The cave art of the Mediterranean (1998)


These sites in the Mediterranean Arc of the Iberian Peninsula (Spain), and their cave art, which dates from the end of the pre-historic period, constitute an exceptional set of works and provide a fascinating insight into how people lived during what was a critical phase of human development. The lively, graphic representations are unique not only on account of their style, buy also because of the themes that they portray. The set of cave paintings from the end of the pre-historic period located in the Spain’s eastern Mediterranean arc forms the largest group of cave art locations in the whole of Europe, and offers an exceptional perspective of the live of man in an essential period of human cultural evolution.

In total 16 of Lleida’s archaeological sites have been recognised by UNESCO as depositories of cave paintings of great value. They are important because they represent both one of the first artistic manifestations of the primitive Mediterranean civilisation and because they constitute an embryonic form of later plastic art forms.
This distinction has been granted to remains found in Western Catalonia (Spain) that include La Roca dels Moros del Cogul, one of the best conserved pieces of cave art, which provides an excellent example of the art that developed in this territory during the Palaeolithic period. It also includes the Cova de Cogulló, at Vilanova de Meià; the Cova dels Vilasos, at Os de Balaguer, and the cave art of the Vall de la Coma and the Balma dels Punts, both at L'Albi. Elements with very unique characteristics can also be seen at the Roc del Rumbau at Peramola or in the Abrics of La Granja d'Escarp, which were found as a result of mining prospecting. Other sites include the Abric de la Vall d'Ingla, at Bellver de Cerdanya; the Roques Guàrdies, at Les Borges Blanques; the Aparets, at Alòs de Balaguer; the Cova d'Antona, at Artesa de Segre; the Balma del Pantà and Cova del Tabac, at Camarasa; the Balma de les Ovelles, at Tremp, and the cave paintings of Alfés. All of these sites are top level, cultural heritage sites on a world scale that can be found in the comarques (local districts) of Lleida (Spain).


Information provided by:

Departament de Cultura de la Generalitat de Catalunya


The Cova dels Vilars

Contact information:



The Cova dels Vilars

Ajuntament d''Os de Balaguer - Carrer la Seda, 26
25610, Os de Balaguer
973 438004




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  • Unesco

    The site containing the Cova dels Vilars cave paintings can be found in the municipal area of Os de Balaguer (La Noguera - Spain). It lies on the east side of the Serra d'Os (Os ridge), in a gorge which forms the Barranc dels Vilars (Vilars' Gully), and looks out over the river Farfanya, an affluent of the river Segre.
    Although the site had already been discovered some time before, by a neighbour of Os de Balaguer, Sr. Josep M. Borràs i Viu, its discovery was not officially made public until 1973.The paintings are to be found in a cavern formed in Eocene limestone, which is approximately 12 metres wide, 8m deep and 3.5m high. The cave has an east-south-east orientation and is at an altitude of 600m above sea level. The paintings can be found two separate zones: the left wall of the cavern, where the largest number of figures are to be found, and to the right of the cave mouth, where they are more difficult to identify.In total, it is possible to make out twenty-nine different figures drawn with simple lines and colours. The main colours used are black, found in four of the conserved images, and various shades of red, (red, red-brown), which are the predominant colours. In general, the whole set of drawings could be classed as belonging to the schematic style, as they are similar to examples of the same style found at other sites in Catalonia. Even so, the presence of some figures that are more reminiscent of the realism or naturalism styles, suggests that the paintings may have been made at different points in time. Within this context, an initial interpretation would date these works to the Bronze Age (1800-650 B.C.), without any greater precision.Given their position on part of the wall exposed to the sun and the elements, the paintings have suffered a process of natural degradation with the exfoliation of the upper layer of the rock surface, while the fires lit by shepherds have led to the blackening of a large area of the wall. Despite this, the set of paintings is still conserved in a relatively acceptable condition. The whole group forms part of the Arte Rupestre del Arco Mediterráneo de la Península Ibérica (Cave Art of the Mediterranean Arc of the Iberian Peninsula), which was declared a UNESCO World Heritage Site at Kyoto (Japan) in December 1998.

    Human forms
    The most suggestive scene is that formed by a group of three human figures, two women with a man in the middle. The women can be identified by the increased size of their lower bodies, which has been interpreted as a representation of their skirts or hips, and the decorations on their heads, while the man can be identified by his erect phallus. Some authors interpret this group as a representation of a phallic dance, related to a fertility ritual.
    Another human figure, which is somewhat distant and has no identifying characteristics, has been interpreted as a harvester, on the basis of its pose.

    Four incomplete concentric circles that seem to be connected with another four, smaller, almost vertical, rather abstract, parallel lines are considered to be the only example of symbolic characters that are closely related to representations of religious cults associated with the sun..


     The quadrupeds is one of the most representative elements within the group of paintings at the Cova dels Vilars of Os de Balaguer. They provide evidence of different styles and techniques. It is relatively easy to identify the species of each of the animals represented. Within the group, the main characters that can be distinguished include a female deer and what seem to be two dog-like creatures. Some authors have interpreted this as a hunting scene, although the difference in styles would seem to indicate that the figures were painted at different times.