Culture Department of the Provincial Council of Biscay
Until its closure due to conservation reasons, the Santimamiñe cave was one of the most important heritage and tourism sites in the north of Spain thanks in great part to the many unique cave paintings depicting bisons, horses and deer, as well as tools found in the cave. Its outstanding archaeological and geological wealth has attracted large crowds since its accidental discovery in 1916. This poplularity created problems in conservation due the constant influx of visitors, which finally led to its closure in order to help save the paintings. The local administration decided to set up an interpretation centre in a small adjacent hermitage.
To permit visitors to enjoy the archaeological wealth of the cave, Virtualware was contracted to develop a comprehensive installation. It is comprised of a large video and audio installation with a stereoscopic screen of a 3.5 metres wide by 2.5 metres tall at the interpretation centre in the chapel of San Mames near the cave entrance. The visitors can experience a virtual tour of the cave using 3D glasses with a guide leading them through its various highlights.
Technically, the results achieved exceeded all expectations. Virtualware digitalised the entire 345 m of the original cave – distributed over ten connecting 'rooms' of the cave – with great detail and total precision, and with a minimal margin of error of just 5cm throughout the route. To enrich the experience, various interactive elements were added to explain certain details.
The popularity of the Virtual Visit of the cave became evident from the outset, with 2500 people taking the tour in the first two weeks after the opening. The average number of visits is 300 per week. In July 2008 the Santimamiñe Cave received major recognition when it was declared a World Heritage Site by UNESCO at an official ceremony in Quebec City.
This project, along with other similar ones, has led to Virtualware being recognized as one of the top developers of virtual cave routes in the world.