Wednesday, October 16, 2013

#765 Postojna Cave, Slovenia

Train into Postojna Cave
Train out of Postojna Cave
A cave is a cave is a cave... well, not really. While I have been to many quite unmemorable caves with nice manicured paths throughout, few have impressed me as much as Slovenia's Postojna cave, mainly because Postojna is just SO enormous at around 27km long.
To start with, it takes a 2km train to just get into the main cave area. After walking around inside for several hours, one feels as if you have only seen a small part, and the guides tell you that really what you see is only one level, and it actually has three floors, one with a river at the bottom, and we only see one level. Officially, only 20% of the cave is open to the public, and the other 80% includes the river which originally created the caves. The cave really is beautiful as well with various elements represented such as white (calcium), red/orange (iron), black (manganese) and green (plants, moss, our breath). The deepest point of the tour goes to 120m, and is 20m below the cave entrance.
Smaller caves in the area have been known since the 1200s, but in 1818 and 1819 the bigger caves of the area began to be investigated and the train was established (it was powered by the guide pushing it!). Rumor has it that a drunk man coming home from the pub managed to 'fall' into one of the caverns of the larger cave area and that led to the rest being discovered. One cave with a different entrance close to the top has had visitors for many centuries, with graffiti as proof! In 1841 the 'beautiful caves' of the spaghetti-like stalactites were discovered, but no path existed until WWI, and they were officially opened to the public in 1926. The current path through the caves has not changed since WW2, when prisoners of war carved a tunnel to join two sections of the cave.
There is no owner of the caves. The land was owned once but now has a 75% concession to a local company with 25% being owned by the Postojna community. It is considered by many to be Slovenia's most important tourist attraction, and the complex includes a butterfly center (ironically called a 'Vivarium' even though they are just specimens pinned to the wall) with various cave species in a small cave complex behind. Here you can see the 'Oms' up close as well as various cave beetles, spiders, flies, and worms. There are many 'no photo' signs inside the cave -- the artificial lights of flashes change the dynamic of the inside of the cave, although to be honest, I didn't really see many people obeying this and where there were lights already set up we were allowed to take photos.
Oms - the cute little cave lizard Proteus anguinus 'human fish'
The noise and light mean that there are actually no 'oms' in the main cave, just in the river galleries below our gallery. They have transparent skin, grow to around 30-40cm in their natural environment, and are around 30,000 years old. I just loved the legends and superstitions that emerged from them: people in the middle ages believed that dragons lived inside the mountains because 'oms' would wash out of the caves after a big storm, and the locals believed these were the dragon babies and this meant that they were very afraid of entering the caves because they thought that there may be big ones to encounter! The biggest om discovered was 44cm.
Sites inside the caves:
  • 'The Great Mountain' - 40m higher than the entrance where the ceiling is 50m thick
  • A Russian-built bridge constructed during World War I
  • The white and red 'Spaghetti galleries'
  • The most famous site are the two pillars, the brilliant white of the purest calcium carbonate has been a symbol of the cave since the beginning (see photo to the right)
  • The 'Great Hall' has a 5-7 second echo with its 40m high ceiling and 3000 sq. meter area. Concerts are occasionally held in the hall because of its excellent acoustics
  • A 200m artificial tunnel was created in WW2 to connect two areas, and stalactites have started growing in this area

Historic photos of the caves

There has been a train into the cave since the Victorian era.

The train used to begin outside the caves, but now you must walk into the cave and get onto the train from a platform

Exiting the cave. The large entrance to the right hand side is where you go in to take the train, and you exit through the entrance from 1819.
Source: Lonely Planet Eastern Europe 8th Edition 2005

1 comment:

  1. Waw, really nice post. I like the way you describe Postojna Cave. A lot of time in history they call Postojna Cave as Queen of all Caves. You know it why, just when you visit it. It is hard to describe why, but you did it well...