Madrid: The Altamira Cave in northern Spain and its well-preserved paintings will again be open to the public from Thursday, albeit to very small groups because of the spread of micro-organisms due to human visitors.
The cave located at Santillana del Mar, in the Cantabria region, was closed in 2002 after damages had been reported to its polychrome prehistoric paintings from the carbon dioxide in the breath of the large number of visitors.
In January the foundation which manages the cave, declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO, said it could reopen but only to groups of five people a week, and for 37 minutes, until August when the impact of the visits on the paintings would be reassessed.
The culture ministry in Madrid said that on Thursday a first group would be allowed into the cave and selected at random among visitors to the nearby museum.
Overall 192 visitors would be allowed in under the programme.
Visitors will have to comply with a strict dress code and wear special suits, masks and shoes.
The cave whose walls are covered with paintings that include abstract shapes and animal subjects over a length of more than 270 metres was discovered in 1868.
It was inhabited approximately 35,000 to 13,000 years ago.