamira heritage will meet for the first time on Friday in Madrid to decide exactly what technology is necessary to measure this impact.
The next step will be to install the technology in the cave and then, in August, the first visitors will be allowed in. Monitoring will be continuous, with the first reports on human impact on the caves due in November.
The committee will also decide who are going to be the first "experimental" visitors, although one of the possibilities is simply to work through the already extensive waiting list.
The culture minister advised people not to be discouraged by the long waiting list or the small number of daily visits that will be allowed, saying that eight years ago, before it was closed for the last time, "Altamira was being visited by at least five people a day and up to 30 on days when the weather conditions were ideal."
He did, however, point out that Altamira "is not a cave that can easily adapt to being a tourist attraction" but rather "a part of our heritage and a museum and a national centre of investigation".
The caves were designated a World Heritage Site by Unesco in 1985.